Ben H. Winters on Tolstoy and Androids

Today we welcome Ben H. Winters, author of this month’s reading selection Android Karenina. We asked him about the challenges of Tolstoy and bringing in the androids. Hope you enjoy!


Android-KareninaHow was working with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina different than working with Austen’s Sense and Sensibility?

On the one hand, it was easier, because I’d just been through S&S&SM, so I had the kind of basic process down: break apart the original, find the places I could get my jokes and adventure material in there. But it was harder, too, because Anna Karenina is so much longer, has so many more characters and locations and so on. Plus there’s all the business with the complicated tripartite Russian names, which I decided (brilliantly) to make more complicated, in the case of the Class 3s, by adding those nicknames. 

Which character did you most enjoy developing in Andorid Karenina, and what did you help bring out in them?

Oh, definitely Anna’s husband, Karenin. in the original he’s a cold unfeeling brute, with his emotions buried deep under layers of reserve and duty, almost more of a machine than a man. In my version I adjust that balance a bit. 

What inspired your steampunk elements?

Reading. Lots and lots of reading: Asimov, Heinlen, Philip K. Dick, Iain Banks (RIP!), Jules Verne. One of the reasons we went sci-fi for the project (besides the title, which I still just think is glorious, and still makes me smile whenever I think of it), is that Tolstoy’s grand scale is such a natural fit for the big, epic sci-fi masterpieces, all that Heinlein and Asimov stuff. So, as I did with S&S&SM (as I do with every new book), I started by reading just a ton of source material. And for the record, I was not really trying to write a “steampunk” novel, per se—I was but dimly aware of the term when I started. My interest was always: How would this world, this romantic and melodramatic and complex Russian universe, why don’t we throw some robots and lasers in there, see what happens. But I’m delighted, if steampunk is what it ended up being, and it works! 

What else do you have going on for fans of your writing and books to look forward to? 

Last month I published Countdown City, the second in a trilogy of sci-fi tinged detective novels, which began last year with The Last Policeman. (that book won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America). Now working on the third in the trilogy. More at

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