Android Karenina, by Ben Winters

7551580About three years ago, I read Anna Karenina and I absolutely hated it. Not only was it incredibly dull, but I didn’t care for most of the characters. Reading it was a long, hard slog and I blame my reading group for letting me choose the book in the first place. So, when I saw Android Karenina, I had two thoughts. First, I had no problem with Quirk Press turning it into a horror story. Second, it has freaking robots! Anna Karenina can only be improved by the inclusion of robots.

I have to say, I was not disappointed by this book. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and while I enjoyed it, I mostly thought it was silly. Android Karenina somehow rises above the silliness and had some interesting things to say about authority. Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this book stays pretty close to the book it’s based on, with a lot of material cut out to make room for the wackiness. Unlike that other mashup, this book has an entirely new ending.

There are two couples in this book and the story jumps back and forth between the two. First, there are the eponymous Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky. They meet at a train station and it’s love at first sight. Almost right away, they begin an affair. Second, there’s Konstantin Levin and Kitty Shcherbatsky, who pursue a more traditional path to love. When I read the original, I thought that Tolstoy was showing his readers that sin leads to ruin and that virtue leads to a good life, thought more subtly than I just phrased it. Both couples have their ups and downs, but only Levin and Kitty get a genuinely happy ending.

That much remains the same in Android Karenina, but in this book more plot is packed in where Winters trimmed out Russian gentility. For one, Winters packed in a lot more action. Vronsky literally fights for promotion in a very cool weaponized exoskeleton. Anna and Vronksy survive an attack by aliens at the theater. Levin almost gets blown up a couple of times. If only Tolstoy had thought to include a few more explosions. He would have held on to my attention better that way than with petty romantic squabbles.

In the original, I felt like there was a tone of sadness to the whole thing. That feeling as been placed with one of dread. There are hints that something big is coming throughout the book, though not enough to figure out what’s going on until near the end. One of things that contributes to this (and is one of the biggest changed from the original) is Anna’s husband. He’s just as cold and brooding as in Anna Karenina, but in this book he turns into a terrifying villain who seems intent on not only wrecking Anna and Vronsky’s lives, but also on ruining the entire country. Because Karenin was part cyborg, it was a little easy to see that he would go Doc Ock eventually. What made his subplot so engaging and terrifying was that there was no one to stand up to him and stop him. Anna and the rest of the characters were too busy living their own stories to wonder what Karenin was up. Getting to know the new Karenin made reading this book absolutely worth it.

A large part of the entertainment factor of this book is seeing how the robots fit into this society. The manners are the same and I found that I could enjoy the story more knowing that these people’s cozy lives weren’t resting on the backs of the serfs. Some of the characters take trips to the moon and into orbit, replacing the spa trips in the original book. But by far the best part of this book, I thought, was the ending. It’s very different from the depressing end to Anna Karenina, which can only be a good thing. I hate to say too much, but it involves a huge deus ex machina and a little bit of time travel. It was wonderful and I’m actually kind of looking forward to more mashups from Ben Winters.

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