By Marty Mulrooney
Fictional Alignment is a science fiction satire written and illustrated by British author and illustrator Mike French. Serving as a sequel to An Android Awakes – which AMO’s 2016 review described as “filled to the brim with humour, violence, thought-provoking content and great imagination” – Fictional Alignment follows Sapphira, a prostitute who has written the first work of fiction by a human in over 100 years. When angry zealot androids realise they can’t eradicate her work of fiction from the historical record, Sapphira finds herself sent back in time against her will to transform her stories into reality…
While An Android Awakes used the central premise of Android Writer PD121928’s failed submissions to the Android Publishing Program to form an overarching narrative around a collection of loosely related short stories, Fictional Alignment uses the re-enactment of those same stories to form a narrative that is much more traditional in its forward trajectory even as it jumps through time and space.
Although newcomers will find plenty to enjoy here, reading An Android Awakes is highly recommended before attempting this ambitious follow up; each book compliments the other in exciting and often unexpected ways. Indeed, at nearly 400 pages, Fictional Alignment takes the original book and slices and dices it to spectacular effect. Prepare to be shocked, baffled and amazed, in no particular order and sometimes all at once.
For a moment she saw everything as if for the first time: the wonder of the sky, the serenity of the park, the sea fading into the distance. But as her pupils constricted in the sunlight, a darkness came: the guilt of passing off PD121928’s rejected stories as her own in Humans covering her like a shroud. The celebrity status of becoming the first human author, for as long as anyone could remember, all built on a lie.
The basic premise of Fictional Alignment is fairly straightforward. In a future where robots rule the earth, Sapphira is kidnapped by two androids named Heisenberg and Tractatus, who deliver her to an android called the Proseologist. The Proseologist’s job is to read books and remove any text that doesn’t match up with the historical database. In other words: in this future, fiction is being eradicated and outlawed.
The androids attempt to brainwash Sapphira and erase her stories, but their superior promptly informs them that this isn’t good enough – they’re too deeply ingrained in the public consciousness. To fix the historical record, they will need to go back in time and turn her fictional stories into reality. It may sound like an impossible task, but thankfully, the android Heisenberg is completely out of its mind. If anyone/anything can accomplish this mission, it/he/she can.
“And that, Ladies and Gentlemen,” said Heisenberg, “is our first completed enactment. Terrain, do you mind checking the Digitised Treasury to check if that story is now recorded as fact?”
“What have you done?” said Terrain. “You loaded the guns.”
A pool of blood started seeping out onto the table from Lincoln’s headshot wound.
Sapphira slumped to the floor, leaving a trail of blood on the wall.
Mike French writes like a man possessed, transitioning from science fiction to romance one minute and from horror to comedy the next, with a multitude of other genres crammed in-between. It can be disorientating at first – even Sapphira admits once or twice that she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on – but after a while the scattershot chapters start to come together and the logic of French’s universe makes some kind of insane, warped sense.
The more surreal passages – particularly the descriptions of the character’s dreams – can take things a bit too far and the prose, despite often being surprisingly elegant, can feel somewhat padded out at times. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that this author can write. This is a book that celebrates the power of the written word. Fictional Alignment is just as well written and engaging as An Android Awakes, even if it does end up feeling slightly less accessible. It’s a shame there aren’t more illustrations though; what few there are spark the imagination just as much as the text itself.
“So,” said Heisenberg, “did Finn actually have a fish in his eye in the story, or was it all in his mind? I just want to check before I perform the operation.”
Fictional Alignment is a lot of things. It’s sometimes confusing, occasionally sexy, consistently imaginative and always entertaining. There was nothing quite like An Android Awakes when it was first published in 2015 and there’s nothing quite like Fictional Alignment now in 2018. It is without doubt an essential read if you enjoyed its predecessor and comes highly recommended to all fans of surreal science fiction that truly makes you think.
8 OUT OF 10