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Android Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters (Quirk)

Somehow, you can almost see Lev Nikolayevich looking out over the pond at Yasnaya Polyana and spinning out this line:

“The young princess Kitty Shcherbatsakaya was eighteen. It was the first winter that she had been out in the world, and shortly she would at last receive her very own beloved-companion robot.”

Almost.

In this aridly funny mashup of what many have called “the greatest novel ever written,” the timeless tale of infidelity and social mores has been infused (like a fine vodka, perhaps) with groznium – a miracle metal that has allowed Russia to create a Rube Goldbergian mechanized society on the backs of robot servants.

Tolstoy’s tale has been spiced up with loads of sub-plots, including renegade scientists and alien invaders, terrorists and the hellacious fury of a scorned cyborgian husband. And in what may be a tip of the hat to Phillip Pullman, the heroes’ personal robots take on the characteristics of their human masters, giving the twisting plot something of a double?edged helix.

As if a send-up of this sacred text in the classic canon is not enough, there is the hilarious “Reader’s Discussion Guide,” which takes aim at the popularity of book clubs. Question 4:

“Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin’s ‘Face’ is a trusted technological device that slowly takes over his brain and makes him evil. Was Tolstoy merely creating an interestingly dichotomous villain, or anticipating people who check their messages too much? How often do you check your messages?”

Put this one in the guilty pleasure column and enjoy.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Nov/Dec 2010