Android Karenina ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Android Karenina is set in Russia, but it’s not the Russia that exists or that ever existed at any time in history. It’s a “steampunk” world, an “alternate universe” where every person over eighteen has a “beloved-companion” Class III robot that is a combination pet, servant, confidante, counselor and alter-ego; where ill people are put into orbit around Venus to help them recover; where people vacation on the moon; where robot technology has become so sophisticated, thanks to the discovery of a metal called “groznium,” that every task is performed by a robot and robots have advanced to the stage where they are unidentifiable from humans. The Tsars are gone, the horse and carriage are gone, old-fashioned steam-engine trains are gone; people travel on a conveyance called the Grav that runs on a magnetic bed. A group of lizard-like aliens erroneously called the “Honored Guests” threaten the world and the human race while incubating inside the bodies of sick people. This is the “Age of Groznium,” the world of Android Karenina.
Of course, proper credit must be given to Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina. A writer named Ben H. Winters has taken this masterpiece of Russian literature and cleverly transformed it into a steampunk, sci-fi adventure, using Tolstoy’s characters and situations but making them original enough to claim a lot of credit on his own. Beautiful society lady Anna Karenina is married to the cold, mechanical Alexei Karenin, an important official in the government. Karenin doesn’t appreciate Anna and can’t love her the way she wishes to be loved. When Anna meets dashing Count Vronsky, she enters into an illicit love affair with him that shocks society and humiliates her husband. She finds out then just how villainous her husband can be. His bitterness toward his wife makes him take revenge on the entire country by trying to nullify the Age of Groznium and returning to the old ways of doing things: steam-driven trains, telegrams as a means of communicating, horses and buggies for getting around in, real people doing the menial jobs that heretofore had been done by robots. Most cruel of all, he takes away everybody’s Class III “beloved-companion” robots, including Anna’s beloved Android Karenina, because he believes that robots are antithetical to the direction he wants the country to move in. Instead of moving forward, he wants to revert to the past. Wait a minute, though. Maybe Anna Karenina has a higher purpose in life than just being an unfaithful wife. Maybe she has been chosen, because of who her husband is, to render a service to her country and to the human race. We must read through to the end to find out what is really going on.
Like Anna Karenina on which it is based, Android Karenina is a pleasure to read. A little bit on the long side, at 538 pages, but well worth it. It’s a clever hybrid (a combination of two worlds), not for everybody, but certainly engaging, especially if you are a fan of the original novel and also an aficionado of the offbeat, the unusual, the quirky and the imaginative. You might end up envying the Class III robots and wishing you had one of your own to always agree with you, sympathize with you and do anything you want without complaint.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp