C. E. McGill’s novel Our Hideous Progeny is a dark, beautiful, and auspicious debut.
I listened to a frankly ridiculous amount of music while writing Our Hideous Progeny,so much so that my writing playlist (nicknamed “A Modern Plesiomethius”) totally eclipsed all others in my Spotify wrapped, putting me in the top 0.1% of Philip Glass listeners for about three years running. I simply cannot write without music, but I also have trouble concentrating when listening to lyrics, so “A Modern Plesiomethius” consisted mainly of instrumental pieces and movie soundtracks. I found myself gravitating towards pieces that were tense, atmospheric, inspiring, fitting with the mood of scientific discovery and the Gothic setting of the novel; here are just nine of my favorites.
The Orange Tree, by Philip Glass
This one will always hold a soft spot in my heart, as The Illusionist soundtrack was the first album I ever owned for myself. I was about twelve when I first saw the film – a sweeping historical drama set in nineteenth-century Vienna, full of murder, magicians, and marital affairs – and I fell in love with it at first sight. (Much later, I watched the film with a friend, who said “This was your favorite movie when you were twelve?” “Yes!” “This explains a lot about why you are the way you are.” Which I can only hope was meant as a compliment.) I loved the soundtrack so much that I asked for it for my birthday, and listened to it on loop. Something about The Orange Tree in particular – the urgency of the violins, the music-box-like bells, the way Philip Glass manages to perfectly capture the feeling of watching the reveal of a magic trick in musical form – just stuck with me forever. Without spoiling too much, there’s a particular moment in Our Hideous Progeny (you get a peek of it in the prologue) that absolutely feels like a magic trick; that, combined with the dramatic, historical atmosphere made sure that this entire album was an immediate shoe-in for my playlist.
The Night King, by Ramin Djawadi
I may have my complaints about many aspects of the later seasons of Game of Thrones, but the soundtrack is not one of them. I’ve loved Ramin Djawadi’s soundtracks since he wrote for Westworld and Pacific Rim, and this song is a particular favorite of mine. I adore the eight-minute long build-up, the quiet dread, the addition of layer upon layer, building up to the revelation of the dramatic finish. That balance of tension and dread feels very Gothic to me, and was the very same atmosphere that I was trying to evoke during many sequences in OHP.
Fuel to Fire, by Agnes Obel
This is one of the few songs with lyrics I have on my OHP playlist, along with Riverside and Citizen of Glass. Something about Agnes Obel’s vocals are gentle enough that they don’t interfere with my ability to put words to paper like many other singers do. I love the ghostly, ethereal mood of this song, and found it perfect for writing many scenes in Inverness, such as Mary and Maisie’s walks around the shores of the Moray Firth. Obel’s music, I think, echoes that kind of bleak, forbidding beauty which I love about the landscape of Scotland.
Once Upon a December (from Anastasia), performed by Emile Pandolfi
Anastasia was another one of my favorite movies as a child – although, tragically, the only copy I had was taped off TV onto an awful VHS which got progressively more staticky and unwatchable as the film went on, so that I never actually knew how it ended until recently. Despite this fact, and the movie’s countless glaring historical inaccuracies (Rasputin seems to be some kind of dark wizard…?), I adored it, particularly the Once Upon a December waltz scene. The quiet, magical feeling of Emile Pandolfi’s version of it here is just beautiful, singing with longing and loneliness, the trembling high notes lending it a kind of desperation as well that I felt was a perfect accompaniment to Mary’s state of mind during much of the novel.
The Four Seasons, Violin Concerto no. 2 in G Minor, RV 315 “Summer”: III. Presto, by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by Dmitry Sinkovsky, La Voce Strumentale
I know I’ve used the word “urgency” a lot already, but this song fits that description like no other. This has always been my favorite portion of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and Dmitry Sinkovsky in this arrangement attacks it at a speed that some (i.e., my mother, when I played it for her in my car) have called “honestly stressful.” I love the frantic energy of this piece, and listened to it on loop for hours while writing some of the more fast-paced sections of the book (such as part four!).
Technically, Missing, by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The soundtrack to the infamous “Cool Girl” monologue from Gone Girl, this is another song absolutely dripping with tension – the feeling of plans coming together, and dark things ahead. I have to admit, I went out and watched this entire movie because of the this track, which was recommended to me on Spotify and which I listened to a ridiculous number of times while writing the middle chapters of OHP, in which Mary and Henry conduct experiment after experiment in preparation for their the construction of their great creation. The fact that I could feel that sense of foreboding and bad-things-to-come in the song before I even knew what events accompanied it on-screen speaks to how well this soundtrack works.
Making Water, by Harry Gregson-Williams
I’ve heard Our Hideous Progeny described as a lot of things so far – historical fiction, historical fantasy, a classical retelling, magical realism, Gothic horror – but in my heart, it will always be science fiction, just like the original Frankenstein. This song, Making Water, is from the soundtrack of The Martian (a great adaptation of a brilliant book), and I feel like it really captures my favorite aspects about sci-fi, and science in general: the wonder, the hope, the thrill of discovery. The track plays as the protagonist, Mark, stranded on Mars, finally figures out how to make water from hydrazine fuel – a rather technical scientific process which nevertheless fills the audience with awe and joy to watch, because said science just saved his life. I love the overall inspiring mood of the song, and the reminder of what science means to Mark – to Mary – to all of us: not just a series of dry facts in textbooks, but the life-changing way in which we understand and shape the world around us.
Forces of Attraction, by Jóhann Jóhannsson
This one is from the soundtrack of another scientific film, The Theory of Everything, which I actually have not seen (it’s been on my list for a long time). I’ve been a fan of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s work ever since I saw Arrival, a film which is practically defined by his stunning and terrifyingly alien scoring, so I wasn’t surprised to see this soundtrack come up in my recommendations. I love many of the tracks in this album, including Cambridge, 1963, Domestic Pressures, and the eponymous The Theory of Everything, but Forces of Attraction is definitely my favorite. Quiet, bittersweet, and subtly romantic, there are many scenes between Mary and a certain someone which I wrote while listening to this song.
Darkest Night, by Tony Anderson
Oh, Darkest Night! This one was hands-down the most influential song for me on my entire OHP playlist, because it gave me Chapter 26. (If you’ve read the book, you’ll know.) The ending of Our Hideous Progeny in my first draft was very different from what it is now, and inarguably worse; it was short, ambiguous, unsatisfying. My father, who’s also a fan of sweeping instrumental music, recommended Tony Anderson to me just as I was grappling with this subpar ending – and after a solid few hours of staring out into the winter afternoon and listening to Darkest Night on loop, I had it: the Baths, the dark waters, the final confrontation. To this day, I can’t read that chapter without the song playing in my head. In many ways, like with a lot of songs on this list, it felt as if the music made the book just as much as I did.