Q&A: Android Karenina Mash-Up Author Ditches Horror For Sci-Fi

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Barely more than a year later, and the literary mash-up craze started by Quirk Books has boomed into a monster of its own undoing – or so it seemed. Sifting through piles of Vampires & FILL-IN-THE-BLANK titles rushed onto shelves to entice teenage girls and Twilight-loving moms is something of a daunting task. Thankfully, in a literary niche that is now nearly saturated, Quirk still holds on to the golden goose.

Ben Winter’s Android Karenina – yes, Leo Tolstoy – takes the monster mashing to a place rarely touched by wannabes: science fiction. The shift from classic horror to sci-fi is refreshing, and more importantly, necessary to rejuvenate what is now, somewhat of a tired trope. Android Karenina is Tolstoy’s sweeping epic told with a steampunk twist. Winters cleverly takes the major philosophical issues of Tolstoy’s world and gives them a sci-fi polish: The relationship between the classes is shifted to the question of the relationship between man and machine. That’s right, robots.

(More on Techland: Android Karenina, The Book Trailer)

I was able to chat with Winters, who also penned Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, about the new title, out in bookstores today ($8, Amazon).

Allie Townsend: How did the decision to make the jump from Jane Austen to Leo Tolstoy happen? It’s a pretty big leap.

Ben Winters: It is a pretty big leap and they’re obviously two very different writers, but with this kind of writing, this mash-up genre, there are certain authors that you can do and certain authors that you can’t. Austen worked so well because her writing style is so elegant and classy and has the exact kind of tone that we think of as high-minded, an upper-class feeling. Adding all of this ridiculous stuff, all of the violence and grossness, that contrast is just so delicious.

Tolstoy just felt perfect for various reasons. He’s not the type of writer who’s doing a lot of silly stuff. His characters are very serious. It wasn’t so much trying to add funny on top of funny, it was more of adding things that were outrageous or surprising without trying to be overtly outrageous. There’s something about Tolstoy. It’s so big. It’s so epic. If you ever talk about Tolstoy, that’s one of the first words that comes up. Epic. I guess I was intrigued by the possibility of taking that epic scale and matching it with the epic scale of classic science-fiction writing: Universes filled with inventions, filled with ideas. That’s what’s so appealing about classic science fiction and in a weird way, it’s what’s so appealing about Tolstoy.

(More on Techland: Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women & Werewolves Rejection Letter)

AT: How then, did you decided to mash-up Tolstoy? Why Anna Karenina and robots?

BW: The title was so great, it was irresistible. We were talking about a bunch of possibilities for the next book and Android Karenina was a title that had been suggested early on. It was so deliriously ridiculous that you wanted to find a way to make a book out of it. I know this is audacious to say, but Anna Karenina is widely recognized as one of the best, if not the best, novels that has ever been written. It’s so beautiful and so big and has so many ideas and the story is so compelling and the characters are so real, I couldn’t resist. I couldn’t resist seeing if we could pull this off with a novel that is beloved, and beloved for a reason.

In terms of why science fiction, even when I was writing Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters it was still monsters. I sort of knew that if we were going to do this again, I would want to take a leap and while still combining a classic novel with a new genre, I would want to do it with a new genre and move away from classic horror and do science fiction. It just seemed natural for the Quirk Classics series to do sci-fi.

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