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Mike French & Karl Brown - An Android AwakesOnce in a while a book comes your way which transcends boundaries - sometimes because the author is rooted or interested in several things, sometimes because the book, the story, the characters ran away with the it and created something bigger and more complex in the process; and sometimes because, like with An Android Awakes, the originators (Mike French, and illustrator Karl Brown in this case) set out to do so - successfully, in this case.
An Android Awakes is a hybrid novel, part classic SF book, part graphic novel, with both parts interlinked and feeding off each other. It’s an interesting concept, going way beyond the classic ‘illustrated story’ approach, whilst adding the depth of story and character which pure graphic novels frequently struggle to bring to the table from the text portions.
The closest I can compare it to, in format and interaction at least, is Ian Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy, although that is a completely different monster of a book.

The book is set in a future where all or nearly all fiction, as well as other creative tasks, are done by androids, and not humans anymore - so much for there being areas where robots will never be able to replace humans!

But in the end this is simply a consequent extrapolation of where we’re going already: “In the future some of you will become great writers, renowned artists, visionary filmmaker and talented photographers. Most of you though will just have more sex. Go forward a few more generations and none of you are creative save that of your procreation. Your culture is shaped by machines.”

In this world we follow the Android writer PD121928, part of the Android Publishing Program, as he struggles with the loss of his wife (forcibly removed, to induce the kind of grief and sorrow required for creative output) and his task of either securing a publishing contract, or be deactivated. He has 42 attempts to do so… we join him when he receives his 28th rejection slip.
The stories he writes are short - some very, other might actually be reaching for Novelette status (no, I did not count words to check).

The stories he writes and submits are all, on the one hand, independent of each other; and on the other hand contain cross-references, recurring characters or concepts (Mockingbirds, everywhere!), and are clearly the work of a slightly deranged, self-referential, and obsessive mind.
Some are great on their own, some only gain real life and interest via the way they are set in the larger story arch of PD121928 and his quest for a publishing contract, and how they reference and refract earlier submissions.

I’m not going to provide capsule reviews for the individual stories, suffice it to say that they cover a huge variety of SFnal future scenarios and approaches, and feature a large, varied, and frequently fascinating cast of heroes and villains. A lot of the topics are classic SF tropes, or at least derived from them, and given an unusual slant by being written, nominally, an (non-human) android, and a slightly deranged and damaged one to boot.
The overall concept of having a story of stories is also not exactly a new approach, but is serves the book well, and is given extra tension from the inexorable progress towards that final submission.

Karl Brown’s drawings which illustrate, expand, explain Mike French’s written word are all in line drawing style, and all in black & white. They are unevenly scattered through the book - always with the stories they relate too, of course - but whilst some stories only get a single minimal illustration other are lavished with many drawings, studies, scenes, which in turn greatly builds on the world created. Personally I liked his androids over his humans, but that is just me I suspect. Some of the androids greatly reminded me of the band Steam Powered Giraffe (don’t know them? Off to youtube you go! now!), I don’t know if that’s coincidence, a shared memetic background, or simply copying/reacting to the classic steampunk image they project.

I can heartily recommend this, and am looking forward to the sequel, ‘Fictional Alignment’, out in March 2018!

Mike French is a British writer living in Luton, with 4 published novels (and a 5th come this spring) in his bibliography. He is also the former Senior Editor of the now-defunct The View From Here literary magazine.
Karl Brown is an Irish-born, also Luton-based artist and illustrator, An Android Awakes is his first major publication.

 

Title: An Android Awakes
Author: Mike French
Artist: Karl Brown
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Elsewhen Press
Publisher URL: http://www.elsewhen.co.uk
Publication Date: 2015
Review Date: 180125
ISBN:9781908168634
Price: UKP 13.99
Pages: 201
Format: Large Format Paperback
Topic: Androids Writing
Topic: SF

 

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