By Marty Mulrooney
An Android Awakes is touted by publisher Elsewhen Press as a cross between a graphic novel and a novel. Written by Mike French and illustrated by Karl Brown, it tells the story of Android Writer PD121928 who is part of the Android Publishing Program. His wife has been forcibly removed so he can concentrate and there are plenty of replacement cats stored in the freezer. When his latest novel The Eating of Citizen Cane is rejected, he finds himself with only 14 attempts left to get a story accepted for the program before he will be deactivated.
Set far in the future, the world of An Android Awakes is simultaneously current and timeless with its striking depiction of the struggles of an android writer. Taking place in a retro 1940s environment that is supposed to help the androids mimic the literary giants of the past, it manages to feel both alien and familiar in turn. The main narrative follows the story of Android Writer PD121928 as he attempts to write a submission that will be accepted by the program.
However, because each of these submissions is shared with the reader in full it often feels like An Android Awakes is actually a collection of short stories. Thankfully, each of these stories is equally bizarre, engaging and well written. You could easily remove the narrative thread holding them all together and they’d still work as a brilliant collection of science fiction short stories. It comes as no surprise that Mike French has previously been nominated for a Galaxy National Book Award.
Some of the highlights include a bookmark that needs to be regularly fed great works of literary fiction, a scenario that evokes the brilliance of Blade Runner’s Voight-Kampff interrogation scenes unfolding in reverse, naked angels taking on the role of modern-day superheroes (causing much controversy due to their nakedness) and a famous criminal called the Button Man who steals… people’s buttons.
Each short story has a strong central premise and does a great job of telling its tale, while also subtly revealing titbits of information about what actually happened in the real world to make us arrive at a point where fiction is written by autonomous machines. Reoccurring themes and motifs within each short story give a fascinating insight into the writing process and how real life and popular culture often bleed into works of fiction, along with a layered understanding of the undeniable frustration and disheartening nature of the modern-day publishing submission-and-rejection process.
The accompanying black-and-white illustrations by Karl Brown are exquisitely drawn, if not a little too busy at times. They bring to life text already overflowing with it (despite this being a story about an android) and the only slight criticism is that they aren’t integrated more into the overall presentation – they certainly deserve full-page spreads but sometimes their placement doesn’t quite match up with where the story being told is up to. It’s admittedly a very small complaint. In the end, this is more illustrated novel than graphic novel.
An Android Awakes is a science fiction novel filled to the brim with humour, violence, thought-provoking content and great imagination. The questions of what makes us truly human and what life means isn’t anything new within the genre, but the presentation of those timeless questions here is exemplary and fresh. It’s a shame that some of the short stories aren’t longer – they’re that good. It’s a bizarre reading experience without question but don’t let that put you off: if you love science fiction, you’ll love An Android Awakes.
8.5 OUT OF 10