In this possible future, an android spins a series of interlinked stories in which mockingbirds are rarely killed, and locusts pick over the bones of what was once humanity’s space-faring destiny. This substantial softback is neither a normal text-only novel, nor a comic-book style graphic novel. It’s a blend of both, where Karl Brown’s crisp images are presented alongside Mike French’s sometimes surreal narrative. Similarly defying convention, An Android Awakes can be read either as an anthology of short stories or as an interconnected arc telling a full-length tale. It is neither fish nor fowl.
Yet it is in places quite brilliant.
In 45 or so instalments of futuristic folklore, Mike French’s imagination runs riot with love, sex and death; science, space and time travel; religion, relationships and the reality of being an independent writer struggling to secure a book contract. That last one is a bit tricky. The underpinning theme to the overall arc is the Android Writer’s crushing inability to get his work published. It’s a thinly veiled (actually, almost totally transparent) rant against the iniquities of the established publishing world in which creative and challenging work is cast aside in favour of meaningless, near-mindless mainstream fool-fodder.
However true such observations about the unhealthy, in-crowd-only predispositions of agents, publishers and media luvvies, this could’ve gotten old very quickly. Happily, French doesn’t push the point beyond (my) patience, and instead uses it as a springboard for a series of wickedly humorous and entertaining interludes.
The collection encompasses the subtle and the strange, from steampunk to gleaming steel. Alongside moments of imaginative absurdity lurk sharp splinters of stark veracity. There’s a homage to every classic you might remember (and many you don’t), from Jules Verne to Aleister Crowley to Philip K Dick. Indeed, one of the most affecting chapters was – for me – the almost love-struck tribute to Blade Runner. Here, the Turing Test scene between Deckard and Rachel is replayed in reverse. Like the original it’s both chilling and beautiful, and had me looking around nervously for interloping origami unicorns…
The artwork beautifully compliments the story-telling. The images don’t compete with the text and nor do they attempt to illustrate, panel by panel, the events of each episode. Instead the striking line drawings convey the essence of the action and emotion without limiting the reader’s scope to individually interpret the text.
Emotionally intelligent, engaging and literate, An Android Awakes is graphic sci-fi for a mature audience prepared to be challenged as well as entertained. It also features the best frozen cat anecdote I’ve ever read.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
An Android Awakes is available as an ebook but it’s best read in paperback format (from Waterstones or the publisher) so you can appreciate the imagery at full size. Some of the double-page spreads are simply stunning