Saturday, December 30, 2017

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

People of a certain age grew up with Star Wars in their lives. Up until 1977 there had been Science Fiction movies and shows, but nothing like Star Wars. There had also been fantasy movies, but again, nothing in the style of Star Wars. The reason Star Wars was different, was because it introduced a theme, society had long been aware of, in a new package. Some say that the introduction of this theme was what made the movie so successful. Of course the theme I am talking about is the "Hero's Quest" or "Hero's Journey". This then is what inspired many imitations (some good, some bad), many sequels as well as many words written, both for and against the basic story, the Luke Skywalker story. There is one more thing; A lot of people do not consider Star Wars (and its many sequels) true science fiction, inventing instead a new genre called "Space Fantasy."

So buckle your belt as I endeavor to "review" and "critic" the latest movie in the Star Wars pantheon, "Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi". Let me also be upfront with you as I describe what I liked and what I disliked about Star Wars 8: there are going to be a lot of spoilers in this discussion; So if you need a spoiler-free review, go elsewhere.

It's not that I hated this movie. Indeed, there were many things that the movie offered that I liked. Some people have suggested that the movie followed a similar story telling path as a previous Star Wars movie, Episode V, "The Empire Strikes Back". The desperate fleeing rebels, the ice planet, at the end of the movie, rather than at the beginning, the training of a Jedi, the confrontation in the throne room, the cloud city and the casino city, and many more comparisons. You can find more about these comparisons elsewhere on the Internet. On a fundamental level, what the Director/Story-teller was trying to do here, is make a Star Wars fan-film. Obviously, he embellished his story and crafted elements into it that go beyond the mere tropes of fan-films. Yet, his appreciation of Classic Star Wars are written all over this movie. And there-in lies my whole problem with Star Wars, the Star Wars Universe as it stands now under the direction of Disney and Lucasfilm.

Star Wars itself is the creation of a single individual, George Lucas. Like any creator, Lucas had the audacity to create a "Universe" populated by characters he devised and who behaved in ways that he directed them to behave. As the "God" of this Universe he set certain rules, tropes, manners, behaviors and events into motion. Specifically of course, we can only attribute 6 movies to the mind of George Lucas (and some TV content). There were of course points throughout his life that Lucas said certain things about his creation. Was it originally thought-up as a 9 movie series? Or did he only have "Star Wars: A New Hope" in mind when he sat down and took pen to paper and produced the original 1977 Star Wars. Was everything else an afterthought? Did he think he left something unfinished with "Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi"? Is that why he returned and created volumes 1 through 3? Is this the story of Luke Skywalker or the redemption story of Anakin Skywalker? How about the "virgin birth"? How about "restoring balance to the Force"?

At this point, let me step away from the questions and point out a couple of things. I am, by definition a huge Star Wars fan. No, I am not as big a fan of Star Wars as Steve Sansweet, who wrote the Star Wars Encyclopedia, but I have a large collection of Star Wars toys, memorabilia and primarily books. See, I went ALL IN to the Star Wars Universe as it became an escape, a place where I can go travel virtually and where I can be a silent participant, yes, I even played a few of the computer games. I even used to have "a high score" in the Star Wars Arcade Game. I breathed Star Wars, I lived Star Wars. When the Star Wars craze reignited in the 1990s, I was even interviewed for a newspaper article. I stood in-line to get tickets to the remastered movies (IV - VI). I won tickets in a contest to see the premiere of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace. I bought EVERY BOOK in hardcover when they were published and every comic book when they were launched. I embraced the Expanded Universe.

Does the Star Wars Universe as it stood before Disney bought Lucasfilm, exist as a commercial entity or as a separate creation? Does that universe and my (and other's) involvement with it matter at all? Of course Star Wars was not a perfect creation. I leave it to others (such as, famously, David Brin did in "Star Wars on Trial") to critic it at a such a fundamental level. My issue is not with Star Wars as an effective myth, or as an effective tale. There are many things that are problematic in Star Wars, and there are many criticisms that can be leveled, on even fundamental concepts within the story. But at what point does one say, this is a story. It is circumscribed by the ideas of its original creator. It belongs in its own Universe which is sort of a framework, and there are those who have written other stories to fit within the constraints of that framework.

