20 culture robot

“Wake Write Sleep Repeat. What am I? A damn robot?”

An Android Awakes

In this experimental graphic novel, our protagonist, Android Writer PD121928, has forty-two attempts (fittingly, for Science Fiction) to write the perfect novel for the Android Publishing Programme as part of their takeover of human culture. If he fails to be published, he will be deactivated. The problem is that this android is broken. He’s fallen in love with his characters, and he has pet themes – mockingbirds, BBC Wales, hawking particles – that surround his stories’ plots.

But, as each of Android Writer PD121928’s story submissions is rejected, he becomes desperate and careless. In many ways, he abandons his programming for his characters, weaving in longer and more complex plots to their lives, with richer worlds surrounding them. He exceeds word limits, and writes on themes he’d been warned to avoid – acting like a human trying to create something that will last and of which they can be proud. Interestingly, Android Writer has a lot of typically human desires – seeking comfort from prostitutes and “defrostable” cats; wanting to do the right thing; and trying to find some meaning in their life.

Android Writer makes insightful comments regarding humanity and android-human relations. In Submission 35, there’s a powerful interaction between characters, with an anonymous human girl saying to android detective, “You know…that you’re just a stinking, fucking robot?” To which he replies “You are aware that you are just a myriad of chemical reactions with no real sense of intelligence.” Mike French’s skilful narrative makes it feel like we’re seeing what an Android Writer thinks a human reader would want to see in his Submissions.

However, he still writes like an android: using short single-clause sentences, referring to sex and violence in unemotional tones, and overusing the word “said.” It becomes a little grating – especially as each submission gets longer and more complex. In your typical graphic novel, this isn’t a problem. Integrating image panels and text takes some of the descriptive onus off the author’s shoulders. But, in An Android Awakes the artwork and text are separated, and really it’s a shame that through this interesting stylistic decision, the story just doesn’t hold depth.

None of this should detract from Karl Brown’s fantastic illustration work. His images are gritty, rough around the edges, and show an admirable ability to balance abstract and detail that make them quite fascinating. They also fit in well with French’s storytelling style, giving flesh to the characters he doesn’t quite find the time to describe, going someway to contextualising them in the surreal post-apocalyptic world they exist in.

Overall, An Android Awakes is an interesting novel. It’s certainly thought provoking, experimenting, and blurring the distinctions between the graphic novel and fiction book. However, there just isn’t an engaging tale being told. A series of short stories, written like they’re largely machine-generated, with very little plot information linking them or giving readers a view of the state of Android Writer PD121928, does not a captivating story make.

Elsewhen Press (2015)

Image: Flickr/Scott Lynch

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