Mike French returns to the world of An Android Awakes with this initially more conventionally presented sequel. Fictional Alignment is not the same animal as its predecessor – an oversized picture story book anthology of the attempts of Android PD121928 to create fiction that can be accepted by its publishers. By comparison, Fictional Alignment is more of a conventional paperback on the cover, clearly demonstrating its connection to its predecessor with the art style inside and out.
However, once you get into the pages, you find French’s same edgy style of writing from before, but this time, the plot emerges from a dark start to soar into the heights of incredulity. Our future is ruled by Androids, fiction is illegal. One last book, the anthology of stories we’ve previously read is a threat to the hegemony of this future. The only way to resolve that is to make it real, removing the fiction by time travelling into the past and making the stories become historical fact.
Set ten years after the events of the previous book, Android PD121929, who was pretending to be PD121928 has been executed for failing to sell one hundred books. Sapphira, the partner of PD121928, created her own anthology called Humans out of the stories PD121928 told her, which has been published as the first work by a human in over a hundred years. This is considered a heresy by a small group of zealot Androids who kidnap her, overthrow the regime and set out to rid the world of such dangerous fiction.
Where An Android Awakes takes a cue or two from Philip K. Dick, Asimov and Gibson, Fictional Alignment feels more like a Jerry Cornelius novel. French cuts loose in the short swirling chapters, parading a cast of larger than life characters. Yet, amidst the chaos, French’s fiction still has meticulous rules – essential to any novel that experiments with time travel.
The prior anthology of stories become components in the quest of a motley crew of Androids and humans who are initially seeking to make fact out of fiction. French recreates scenes that are like, but not like what we read before, betraying many of the noire inspirations of his previous work and revisiting ideas with a surreal relish.
Fictional Alignment does not reach the same metaphorical heights as its predecessor, but then it never could. The premise of An Android Awakes resonated with our quest to create an artificial intelligence that we might mistake for being human. The same direct message cannot be achieved with this, but there is a hint of another one; the fragility of our perception of our past and how much we rely upon the subjective truths we live by. There’s a hint of Orwellian irony in this message, as history becomes the play thing of our wrecking crew of characters.
The message of Fictional Alignment doesn’t have the same clarity of An Android Awakes and swirling writing style is more difficult to stay with, if you’re trying to visualise each scene. French’s acceptance of head-hopping in his chapters adds to this destabilising mix. The only way to stay with everything is to let it all wash over you and see what sticks. Surprisingly, an awful lot does stay with you and the short chapters ensure you keep surging forward into each mini adventure with relish.
Fictional Alignment is a worthy sequel to its tour de force predecessor. If French is seeking to create a new Moorcock-like multiverse, that explores the nature of humanity, reality and truth, then these books are a great beginning.
Written on 30th May 2018 by Allen Stroud.
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