Fictional Alignment : The Sequel To An Android Awakes by Mike French (book review).

‘Fictional Alignment’ is Mike French’s follow-up to his illustrated novel, ‘An Android Awakes’. Expecting a similar blend of interesting graphics and entertaining storytelling, I picked up ‘Fictional Alignment’ quite eagerly but, unfortunately, found it to be somewhat of a disappointment and actually a real slog to get through.

The story follows a human named Saphira, who is kidnapped by androids from the future because of a novel she wrote called ‘Humans’. In the future, all fiction is outlawed and the androids have been travelling into the past to systematically remove all traces of fiction from their present. Unfortunately, it seems that ‘Humans’ is so interconnected with major events in human history that they haven’t been able to delete it, but they have another plan. This involves travelling back in time and making all of the events of ‘Humans’ actually happen, so the book is no longer fiction but simply a factual account of events. Simple, right?

OK, hopefully that all makes sense so far and, as an idea for a novel, I find it really intriguing. However, the plot of this fictional novel, ‘Humans’, is so complex that it became a struggle to work out what was going on. With time jumps added on to that basic idea and multiple iterations of various events, I just couldn’t figure out what was real, what was present, what was past, what was imagined and what was fictional within the story itself.

There are some fantastic things in here, though. I loved the story of the amazing Arctic sinking man, a circus performer who is unnaturally heavy and sinks to incredible depths. I found the idea of a man with fish in his eyes to be incredibly inventive and really funny, yet creepy at the same time considering that the androids have to create this situation by rather extreme means. There’s a bit where we go back to see if Jesus ever got married to settle a long-running argument between two of the characters and that’s very entertaining. It’s just that all together there is too much and perhaps stripping back just a few of the ideas would have helped to make this much more readable.

On the character side of things, too, there are a lot of interesting folk, but a few too many to really allow any of them to shine. Heisenberg is a robot struggling with his/her/nir sexual identity and the author does a good job with introducing the gender-neutral pronouns and exploring that. He/she/ne goes from psychotic to almost lovable over the course of the book and it is almost fascinating to watch, but it gets a bit lost in amongst everything else. Saphira is a character who could do with more depth and, although that applies to most of the characters, it’s more important in many ways as she is the character around which the whole novel revolves. I found some of her actions quite unbelievable which was a shame because a solid central character could really have helped to bind some of the plot together.

I also have to mention the cover art on this one, which I really didn’t like and which would have completely put me off buying it if I’d seen it in a bookshop. It shows two robots manhandling a naked woman and although this does happen very briefly in the book, I think it’s not really representative of the story. Maybe the target audience is teenage boys and maybe it would be more appealing to them, but I just found it distasteful and kind of crude. I also wondered why they didn’t use the author’s own illustrations for the cover as he’s clearly very capable and I was sad to find so few of them in this book.

All in all, a pretty mixed bag here. Some great ideas lost in an over-complicated plot and a case where perhaps the adage ‘less is more’ could have helped to craft this into a more reader-friendly book.

Vinca Russell

August 2018

(pub: Elsewhen Press. 384 page paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $21.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-91140-920-5)

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