Linearly, first came “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith which, in it’s originality, made the NY Times Best Seller list and made Quirk Publications a zillion dollars. Then came “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters. I liked “PPZ” a great deal and then took on “SSSM” which I found very clunky. I didn’t find Winter’s style as hilarious as Grahame-Smith’s, so “SSSM” didn’t really do it for me (I’ll explain below). Since these made a LOT of money, and spawned dozens of imitators, it was announced at some point we were going to get more from Quirk. Next came “Android Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters (again). As always, I had no idea what “Anna Karenina” was about aside from “some Russian book some people have called the greatest novel ever written”. When this arrived at my door, I opened it up and was put off by a) it was co-written by Winters and b) it was almost 550 pages long. I normally just get to read in short spurts (unless the wife is reading something and we have “read time”) so I figured i would NEVER get into this or even finish it. But, mix in a sick day and the wife getting into a good book, and some dedication, I motored through “Android Karenina” and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed and entertained throughout.
If you are not familiar with “Anna Karenina” which I am not, and since there seems to be nowhere on the web for a “brief” summary, I’ll try and provide a short synopsis of “Android” here. (btw: “Anna Karenina” seems to roll in at over 800 pages… whew…) this follows a couple of years in the life of about fourteen 19th century Russian aristocrats and their intimacies with: politics, class, love, betrayal, religion, philosophy, marriage, death, births and, in the case of “Android”: robots, the Miracle Metal Groznium, interstellar flight, time travel, alien invaders, an anarchist group of underground scientists, gigantic worms, Emotion Bombs, duels to the death for position in government and, of course, Android Karenina. In “Android” this metal Groznium has been discovered and life as this century’s Russia knows it is filled with three different classes of robots who willingly do bidding for the human beings. There are small “Class 1s” which amount to things like dice, lights, wristwatches, lighters, door chimes, door knobs, stained glass windows, etc. Then came the “Class 2s” which are more humanly, performing things like butlery, serving, nursing, gaming, driving, etc. Eventually society and science have developed the “Class 3″ Beloved Companion robots, of which each dignified person of society receives when he or she turns 18. Android Karenina is a “Class 3″ to her companion Anna Karenina.
I think that’s about as brief as I can get without typing pages of text explaining what happens, but let me tell you it’s awfully funny. Despite having a dozen lead characters, and about 40 plot points, it’s not as complex as you might anticipate. It’s a very linear story of a bunch of people intertwining, politicking, having affairs, philosophizing, traveling to the moon or Venus and defending themselves and their Class 3s against both alien invaders and the Ministry of Russia itself (which is ruled by Anna Karenina’s forsaken and adultered-upon husband Alexei Karenin – whose face is half covered with a new and dangerous “Class 4″… that is rapidly taking over his mind!). It was kind of hard to get into it at the beginning, trying to map out the multiple characters with Russian names and their association to each other, as well as getting used to the way they describe the various types of droids, but after a while it got easier and was a fairly easy read. A beef: each character has at least three to four names in his or her “given name” plus, likely, a nickname, and the author(s) repeatedly call them by either their first, or first and last, or last, or nickname, which was kind of confusing until about page 200 when i was familiar with them all.
The only other thing I rolled my eyes at, is Winter’s use of “hey let me suddenly introduce something that should have been mentioned a long time ago, use it and then forget about forever”. He did that a lot in SSM and again here in “Android”. There’s no point to squeeze out an example here, but i think you get the point. I like it better when these types of “surprises” are planted in the past and then pop up unexpectedly. I will say that Winter’s storytelling was a LOT better this time around, to be sure. There are definitely some laugh out loud moments and something VERY funny and sarcastic happens on page 468. Then, when you’ve made it so far, through so many words and story development, the big payoff comes on page 508 – the VERY SATISFYING big reveal semi-conclusion (since the story goes on for another 30 pages).
All in all – a very enjoyable read, well worth it (if you’re interested) and the volume didn’t really take much to conquer.