Yes, Jar-Jar Binks bothered me. Yes, midi-chlorians bothered me. Yes, Anakin, his virgin birth and his rotten attitude were obnoxious. But, they all belonged within the Universe, within the framework made by their creator. All these things, even those things that were deemed, irredeemable, that were thought of as wrong, by fandom, by other creators, by reviewers were part of this singular creation and vision of George Lucas. And this vision was added to faithfully, almost reverently by other creators. George Lucas did not write or sketch out Episodes 7, 8 and 9. George Lucas did not write the stories that became the expanded universe. But he showed the way, he showed the path. And, on a fundamental level, this story, his story was the story of the Skywalker Family. From Shmi, Anakin and Padme, to Luke, Leia, Ben, Anakin, Jacen and Jeina and so on. The family continues. Their story is ongoing. A lot of old, traditional myths could do with a family tree that strong. Whether it was the story of Anakin Skywalker who became Darth Vader and was redeemed by Luke Skywalker, or the story of Luke Skywalker who brought the Force back into balance, this was a tragic story to rival Shakespeare and Dickens. This was an epic to rival Gilgamesh and Rama. It was told in such a way as to involve the reader and viewer in a tale as old as time. Hate, love, revenge, war, faith, belief, trust, vision, anger and strength were put on the cosmic scale and weighed. This is what a good story will do, should do.

Is  "Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi" a good story within that framework?

Well before I can fairly judge that question I must point out a couple of more facts. After the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, the keeper of the holocron (the keeper of continuity in other words) at Lucafilm, Leland Chee, decided to reboot the franchise. Rebooting a franchise is not an easy business by any stretch, but rebooting a franchise is a business decision NOT a creative decision. If you are tired of the stories within the framework of a given franchise, within a given universe, why not "create" something new? Why destroy the original franchise for the need of some extra cash? Of course, when "The Force Awakens" was imminent, there were those voices who suggested that "scrapping" the expanded Star Wars Universe was a good thing. This was something that many fans, myself included took very personally, but were willing to forgo criticism until the new movies came out. Many of the owners of other movie franchises have rebooted those franchises, such as "Planet of the Apes", "Fantastic Four" and many others. Each of these reboots needs to stand with its own two feet and judged as such. I am not criticizing the decision to reboot those franchises, or any franchises for that matter. I mean, Tom Clancy, author, died, yet his Jack Ryan novels continue to pour out. For the record, I have not read any of the new novels.

As for Star Wars, I have owned every iteration of George Lucas' seminal creation as released by Lucasfilm. From VHS to BluRay Discs. I do not own any of the new movies. And on the flip side of having watched "The Last Jedi", I do not plan to purchase that movie or for that matter watch any upcoming movies. The Star Wars Universe died, for me, when Disney bought Lucasfilm. That's not to say that other people are not liking the new stories, that those stories do not have something to say, that the characters in those stories do not have a unique voice of their own. But that voice is not the Star Wars voice I grew up with. They really should have rebooted the franchise by telling completely new stories.

There have been a lot of criticism leveled at those who are criticizing "The Last Jedi", Some are saying that uber-fans like me are ruining the movie for others by criticizing it. Let me make it clear. I have no vested interest in Lucasfilm, Disney or any other organization. I am as apolitical as they come, and have no interest in seeing racial overtones in anything. I just look at the vision of one creator as it was handed to us, and as we embraced it and occluded it into our lives. The new Star Wars was therefore NOT created for me, but for a younger generation. They can make of it what they wish, whether good or bad. But, for that generation who grew up watching the original, re-watching it, and reading every novel, late into the night, I have a few criticisms and questions.

If Star Wars was the story of Luke Skywalker, or the Skywalker family, there are no members of that family left (unless of course, you count Kylo Ren -- aka, Ben Solo). What is this new story then about? Kylo Ren? Will he be redeemed as Darth Vader was? Will he renounce the dark side and "bring balance to the force"? Is Rey a Skywalker? Is she another "virgin birth" on a desert planet who is supposed to bring "balance to the floor"? How about Snoke, Supreme Leader Snoke, or Darth Snoke? Who is he? If he's a Dark Jedi where did he originate? Was he a student of Darth Vader? Or Darth Sidious (aka, Emperor Palpatine)? He appeared like a comet out of nowhere, and he was extinguished like an afterthought, like someone who did not have mastery of the Force. What was the point then? How, or why was the Republic unable to reconstitute after the Empire was defeated? How or why were the Empire remnants able to regain strength and destroy Coruscant? And Leia Organa Solo maintained a small rebel army while the New Republic was flailing around because she knew that remnants of the Empire were going to return and fight for control of the Galaxy? When a new government takes over, whether through war or rebellion, typically the administrative wheels continue to spin, the world (or worlds of the Republic) continue to function, but under different administration. Yet, somehow, in order to satisfy the needs for a "New Rebellion" with ties to the "Old Rebellion", the Republic failed completely in administering the vast galactic bureaucracy. And the worlds and the peoples of the galaxy, with mostly an interest in the "business of war" brought about the resurrection of an Empire Fleet controlled by Supreme Leader Snoke. (Yes, yes, I know, there are parallels with our own world, today, but, I reach back into the Star War's framework, when hundreds and thousands of worlds rejoiced when the Empire fell. What happened all of a sudden? Where all those people "chumps" who were tricked by those with business interests?)

A myth has no power unless it connects on a fundamental level with the reader, with the audience. In this case, Luke Skywalker's hero's journey, or Anakin Skywalker's faulty hero's journey and redemption provide the basis for a tragic tale with a happy ending. Yet, in the latest movie we're to believe that Luke Skywalker's only significant accomplishment was to redeem his own father. He failed to restart the Jedi order and in his failure he create a new villain, Kylo Ren. What was the point of Luke Skywalker, the hero of my childhood myth then? He's dead now. What did he achieve? Sure, there are other force adepts, and I guess, with the books Rey has she will teach them to use the force. And there will be a new generation of rebels. But that is a NEW STORY just as I previously defined it. Why did Han Solo die? Why did Leia Organa Solo die? Why were they even included in these movies? To make an homage, a connection to the past? Τo draw in viewers invested in the Star Wars Universe? But with the simple actions and moves taken within these movies, you just lost these viewers. If these movies had been presented to me as "new stories" within the Star Wars cannon, in the same way that "Rogue One" was, then I would have seen them as such. But the rebellion never died after the return of Democracy in the galaxy. And now the rebellion is dead...; So that a new rebellion may arise. And all of it, all of the Jedi and all of the sacrifices and all the deaths and fights and pain, and finally all the redemption and triumph of Luke Skywalker WERE FOR NOTHING.

That is the only conclusion I can reach.

I want to like the new characters. I want to like Poe and Finn and Rose and Rey. I want to like their stories. But instead of reaching back and connecting their stories, they have been disconnected, send on an irredeemable quest to create from scratch that which already existed. Within the death of the Old Republic laid the seeds of the Rebellion in the snatching away of the two Skywalker children. Within the defeat of the Empire laid the seeds of the New Republic. Yet, again, all this history is wasted, thrown out and disposed of without the main participants. This is no longer George Lucas' Universe. This is some other "alternative" Star Wars. And in this universe, former stormtroopers can wield a light-saber and a band of a few people in hiding can take on the remnants of super-galactic military force led by an inadequate dark Jedi. As such, I give this universe to the next generation. It is not my Star Wars. It is not the universe I grew up with and loved and lived in, even vicariously. So to summarize, the franchise, for me at least, was ruined. Yes, new Star Wars stories are welcomed, but new stories that throw away the baby and the bathwater are not interesting to me. No, I am not going to go to JRR Tolkien's grandson and ask to reboot "The Lord of the Rings". The original story, the original framework is in effect still. Everything else is working within that framework to tell other stories. I would expect other writers to feel the same concerning their work. It is after all their work. So, in the interest of making a quick, extra buck, Disney and Lucasfilm sold the soul of Star Wars. And that soul has no room for me. So, I will take what you call "Legends" Expanded Universe and retreat into my corner of the Universe where the myth continues to live on.

Just one star out five for me....

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

1301. My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Book One

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What can I say about this book that would not sound corny or extreme to either side of the graphic book reading public?

This book is a Graphic Novel.
This book is a Regular Novel (at almost 300 pages)!

Does it succeed in being a Graphic Novel?

Apparently, Emil Ferris, first and foremost is an artist, mainly a graphic artist. Yet, she in not an graphic book industry veteran. She has not worked for Marvel or DC Comics for years. So, in other words she's not a Comic Book artist. Yet, as a Graphic Novel, this book succeeds beyond expectations. In reality, it reinvents the Graphic Novel. Ms. Ferris, not being associated with the comic book industry has done something here that has never been done before. She writes a novel, turns it into a graphic novel and in so doing rewrites the tropes and manners of writing a graphic novel. Her pencils are incredible. She has a style that I have seen before, but I have never seen them done so well, with such humility, and such perfection. There are pages that buzz with so much detail it forces you to dive into the page. Literally run your eyes up and down every single pencil mark.

And the drawn characters sparkle with an authenticity, with an individuality and with a humanity all their own. I was astonished at the crispness of the looks of the main characters. I could read emotions and thoughts in their faces. Those faces have so much to tell. And what a telling it is!

But does this book work as a story, as a traditional Novel?

Beyond any one's wildest imagination. This is a complex story, mainly centered around young Karen Reyes and her notebook drawings of monsters as she investigates the death of a neighbor. Her story covers many events that took place in the 1960s, but also flashes back to 1930s Berlin, following the life story of the dead neighbor. Between those two places, Ms. Ferris weaves a surprising griping drama, that is part family drama, commentary on society, historical retrospective and a monster story.

There are monsters in all of us the story seems to say...but we fight to keep them at bay. For some of us though, the monsters are what propel us every day, hiding our true faces, or maybe, after consideration, revealing that the monster is our only face.

If you have never read a Graphic Novel in your life, this is the one to pick-up.
If you want to read a really good book, get this one.
And, if you want to take a peek at your own monsters, read this book.

I can't more highly recommended it than giving it a 5 star rating:

Bravo, Ms. Ferris. Bravo!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

1300. Rocket Girl, "Times Squared", Volume 1

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Going into this Graphic Novel I knew nothing about the artist or the writer. There was just something about a girl using a rocket pack to fly. As I got into the story, I found it to be an interesting Science Fiction themed story from a future that took a slight turn. So, this is NOT a comic book about a Superhero, but rather, it's a story about a 15-year old NYPD officer from the future. And there is Time Travel. This girl, teenager, cop knows what has made her future so wrong, so she decides to go back to 1980s NYC to fix it. And while there, she still tries to be a cop. Of course, that simply won't work... A teenage cop? No one can accept that in 1980s America. So, what is Dayoung Johansson, the heroine of this comic to do?

Read this book -- It has a price of only $9.99. It collects volumes 1-5 of the ongoing comic book series. I recommend it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

1227. Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton (Volume 1)

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Decent story. But I got distracted by the two page, full panel sets. And sometimes I could not tell where to go next (as in, which panel).

Ah well, I enjoyed it and it was a quick read.

Three-and-a-half stars.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

1225. JSA: Darkness Falls

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This second chapter of the "Justice Society of America" return is OK, with some new characters entering the fray, but not as good as the previous volume.

Enjoyed it.

Three-and-a-half stars.

Monday, March 14, 2016

1224. JSA: Justice Be Done

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So, for the return of the JSA, an excellent first chapter. What is the JSA you ask? It is the "Justice Society of America" or in more simple terms, the "Justice League's" little brother. You might not like the characters or heroes that serve on the JSA, but in many respects they are more interesting than Superman, Batman, etc.

So anyway, this TPB (trade paperback) collects the issues that re-introduced the JSA. And the story itself is pretty good.

Four stars.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

1148. The Goldfinch

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The Goldfinch, by Donna Tart is probably one of the best novels ever written. It is what is termed in the industry a Literary Novel like "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens or "War and Peace" by Leo Tolstoy. Other literary novels abound, and many of them have won The Pulitzer Prize. In fact, for many a novelist, this is a dream or maybe call it a desire: to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Just like an actor covets an Emmy or an Oscar.

There are other awards of course, as each sub-genre in fiction has its own award, Mystery has its "Edgar Award"; Science Fiction has its Hugo and Nebula; and so-on. There is also the Man - Booker Prize and some other fiction awards, but it seems that the Pulitzer has always had the highest luster, has always been the most coveted award.

Last spring, I remember watching a "60 Minutes" report on "The Goldfinch" centered around readers of the book who were visiting the Hague to look at the original painting. I thought to myself then, how could a book, so influence a person to do such a thing. Is this book really that good?

There are many reviews of this book, and mine will be one more in that torrent. Will it sway your opinion one way or the other? Will it make you absolutely hate the book? Will it make you absolutely love the book? There are those who believe that the book was not and will not be a long term commercial success, will not, in other words have staying power, despite the fact that it has already been optioned to become a movie (something I am already disturbed about). There are those, like this writer, who have a lot to say about this book. I am not going to comment on the Vanity Fair article, or try to copy or plagiarize any of the other reviews that are out there. Instead, I will give you this novice's review of "The Goldfinch" (mine).

