25 June 2018

Review - Fictional Alignment by Mike French

Cover by Tony Allcock
Fictional Alignment (An Android Awakes)
Mike French
Elsewhen Press, 2 April 2018
PB, 381pp
Source - Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.

What to say about this book? There is so much in it that it's hard to know where to begin...

A sequel, of sorts, to French's An Android Awakes (my review of which, here, is quoted in Fictional Alignment) this book follows the young woman Sapphira, lover of Android Writer PD121928, after the latter is killed and destroyed on the cusp of an android rising that will overthrow the humans.

In a turn of affairs that somewhat recalled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, ten years later, Sapphira joins up with a mixed group of humans and androids who are trying to enact the contents of her best-selling novel, Humans. They are doing this because, as a work of fiction, it must be eradicated, but the last copy cannot be removed from the Digitised Treasury, the androids' repository of all facts.

The choice is therefore made to make the story "happen", turning it into "truth", employing time travel and enormous resources in a process rather like making a film. Since some of the episodes in the book are bizarre to say the least, this does present problems and dangers.

As Sapphira, Heisenberg, Anna Lincoln, and this others criss cross back and forward through time, encountering real and fictional characters and setting up the plot turns of Sapphira's (actually, PD121928's) story, there is plenty of scope to muse on the nature of fact, fiction and truth, the deeper realities of religion (Sapphire dreams of PD121928 being crucified on his stack of rejection letters) and much else. A summary would be impossible, but the storytelling is dazzling, veering between surrealistic scenes (the Arctic Circus, which takes place on an oil rig; the exploits of Umberto Amundsen, allegedly a descendant of the great explore but in reality, the man himself, kidnapped out of time; a noirish detective episode), dreams, and revelations about what was really going on in An Android Awakes. It takes aim at various SFF tropes (such as the tendency to fixate on women' breasts) along the way.

Rereading what I've put above, I'm afraid I might be taken as saying that the book is a bit overwhelming.  But here, I think, French comes to the reader's rescue. It is not, we are told, facts that constitute ultimate reality, but story. While the facts might indeed overwhelm, perhaps as in a Christian parable or even a Zen puzzle, it would be fatal to try to understand the sequence of events as facts, to tidy them up and make them into things that might or might not happen - even if that's exactly what Heisenberg, here, is trying to orchestrate. Heisenberg fails in that, but has the insight to see a way round the failure, the answer being to just... well, dive in, in the fashion of the Amazing Arctic Sinking Man, and let the story carry you.

Fictional Alignment is indeed at times not an easy read. Recognisably in the same style as An Android Awakes, it is also a much more complex work, one that needs some time to digest - but is still very rewarding. And it all does kind of circle round and make a certain sense in the end, -although the abiding point of this remarkable book is I think not in that sense but more in the impact it makes as you read it.

As with the earlier book there are plenty of illustrations (also by French) which have their own spare beauty and add a great deal to the text.

For more information about this book see the publisher's website here.

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