There’s been a lot of controversy regarding the Hugo awards lately. My problem with the Hugos, the Nebulas, and many other lists is that books as amazing as Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August don’t make the short lists.
According to Amazon, this novel was published in October 2014. Maybe it came out earlier in the UK, I don’t know. But if I’d read it a few weeks sooner, I certainly would have nominated it for both a Nebula and a Hugo. As it is, I didn’t hear of it until just a couple of weeks ago, when someone casually mentioned it on Twitter. Perhaps I’d heard the title before, but not with the enthusiasm and repetition that would cause me to sit up and take notice – and that’s truly unfortunate.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is about exactly what the title says. Harry August is a man who is born, lives, dies, and is born again exactly where and when he entered the world the first time. He is not the only so-called “Kalachakra,” and the lives he actually lives are never the same, one to the next. And there are complications, and there is a cause.
I love the character of Harry, with his curiosity and understated emotion. North portrays him convincingly as an increasingly brilliant man who has explored the world living his many lives and pursuing many experiences – and this despite the fact that North herself is not yet thirty years old.
I also love the way the story is written, with its gently detailed descriptions that make myriad places come alive without slowing down the story in an excess of detail, and with its nonlinear mode of telling. We shift continuously forward and backward in time and yet I never felt lost or impatient.
This is not a book about magic. It takes the fantastical element of repeated lives and extrapolates consequences in this world that we know, taking a major interest in the development of technology.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a wonderful achievement and I’m looking forward to reading more novels by Claire North.
Oh, and it did make the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist for best science fiction novel published in 2014. So well-deserved congratulations to the author on that!