AT: One of the toughest things about getting through Anna Karenina for the first time is just keeping track of the characters themselves. The names are difficult to grasp, and you went a similar way with the names of the robots. Were you worried this would confuse readers?
BW: What Tolstoy does is take us into the minds of his characters and there will be pages and pages of characters talking to themselves, trying to figure things out, reflecting on their own emotions. I thought it would be interesting to create for each of these characters, a companion robot. Each of them have their own personal friend/ servant/ confidant/ counselor that plays the role in their lives of someone you can bounce ideas off of. Then, I realized that each of those robots was going to need to come to life and be their own character and have their own nickname and have their own arch in the story. So I ended up adding a lot of new characters to this book, but they’re always with their respective owner, so hopefully it’s not too confusing. Basically, every time you see Anna Karenina, she’s accompanied by Android Karenina. The way these robots function in society, it becomes an extension of their owner.
(More on Techland: Pride & Prejudice & Prequels: Author Talks Jane Austen & Zombies)
AT: As far as what these mash-ups are doing, I think Android Karenina might actually appeal to the academic crowd. I’m not sure I would ever say that about too many others.
BW: I’m glad to hear you say that, because I’d like to think it’s at least possible. I’ve tried to lend an intellectual spirit to the book. Again, there’s a lot of space in the original given over to discussion, arguments about politics, people wrestling with their relationship with God and what role should religion play in public life and then there’s the women question: How should marriage be? What role should women play in society? And granted, my book is not as long as the original, but it’s got philosophical questions: People stop to wonder, Is what we’re doing right? Are we giving too much power to machines? I hope that these questions spill over into Android Karenina because at the end, the relationship between man and machine comes to a crisis.
(More on Techland: Your First Look: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter)
AT: The technology in the book is really interesting to me. How did you conceive it?
BW: The first thing I did with this book, aside from re-reading Anna Karenina was re-reading a lot of classic source material, a lot of early science-fiction, Jules Verne, one of the books in the original Wizard of Oz series called Tick Tock of Oz. I tried to read science fiction that was if not from Tolstoy’s period, near Tolstoy’s period. I also read a lot of contemporary science fiction and then I read a lot about robotics. I checked out books, emailed with a few professors of robotics. I wanted to get the vocabulary right. I wanted to feel like the words I was choosing were real. Some of it is Russian, some of it is made-up sci-fi terminology of my own. In the end, I want the reader to feel like it’s one fluid world instead of a mish mash of influences, with occasional peeks of Tolstoy’s original. I think it all feels like one, cohesive piece, the same as if you picked up an original science-fiction novel.