Ben Winters gets a standing ovation for his seamless integration of robot hierarchies and Trek-y technology into the 19th century Russian society of Leo Tolstoy’s dramatic and enduring novel, Anna Karenina. Tolstoy’s classic story of a privileged married woman, swept up in the thrill and heartbreak of an illicit affair, is intimately entwined with the swirl and grind of the strictly delineated society in which it is set. It is a testament to Mr. Winters’ skill that his creation of a groznium-dependent, robot-driven alternate society for Tolstoy’s characters actually serves to enhance the hypocrisy and disparity so important to Tolstoy’s original.
In Android Karenina, there is a robotic version for everything, from the dice used for gambling (Class I) to the friend and confidant that never leaves the side of its master, unless instructed to do so (Class III). Only members of the highest level in society are presented with a Class III when they come of age. Its general appearance is reflective of certain personal characteristics of its new master, who gives it a name. The highly personalized functions of these “beloved-companions” ensure that every recipient gets what is essentially a made-to-order cheering section, always available to put its master in the best light. This is literally true of Android Karenina; as Anna Karenina’s Class III, she changes her coloration in order to bask Anna in the most flattering glow for every mood and occasion.
There are also unexpected dangers in everyday Russian life. Despite the apparent vigilance of the Higher Branches of the Ministry (“our tireless protectors”), vicious robotic “koschei” appear suddenly among the populace to attack and kill without warning; traitors, given the name Janus (a god from Roman mythology, he is traditionally depicted with two faces, but is, interestingly, the god of gates and doorways) are caught and destroyed in the streets by the decidedly trial-averse 77s; and alien beings, inexplicably called “Honored Guests” (though they are neither) are expected at any moment.
In addition, there are dark political ambitions that Anna’s husband, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, pursues within the Ministry (“our tireless protectors”), the blush of new love that both Anna and Kitty Shcherbatskaya feel for Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, the almost embarrassed passion felt for Kitty by the honorable Konstantin Dmitrich Levin, interludes on Venus and the moon, and an underlying discussion of the nature and purpose of humanity with all these great robots around. There is more than enough to keep the reader happily occupied for 538 pages. As final evidence for the success of Winters’ version, I was amused to discover that I still wanted to slap Anna but found the ultimate reason for her erratic behavior far more sympathetic. Using an end-effector not currently engaged in typing to toss a I/Rose Bouquet/5 to you, Ben Winters. Well done.
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