“Functioning robots are all alike; every malfunctioning robot malfunctions in its own way. Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with the French girl who had been a mecanicienne in their family, charged with the maintenance of the household’s Class I and II robots. Stunned and horrified by such a discovery, the wife had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the robots in the household were terribly affected by it. The Class IIIs were keenly aware of their respective masters’ discomfort, and the Class IIs sensed in their rudimentary fashion that there was no logic in their being agglomerated together, and that any stray decoms, junkering in a shed at the Vladivostok R.P.F., had more in common with the one another than they, the servomechanisms in the household of the Oblonskys.”
The newest in the Quirk lineup of mash-ups, this one allows the world of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” to collide with a futuristic world of aliens and robots. If you are unfamiliar with the basic story of “Anna Karenina” here’s a brief throwdown. Rich and prominent (and married!) Anna Karenina falls in love with dashing young officer Vronsky. Their affair is used to contrast several other loving relationships in the book in their different levels and forms, as they face hardship and stigma from society. In this version, Anna and Vronsky are also caught in the middle of a changing Russian society. Under constant attack from the UnConScia (a terrorist group of scientists), they find themselves defending their right to own robots. Upon reaching adulthood, every person in Russian society is given a Class III robot companion to serve them throughout life. Each Class III is unique. Now, Anna’s husband has taken a change for the worse, the violent, and is formulating laws which will ban all robots whatsoever, and Anna and Vronsky must decide whether they will fight or trade their ideals for a place back in society.
I was a bit dubious about how this mash-up would turn out, but considering one of the authors is the author of my favorite mash-up (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters), I had faith. For the first third of the book, I felt way too much was going on in the way of additions. There were robots, aliens, strange monsters and terrorists in the countryside, time travel and psychic powers, space travel and a dystopian society forming. Whoa, so much going on. However, Winters deftly brings together all the elements at the end of the novel to make a terrifying whole.
The addition of the robots, especially the Class IIIs, adds a whole new element of relationships to the story. And for a novel about relationships, that makes the story all the more rich. (Not that one could ever improve on Tolstoy). You come to care for the Class IIIs just as much as any of the other characters. Winters uses them as a voice of logic and reason, a control, while the rest of Russia goes haywire through fear and power struggles.
If you haven’t read Anna Karenina, the original, I would hesitate to recommend this book to you. The original is such a fantastic piece of literature by itself, you almost need to force yourself to read it before this book. The mash-up version is similar, but so vastly different that you won’t be getting a good picture of what the original is like (the only complaint I have about Winters’s writing style when it comes to mash-ups). But if you have read the original, by all means, pick this one up and give it a go.
“Android Karenina” was written by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters and published in 2010.