Android at Arms by Andre Norton
This year Tantor Media has been producing audio editions of the Baen omnibus collections of Andre Norton’s science fiction stories. Gods and Androids (2004 in print, 2021 in audio) contains the two novels Android at Arms (1971) and Wraiths of Time (1975). I am reviewing the novels separately because that’s how they were originally released, and that’s usually been our practice here at Fantasy Literature. Each of these stories stands alone.
In the opening scene of Android at Arms, Andas Kastor comes to consciousness in some sort of automated jail cell on a harsh uninhabited planet. He has no idea how long he’s been there or how long he’s been in a state of delirium. In fact, he doesn’t remember anything that happened after he was about to be declared emperor of his world.
When the power goes out during a storm, the prison malfunctions and opens. That’s when Emperor Andas realizes he’s not alone. There are a couple of other prisoners in the same state of confusion that he’s in and it happens that they are also important figures on their own home worlds. After discovering that this prison is also a factory where android doubles are manufactured, Andas and his fellow prisoners assume they’re being held captive by wealthy power-hungry people who have purchased android versions of these rulers and are using the doppelgangers to try to usurp their power.
With the help of a few of his companions, Andas sets out to return to his home planet so he can find and overthrow the robot usurper. He has no idea what he’ll find when he gets there, and he has no idea how long he’s been gone, but he does know some secrets about his palace. Only later does it occur to him that maybe Andas himself is the android.
Android at Arms starts out as an entertaining science fiction mystery that I was eager to see resolved. Unfortunately, it changes focus when Andas finds himself in a bizarre parallel world with magical objects where he’s asked to help the citizens fight an evil witch. This abrupt shift was clumsy and disappointing because it came out of nowhere and, even though there were some dramatic and exciting scenes, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the original storyline. I did, though, like the open-ended way that Norton concluded this story.
It took me a few pages to get used to the narrator of the audiobook, Stephen Jay Cohen. He speaks too slowly for me. This gets better after the initial wasteland scene and, when I increased the playback speed in my audiobook app, he grew on me pretty quickly.