Quirk Books has dubbed themselves “Masters of the Public Domain,” and it’s no idle boast. They’ve struck gold with the idea of mashing up classic literature with classic science fiction and fantasy tropes. Of their current titles, Android Karenina makes for the most successful pairing. As in the original, the book follows the relationships of two couples: the tragic Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky, and the more hopeful Nikolai Levin and Princess Kitty Shcherbatskaya. Frankly, that’s as far as I made it in the original Anna Karenina. Since I had committed no great crimes, I saw no need to punish myself by reading the entire book.
I did more than finish Android Karenina; I enjoyed it. It stands well on its own as an epic steam punk novel, following two couples and their android attendants through the Russian revolution. Ben Winters seems to have kept Tolstoy’s beautiful, complex characters much as they were in the original novel. This was a wise move because, as I understand it, the richly drawn characters were the best loved part of Anna Karenina. In this new volume, the reader can meet those same characters in a world with space travelling, alien fighting, android dependent high society.
Each of the Quirk Classics books comes with a “Reader’s Discussion Guide” at the back of the book, adding to the tongue-in-cheek fun. At the end of Android Karenina the guide asks if characters should be “hopeful, despairing – or given the malleability of space-time – a little bit of everything?” I can’t answer that question, but I can say that given the malleability of public domain texts I’m hoping we can have more classic mash-ups like this one.