An Android Awakes, neither a comic book, nor a traditional novel, written by Mike French and illustrated by Karl Brown, is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Constantly unsettling you as a reader and preventing you from settling into a comfortable rhythm, AAA is not a book to be missed. It isn’t perfect, but it’s experimental in all the right ways. Whether your a comic book reader or a prose novel reader, take the risk and try something new with this book, and you won’t regret it.
AAA follows the troubled life of Android Writer PD121928 and its his task to be one of the many writers that construct the fiction that dominates the humans in a dystopic future vision of Earth. In this world, Android culture has triumphed over humans and enslaved their creators, but our trusty Android Writer faces one key problem: he only has a finite number of novel submissions in which to get published before he’s decommissioned. Clearly, we can’t look forward to better worker’s rights if we were to be taken over by androids in the future.
The publishing body in this bleak future is the Android Publishing Program, and they’re pretty tough on the work Android sends in. One word over the 1000 word word limit will see a rejection and, the more Android sends his work to be judged, his stories get darker and darker as his personality and unsettled psyche begin to bleed in to his stories that become increasingly interconnected.
What’s problematic for Android turns out to be enthralling for us as the reader; we’re privy to the work processes of Android but then it’s very interesting to read his short stories as he is creating them. It’s a unique experience to read and an interesting connection is produced between us and our mechanical protagonist. It throws up intriguing questions about the creation of stories and how they’re delivered, something that the book is obsessed with. What does it mean for an Android, a created being, to be created stories and writing back to its creators? What does it say about humans and our society as constructed to manipulate us into certain behaviours?
the more Android sends his work to be judged, his stories get darker and darker as his personality and unsettled psyche begin to bleed in to his stories that become increasingly interconnected
More questions can be asked of the formal qualities of the book itself. There’s much more prose here than in a normal graphic novel, but then again there’s also an emphasis on illustration not common in traditional prose literature. In most cases it’s a 50/50 split between a full page of prose alongside a fully drawn page. However, not even this pattern remains consistent: on some occasions you’ll have read a short story, only to relieve that story again through 4/5 consecutive pages of drawings, almost like a storyboard. It’s experimental and never settles into a knowable pattern.
This is also the case with the structure of the text: it’s essentially a collection of short stories framed with Android’s story of struggling to get published. With every short story we have new worlds and characters to get acquainted with which can be an odd, jarring sensation at times. There isn’t really even a generic link between the stories as the types of stories flit between action-adventure, romance and even Gothic. These stories are also interconnected subtly, providing extensive scope for you to re-read the book and pick up on the references that didn’t make sense the first time round. AAA, then, can be read as a short story book, but also together as a ‘unified’ whole.
It’s a shame that the framing story of the Android Writer leaves plenty to be desired. The world that Android lives in sounds gripping, the blurb saying that, “your world is manipulated by computer coding, search engines and social networks. It’s just a matter of time before everything you watch, read and listen to will be created by autonomous machines.” This sounds fantastic, but I wish I knew more about how the world became this way. The futuristic world is thinly described and, as I often looked forward to finishing a short story to find out more about Android’s world, I was left a little disappointed. I hope that French and Brown pen further books set in this type of world so it can be fleshed out a little bit more.
An Android Awakes is a delightfully peculiar piece of speculative fiction, one that rewards you the more you delve deep into its existential questions and formal experiments. Despite the framing narrative needing a little more detail, the short stories that make up the bulk of the book is where it shines. Wide in their generic variety and ambitious in their scope, An Android Awakes will grip you in the same way it will bewilder you.
An Android Awakes was published by Elsewhen Press on 13th November this year, you can visit their website here.
For Harry’s interview with writer Mike French, click here.