BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Ben H. Winters and Leo Tolstoy
At least one of the following statements is true: 1) The “literary mash-up” genre had its flash-in-the-pan moment with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and is no longer interesting. 2) Ben H. Winters isn’t very good at writing literary mash-ups. I’m pretty sure the second is true, but I wouldn’t fight very hard if you argued for the first or both.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies worked because it altered and made grotesque a beloved classic. It read like the original, with some additions and alterations applied. This book, much like Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, is a full rewrite, and feels like one written in a hurried, formulaic manner. In a lot of ways they remind me of those abridged classics they sold at Scholastic book fairs for $5 when I was in elementary school but with robots, or sea monsters included. This would have been awesome then. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the author of PaPaZ didn’t stick around to write more. I don’t have it on any authority, but I’m guessing he realized Quirk looked a lot more like people going to cash in than a legitimate publisher.
Basically, the plot is a love story with some robot jokes tossed in. Anna Karenina and her android, Android Karenina, leave their life with Anna’s stodgy cyborg husband and begin a love affair with the dashing Count Vronksy. In addition to the original love and betrayal, there are plenty of robotic distractions, such as the rather confusing nomenclature:
…a Roman numeral for class type, a function-designation, and an indication of model. Hence the I/Samovar/1(8) is a Class I device, designed to steep and serve tea, model number 1(8).
The whole thing feels so cookie cutter. Nothing creative and fresh is added. Instead Winters just swaps things for other things with robot-sounding names. At least in SaSaSM there were some epic sea creature battles which were at times used in humorous juxtaposition with the dry, romancing conversations. Here things are blander and less original. In SaSaSM, going to London for the social season was replaced with a trip to the undersea station. Here, going to St. Petersburg for the social season is replaced with a trip to the space station. Frankly, the routine is stale.
I recently read Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of PaPaZ. And while not a great book, it did a solid job of remaining interesting by pastiching styles–in this case horror/action and historical biography. That same creative blending of genres was exactly what shined in PaPaZ. This lacks that; it’s a retelling of the basic plot and characters, just dumbed down and altered without being improved. This is why I choose option 2 from earlier. PaPaZ kept intimate with its source material: it was written to be a send-up. This is a tired rehash.
There’s a new one of these coming out in May, The Meowmorphosis, which I wrote about yesterday. I shouldn’t have read this; I won’t be reading that. Instead of a bug, Gregor Samsa will turn into a cat. Ugh. Talk about babytown frolics.