Android Karenina book review

Ron reviews Android Karenina, a Quirk mash-up of Tolstoy and robots. But is it as good as Pride And Prejudice And Zombies?

Since the release of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, the book that took the Internet by storm and spawned a legion of imitators, a worthy official sequel, and hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts, videos, and forum jokes about the next mash-up, Quirk Classics have been quietly and deliberately refining the percentages of their books.

The whole point of the Quirk books are to spice up the classics by adding more exciting elements: zombies, sea monsters, space aliens, robots, what have you. However, when adding the spice, they are also trying carefully not to take out too much of the original book, or add in so much new content that the story is unrecognizable.

However, in the hands of Ben H. Winters, who is a veteran of the mash-up game with the previous mash up Sense And Sensibility And Sea Monsters under his belt, Quirk seems to have found a balance between the added content and the recycled plot, characters, and setting. Either that or Tolstoy is the perfect framework for steampunk. Possibly a little of both.

Really, Tolstoy’s characters, bored amoral aristocracy with money troubles, neuroses, and a surplus of leisure time are the end result of a mechanized society or of one based off of cheap peasant labor. I mean, look at what’s happened to the Western world thanks to the economic downturn? Everyone’s crazy and depressed and broke, unemployment is rampant. The only difference is we don’t have robots to hug when we feel depressed, like the folks in Android Karenina do. Those robots, given affectionate nicknames like Small Stiva and Socrates by their owners, function as sort of a butler/confidant/smartphone hybrid, and in the generations since the discovery of the miracle metal groznium, they have become invaluable to their owners.

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Some might contend that all the dependence on technology and robots is a moral weakness. Some, like the terrorist group UnConSciya, are worried that the government’s control over the robotics industry is dangerous. Others, like Levin the groznium miner, deplore the physical weakness that robots engender in their owners and would prefer a simpler time when a man could work with his hands alongside his Class II robots.

Android Karenina, like the book it came from, is a sprawling effort, with lots of characters, lots of different subplots going on, and lots of content within its 542 pages. The addition of aliens and ray guns only adds to the intrigue (and gives Tolstoy’s long-winded characters someone to talk to other than themselves during the book’s long soliloquies). If anything, the sci-fi elements add to the book’s feelings of isolation and inhumanity, rather than detract from it. It’s a setting that actually works better with the added elements. Rather than the comedy derived from mixing Jane Austen and zombies in the earlier works, it heightens Tolstoy’s existing themes. Amazing, right?

While I enjoyed Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, and the winking sense of fun they had, the idea of adding to the book, rather than poking fun at it is actually very appealing to me. It’s not going to make me go out and read Tolstoy’s original works, but it does fill me with respect for the man that his themes remain timeless, and can be adapted to pretty much any genre of literature, no matter how pulp.

It’s strange. Upon reading Android Karenina, I was struck at just how well Tolstoy’s realism worked with the unreal technology provided by groznium. However, all the trappings, from electric lights to long-distance communication via video screen, are put together in such a way that the focus isn’t on the technology, but still on the characters. Yes, there are robots, but they’re added into the text so gracefully that, after the first few pages, you can accept their presence and accept them as metallic replacement serfs within with late 1800’s Russia.

I’m not sure how Quirk could top this one. This is quite possibly the definitive mash-up novel. It adds to the source incredibly skillfully. Steampunk and Tolstoy go so well together that I’m not sure any future Quirk Classics mash-ups could match this one. Put aside your fears. Android Karenina is a great read.

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If you’d like to get your hands on some free swag, head on over to Quirk’s Android Karenina website here and sign up for the contest. Winner gets a massive Quirk prize pack, including an Android Karenina poster, five Quirk books, including Pride And Prejudice And Zombies: Dawn Of The Dreadfuls, 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 Antichristby Patricia Carlin, and more! Just do like you did for the last contest: log in at the forums and mentioning where you read the review! It’s open to readers all over the world, so don’t hesitate to get your hands on some more free swag.

US correspondent Ron Hogan has always wanted a robot companion like Small Stiva. There’s nothing better than a cute robot! Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.


5 out of 5