Android Karenina - an epic love story, a science fiction mash-up

McClatchy NewspapersJune 2, 2010 


"Android Karenina," by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books, $12.95) is a science fiction mash-up of the classic Russian novel and robots, space and time travel.


Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" has had a futuristic steampunk makeover in "Android Karenina."

The latest literary mash-up takes Tolstoy's classic novel of love and adultery in Russian high society and stuffs it full of robots, wormholes, spaceships and time travel.

Ben H. Winters, known for "Sense and Sensibility and Sea-Monsters" — a collaboration with Jane Austen — takes on the massive task of converting a thousand pages of a Russian literary masterpiece into a svelte science fiction action novel only half that long.

Winters says, "The main concern was to preserve the two love stories that between Anna and (her lover) Vronsky, and that between Levin and Kitty _ we had to abridge the book and in abridging it, I had to make sure we kept everything relating to the love stories."

Here the Russians are all served by their android companions, who are often closer to them than their families. The androids play integral parts in society. Tragedy ensues when the robots are withdrawn to be reprogrammed in one of the many threads that run through "Android Karenina."

While "Anna Karenina" was based in the 1870s Russian society, "Android Karenina" has overtones of Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick and the 1927 German expressionist science fiction film "Metropolis."

Consider this: "Directly behind (Anna), hovering like a storm cloud over the fountain's swirling waters, was what could only be described as a terrible undulating nothingness: a grey-black hole in the fabric of the atmosphere, wavering in the air above the fountain, and pulling, pulling Anna Karenina in towards itself."

Winters says he first read "Anna Karenina" in college. "It's a bear, it's a wonderful book." He says that Tolstoy was "in no way a thriller writer ... I wanted to bring Tolstoy's book to life in a new way. And to have a book that would be satisfying in and above of itself even if you didn't have to read the original."

The book deviates greatly from the classic but stays true to its lovers and plot. There is a good deal of foreshadowing that you don't notice until the last hundred pages.

Winters hopes that readers will stick with it. "I tried to make the end of it worth the trip."


"Android Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters; Quirk Books, Philadelphia (544 pages, $12.95)

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