Written by Mike French
Art by Karl Brown
It’s no secret that since digital distribution rattled century-old business models and divided the proverbial pie into a million more pieces, the publishing world has been in a bit of a state. Yet if there’s one trend I’ve been amused and bemused by, it’s the self-publishers who emphasise that they do so not out of necessity but to write the sort of original content no publisher would take a risk on… while their work is extremely conventional and clearly written with mass market appeal in mind.
That’s entirely understandable, of course. Publishing is a fragile and tentative wotsit, and it’s easy to sympathise with first-time authors reshaping their work into something more conventional in the slim hope that a corporation will eventually pay good money for the chance to distribute it. Mike French’s An Android Awakes isn’t just an exception to that lazy overgeneralization observation, it’s the very antithesis of it, and small press publisher Elsewhen Press deserves a slap on its metaphorical shoulder for taking on what is a brilliant book but a difficult sale.
Superficially, An Android Awakes tells the tale of Android Writer P121928, owned by the Android Publishing Program and programmed to feel all of the emotional range of a human so that he may write novels that resonate with them. P121928’s last effort, The Eating of Citizen Kane, has been rejected, and he’s been informed that he now has 14 more chances to write something publishable before he is deactivated.
P121928’s all-too human (and relatable) struggle to produce something deemed marketable by his owners forms the frame narrative for a selection of short stories, in an approach reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. Some of French’s efforts are funny, some are sad, some are epic, some are small and silly. Some are set in a cyberpunk-inflected dystopian future far removed from our own while others could take place tomorrow… many lack the structure to even be defined as stories, but are instead ideas or concepts that reveal a fresh perspective on previously spun tales.
With each rejected submission, old concepts, characters and names are reiterated and reinvented in what has to be one of the most unique world-building exercises I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Some of these short tales “work” and some don’t, but not one is in any way conventional, with the strangest stories so out there that Vonnegut’s ubiquitous sci-fi author Kilgore Trout would have rejected them for being too weird. For example, in ‘Submission 40: the Great Sea in the Sky’, the oceans of the world are lifted into the heavens to form a super ocean after it’s decided they’re a waste of potential real estate.
The book is illustrated by Karl Brown, whose diverse styles evoke an early 2000AD and exemplify the book’s eclectic and erratic nature. Sometimes I loved Brown’s work and felt that it added something special to the story it accompanied, sometimes I didn’t – I usually prefer to envision the characters myself and world based on the prose.
Nevertheless, the visuals only further add to An Android Awakes eccentricity. That the whole thing holds together is testament to French’s confidence as a storyteller. The small snippets of P121928’s world, an industrial landscape in which robotics and cybernetics have replaced humanity but not overwritten it, were enough to keep me transfixed throughout the book’s shifts in tone and style.
An Android Awakes is the sort of book that will baffle some readers, and quite merrily piss off others, but I feel those who do enjoy it won’t just enjoy it but love it and hold it dear. I bloody loved it. If you’re a genre fan who’s forever frustrated at the “safe” and conventional output lining your local bookshop then Mike French’s work deserves your time. I guarantee you won’t have read anything else quite like it.
Visit www.anandroidawakes.com to find out more about the project.