Ben H. Winters has written a real smash-up of a mash-up in Android Karenina: it's Anna Karenina meets robots and cyborgs. This was a truly daunting task, keeping the tone and effect of a great masterpiece while faithfully following Tolstoy’s plot.
Android Karenina is a very quick read. It’s light and funny, nothing that you would acquaint with a Russian novel.
The mash-up is nothing new in the arts. Musicians have been doing it for centuries. In the literary world, it takes the form of mixing classics with new world monsters and demons. Mad Magazine used to do rewrites of all sorts, such as “If Louis Lamour wrote Gone With the Wind”.
The joy here is that Winters has succeeded in showing one of literature’s highest drama queens in her true pain in the neck guise. Even her lover, who sacrificed everything for her, gets tired of her ranting.
The companion robots are so much fun, they’re not so much robot as alter ego. These androids provide a memory bank and communications, as well as protect, groom, mimic, nudge and commiserate with their human counterparts. The Class III is part personal valet/maid and part conscience, a la Jiminy Cricket. Many robots are humanoid while others can take the role of animals and/or monsters. There are Class I and II robots to act as ashtrays, childrens game, domestics, train drivers and, most importantly, soldiers.
The newest incarnation is the Class IV robot, reserved for Anna’s husband, which takes form as a partial face, a la Phantom of the Opera. It is quite clear from the beginning that the face will be not only urging but also dictating Karenin’s actions. Alexei is extremely important in the Higher Branches of the Ministry of Robotics. He controls all the robots and “protects the populace” from the UnConSkia terrorists, former state scientists who threaten Russian’s “utopian” way of life. Shades of life to come.
Ben H.Winters, author of the immensely popular Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, connects all of Tolstoy’s dots in the cleverly bizarre world he has created and he transforms a Russian novel into a delightfully demented work of science fiction.