Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters co-author Ben H. Winters is back with an all-new collaborator, legendary Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, and the result is Android Karenina an enhanced edition of the classic love story set in a dystopian world of robots, cyborgs, and interstellar space travel.
As in the original novel, our story follows two relationships: The tragic adulterous love affair of Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky, and the more hopeful marriage of Nikolai Levin and Princess Kitty Shcherbatskaya. These characters live in a steampunk-inspired world of robitic butlers, clumsy automatons, and rudimentary mechanical devices. But when these copper-plated machines begin to revolt against their human masters, our characters must fight back using state-of-the-art 19th-century technology and a sleek new model of ultra-human cyborgs like nothing the world has ever seen.
Filled with the same blend of romance, drama, and fantasy that made the first two Quirk Classics New York Times best sellers, Android Karenina brings this celebrated series into the exciting world of science fiction.
When I agreed to be part of the Android Karenina blogsplosion, I knew it was going to be an interesting experience. I've read the P&P inspired books -- and obviously am familiar with P&P -- so I got the in-jokes and the references, and could compare it to the original. With this, I haven't read Anna Karenina (and am generally not big on the Russians, save Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago), so I knew that I would have to approach this mash-up differently.
On the one hand, I wouldn't be biased comparing it to the original because I wouldn't know what was the original, and what was not (save the robots -- pretty sure that's all Tolstoy... ;p). At the same time, though, there was a potential to be greatly confusing, and for me to wonder if there was some significance to the addition of robots.
Basically, the latter is what happened. Even though the writing flowed smoothly for me and I couldn't really tell where Tolstoy left off and Winters began, I still found myself wondering what it was all about. Was the insertion of robots really necessary? Was this needed in literature, did it add something to the story? Basically, what's the point? I found I kept asking myself this. The thing is, I think there may have been a subtle reason. It felt like it was probably pretty researched, and I remember reading once about Anna's dream of beaten iron (a famous scene from the original) and assume that this was Winters "in" for the story he created -- there's a groundwork for the horror in Anna's metaphor. And I think there were times when the cruelty exhibited toward the robots (as at Princess Tverskaya's house, when the Iron Laws are tested) did add a layer of humanity (albeit at its worst) that made the robot aspect a bit more believable and linked the desperation of their case with Anna's. They also seemed to act as mirrors of their masters, externalizing the internal, which was interesting. (<-- though I found myself wondering if this took away from the beauty and subtlety of the original; of course, not having read it, I have no idea. It was just one of the many "wonderings".)
The somewhat steampunkish element was interesting, too. I wouldn't call it straight steampunk (note to purists) but that mash-up aspect was there, and I liked it. Ball gowns and polished copper faceplates just work for me, I guess. (Also, the idea of a "float" was fabtastic. What is a float, you ask? A float is what happens when technology enables you to ramp up the excitement of a formal ball -- you simply puff jets of air on the "ballroom floor" to lift dancers off of the ground, creating new -- and even more difficult to master -- dance steps. Genius.)
But I still found myself questioning. I kept wondering what the point was, and how it fit into the big picture, and I kept feeling like I was missing something. I think, had I read the original, I may actually have enjoyed this more. I did enjoy it on a somewhat forgettable level, but I may have found it more compelling if I were familiar with the story, which is not the fault of Ben Winters. I think he did a good job from what I can tell, but I feel like I'm in a place where I just don't know what to do with it. I'm missing the in-jokes, so the humor seems like it's just detracting from the famously sad and serious story, which leaves me with a feeling of a weird tone and confusion. I think if you're reading it because you've read Anna K and are curious, it may work for you; if you're reading it in place of Anna K, it may not.
One last note: the illustrations did nothing for me. Sorry, illustrator...
Now, I'm sure you remember from the last BLOGSPLOSION (PPZ:DOD) that there may be something in it for you...
Of course this time is no different. The lovely folks at Quirk Classics are at it again. Click on this link and mention that you read this review here on Book Rat and you will be automatically entered to win one of 25 Quirk Books Prize Packs worth nearly $100!
You could get:
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
- How to Survive a Horror Movie by Seth Grahame Smith
- Dracula's Heir: An Interactive Mystery by Sam Stall
- Extreme Encounters by Greg Emmanuel
- How to Tell if Your Boyfriend is The Antichrist by Patricia Carlin
- An Android Karenina poster
- and more!