Monday, 7 June 2010

Android Karenina

Having established themselves as the overlords of the "classics mash up" genre, Quirk classics have been riding a wave of success, ever since launching the genre into the public conscious with the hit and miss “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, which despite stretching the joke way to thin, it planted the seeds for the genre, which has since exploded with imitators while since their first release, Quirk Classics have pretty much perfecting their formula, thanks largely to Ben H. Winters whose 70 / 30 mix of new and original material, has proven to be the saving grace for the series, as he proved with his first shot at the genre “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters” seamlessly blending new material with the Austin classic, to create a truly unique take on the classic story.
Until now the literary world of Jane Austin, has been the main stomping ground of Quirk Classics, even creating a prequel to the events of “Pride and Prejudice” aswell their debut release, with Steve Hockensmith’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls”, so I was glad to see them finally step away from the safety net of this world they have carved out for themselves, as Winters now returns with his second shot at the genre, this time turning his attentions to the work of legendry Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, as he sets out to give “Anna Karenina” the Quirk Classics treatment.

I should start by pointing out that I have never read the original novel, but then it is also around a thousand pages of classic Russian literature, and while I already currently working my way through Don DeLillo’s “Underworld” I wasn’t exactly overly enthused about the prospect of starting another thousand page novel, so please excuse the lack of comparisons between this adaptation and the source material, outside of the notes I have gathered to highlight a few of the notable differences, although it would seem stright away that Winters has shaved down the material slightly, with his version clocking in at just over five hundred pages.

What is most noteworthy about this adaptation is the decision to move not only away from the work of Jane Austin, but the horror genre as well with this adaptation moving move into sci-fi territory, despite the original intentions of making this a steam punk mash up, it feels alot more like a general sci-fi reworking which if it was, though if it was supposed to be steam punk, it was certainly a hell of a lot different than I thought a steam punk novel would be. Still the 1980’s Russian setting of Tolstoy’s novel suits this mash up choice well, though Russia has on a whole always worked well when put into a sci-fi setting and this is still very much the same here, no matter how outlandish the ideas become, they never seem to overwhelm the surrounds they are placed in. Meanwhile, Winters at the same time has also tied in his mash up, a whole heap of references to Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov and his "laws of robotics" (or Iron laws as they are known here), as well as the world which Winters has adapted now seeming similar to that seen in Fritz Lang’s classic film “Metropolis” (1927), while still finding time once again to reference the works of Jules Verne, who proved such a prominent influence throughout “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”.

Although from the outset it might come across as page one rewrite of the classic, fans of the original should rest easy to know, that for all the changes it is still at it’s heart the same story of the two sets of lovers Anna and (her lover) Vronsky and that of Kitty and Levin, while key scenes which shape them, are subjected to the creative whims of Winters, who once again shows unbridled imagination, once he's decided on how his newly reworked setting is going to work, with notable changes including the steeplechase race, which Vronsky takes part in, now turning into a giant mecha rumble, while Levin no longer tends to a farm but instead a Groznium mine, harvesting the wonder metal which has proved to be the backbone of this alternative society. Thankfully none of this feels pasted into place and the feel of the source novel still remains, which is always the key factor of a mash up working, as more inferior attempts have proven, with the new material standing out like a McDonalds in a slum and thankfully something which readers don’t have to worry about here, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in this world, without constantly being drawn out, by some noticeable and clumsily placed piece of new material.

While there has been much debate, over whether these mash ups are dumbing down the classics, I rather prefer to see them as an entry point, for these same works, as the majority of readers will no doubt be left, wanting to read the original books, so that they might draw comparisons between the two, which essentially is were the fun lyes with each new mash up. Still Quirk Classics have not only proven that they are still the most noteworthy name in the mash up field, but have also shown that they have a lot more scope than what might have originally been expected, with this title now opening the floodgates for a whole host of new and interesting directions, which the series can go, rather than sticking to it’s horror roots, it now just remains to see if any other members of the Quirk Classic stable will be able to replicate the success which Winters has brought to the genre, as here he provides yet another masterclass in how a mash up should truly be done and once again leaving me eger to see what direction the series will take next.


  1. I have got both the novel and the graphic novel for Pride And Prejudice And Zombies but won't it get to a point where the whole element gets watered down the more they carry on?

  2. There is definatly that risk and you only have to look at some of the imitators, to see how close the genre is already to being a joke streched too thin. Still Quirk at the moment, are still keeping me intrested with each new release, so I guess it's gonna be really down to where they go next, after this title.


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