Tolstoy goes Steampunk: “Android Karenina,” by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters

(Originally published in my personal blog, The Kids Got Moxie, on 6/8/2010.)


Literary hybrids of Jane Austen novels and zombie stories? That’s so last year.

– The New York Times.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been trying to read Tolstoy’s original Anna Karenina for probably about ten years now, and have failed miserably.  Its sitting on my bookcase even now with a bookmark at about the halfway point, where I inevitably lose interest and set down the book.

And this comes from a huge book nerd, so take that as you will.

Now you understand why I was so excited when I first heard about Android Karenina, the newest literary mash-up from the people at Quirk Classics. (AKA, the people who brought the world Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.)

In it’s basest form, Anna Karenina is a soap opera played out by awkward wealthy Russian people.  Roughly, Anna is married to Alexi but in love with Vronsky. Levin is in love with Kitty, who refuses his marriage proposal in the hopes that Vronsky will turn his attentions to her. There are opulent social events, stolen kisses, entrances into society, and a whole lot of internal struggle and angst.

Android Karenina doesn’t really change that plot.  Despite what the book’s cover and title may suggest, rather than turning the main characters of this classic novel into robots themselves, Winters wisely surrounds our protagonists with robot sidekicks.  In this steampunk version of Russia, the wealthy are given robotic sidekicks (called “beloved-companions”) who are at times both personal assistant and therapist to their human counterparts.  These sidekicks can do anything from fighting off evil robots to re-playing the memories of their masters.

Behind the romantic entanglements of our five main characters is a cyber-war beginning, as the robots (clearly serving as a symbol of industrialization) get more and more powerful and begin to think for themselves. Technically, they’re bound by “Iron Laws,” but laws will only hold back enslaved beings for so long, as we know from history.  There’s also another threat looming, which I won’t spoil by mentioning here, but it’s a sci-fi dream come true.

The book is a success largely due to it’s welcome injection of sci-fi, which enhances the original novel without taking all that much away from the source material.  It reminds me a little of the Baz Lurhman/Leonardo DiCaprio Romeo & Juliet movie in how it grabs your attention from the very beginning to help the daunting text go down a little smoother.  The robots and cyber-war begin slightly gimmicky, but eventually manage to become such a vivid and vital part of the novel that I honestly can’t imagine ever reading Anna Karenina the same way again.


About JamieP

Books. Adventures. Chicago. Married. Mommy. Cat.

Posted on September 2, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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