An Android Wakes is a graphic novel that’s been put through a centrifuge, restoring it to the traditional form of an illustrated novel, pages of illustration interspersed with short chunks of prose. It’s in an unreconstructed style that is all about traditional sf-dystopic concerns that I first saw in the 1970s in 2000 AD, the first modern British sf comic. SF graphic storytelling has changed since then, but you’d not think so to read this book. The story is testosteronally old school, so if you like pictures of masculine androids in trench-coats and fedoras, carrying guns, you’ll enjoy this book. I’m not going to touch the sexual politics because there is simply no point. The blurb indicates very clearly how retro and noirish the plot wants to be:
Android Writer PD121928 is part of the Android Publishing Program. To replicate a writer’s life, his wife has been forcibly removed and he lives in solitude with an allowance for drugs and state prostitutes. Having just had his novel The Eating of Citizen Kane rejected, he now has 14 more attempts to get a story accepted for the program or he will be deactivated.
I don’t know if I dislike the writing more than the art. Logic took a holiday while the author wallowed in nostalgic images and disconnected ideas. It’s also very, very meta. The android keeps having his novels rejected because they don’t fit the buyers’ requirements. The manuscripts (seriously? This is a dystopic future and novels are sent to publishers in hard copy?) are returned with the words bleached out, and the android begins again, running out of writing time. The rest of the story is composed of the rest of his novels, and while I dipped in and out, looking for something to make me want to keep reading, the experience of the book became more important than the story, or the multiple, interchangeable characters. The force of the artwork – derivative though it is – makes the banality of the vignettes unimportant, and perhaps this is why this book has been published at all. Together they create a powerful visual statement. I don’t like the statement, I never want to read it again, but I can’t deny that it’s made an impression on me.
Examples of good ideas, that could have gone somewhere but didn’t, come from the android itself. In the opening pages it goes to the fridge to drink a bottle of oil (as a man might go for beer, or milk). Point one: you don’t need to keep oil in the fridge, so that’s a joke that doesn’t work. Point two: why would an android need to drink the stuff? Oil is for lubrication, not for nutrition delivery, so bathing in oil would make more sense. (Unless the android thinks it’s a man so is enacting human activities, which might be part of the dystopic vision?) Another example: the android wakes up in bed in oily sheets, a pile of iron filings on the sheets as the result of a night of grinding its teeth. Why would an android (no muscles, no nerve endings) need sheets, or a pillow, or to lie down, or to sleep? Grinding teeth would be unlikely to extrude the filings out of the mouth, they’d go down the android’s gullet, if it had one. And so on.
This isn’t a book for me, but it’s a beautifully produced, excellently printed, weighty, luxury-feeling tome that might delight your sullen adolescent at home who needs a present to make him (probably not her) smile. If the production values are an example of what Elsewhen Press can promise for all their products, they deserve success, and better novels.
Mike French and Karl Brown, An Android Wakes (2015, Elsewhen Books) 978-1-908168-63-4, £13.99, published on 17 November 2015