It took me a long time to read this book, because it is a big book, almost 800 pages long. Oh, I've read big books before, but not like this. This book is best consumed in small bites, with a clear head. It's not a difficult book, the words in it are not complex and do not require a PhD in English Literature, but the content behind each sentence and the power of each word is such that the whole is greater than the individual word. Please don't misunderstand me. This, is not a pretentious book. This is, a really good book for everyone, except children of course. I do see a future where professors will be teaching this, just as "A Tale of Two Cities" has been taught, just as "War and Peace" has been taught.

The book is about 13-year old Theo Decker and his journey to adulthood. But this ─ this is the only plot point you need to know before you need to open it. Because Theo Decker can be anyone. Theo Decker could be me. Theo Decker could be you. Theo Decker could be your best friend from high school. And that journey will make sense to you, you will understand it. In that journey (or in parts of it) you will recognize yourself, you will recognize others you might have been around, you will recognize situations, and characterizations you would be familiar with. Theo, therefore is in archetype born from inside all of us. Is he a hero? Is he a villain? Is he redeemed at the end?

I can't tell you that! You must read the book to find out.

For me at least, this book worked. It worked, because it was a great coming of age story and because Donna Tart, somehow understood everything at the center of Theo Decker and was able to make everyone in his orbit work. Whether you believe she achieved this to make this a "Great Novel" that's for you to decide.

As to whether, I think this is a great novel, up there with the classics of literature... I have these last few thoughts: As I was going along, walking with Theo in Amsterdam, late in the Novel, questioning the trajectory of his life, I understood what Donna Tart was saying. I understood completely her message, the revelation that Theo had reached and the message she was trying to impart to her audience; us the readers. The problem is, I don't know how many people will get(got) that message. Not because it is in some code. Not because it's like "The Bible Code" and a higher power must impart it, or finally because it is hidden in the text somewhere. The problem for me arose when Theo Decker either in monologue or in dialogue with other main characters imparts that message to the readers near the end of the book:

─four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we're gone ─ it'll never strike anybody the same way at all but ─ a really great painting is fluid enough to to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular. Yours, yours, I was painted for you.

(ed: Obviously, so can a great piece of literature.... hint, hint.)


'Why be good.' But ─ this is what took hold on me last night , riding here in the car. What if ─ is more complicated than that? What if maybe opposite is true as well? Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions ─ ? where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions? Maybe sometimes ─ the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way? sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?


 Only here's what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted ─ ? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?

 So, is this book about love then? Is this book about the redemptive power love has? Is it about redemption? Does our hero get redeemed in the end? Does he find himself in other words? Why did "The Goldfinch" painting speak to 13-year old Theo Decker and how did he change during the course of the book? For that, you'll have to read the book. It's all in the journey. A wonderful journey indeed. Do not let negative reviews dissuade you from the book. I wish, the author had refrained from so openly preaching near the end of the book. I, as a consumer of  Great Literature, understood everything she had to say. I expect Literature to preach to me. I expect it to have a message. I also expect myself to discern that message without help from the motivator of the story, the author. It is for this and only this reason, I can not give this book a perfect score:

4½ out of 5 stars.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

1144. The Here and Now

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Reading another time travel story immediately after finishing one, could be construed as unnecessary punishment. Thankfully, even though, this is a Time Travel story, at heart it's a (YA) or Young Adult novel. First off, let me note that I have never read anything by Ms. Brasheres, of "The Sisterhood of The Travelling Pants". It's not that I do not like her. It was just that these novels where not intended for me as an audience. If they were anything like this novel, I have one overarching comment to make about her teen characterizations. I prefer them to most of what I've seen in recent YA Fiction. There is a lot "angst" in teen YA Fiction today, and in all honesty, I do not understand where it comes from. Yes, it could be said, it's an expression of identity, just as the 1960s and the counter-culture where an expression of identity for that generation, but sometimes I wonder about the depth of those feelings, and the generation that holds them. Did we raise a generation of narcissists?

Moving on....To the book itself. The Here And Now is not your typical time travel story. Yes, of course, there is always the question of the "Grandfather Paradox" in time-travel and what would happen if you were to interact with said Grandfather, or for that matter anyone in your past. As I said in the review of the previous book, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, one possibility is the multiverse theory of the Universe which holds that every time there is a significant change in events, History changes, it forks into a new direction, creating a new parallel universe. The old Universe where the Time Traveler originated from, still exists, BUT, after having initiated the change, there is now a new parallel universe where events unfolding will be different than originally experienced.

This is but one interpretation of Time Travel. There are other, logical interpretations of time travel that suggest that changes are incorporated into the Universe Prime (the one and only Universe), creating temporary branches that collapse, logically, as actions take place, cause preceding effect and so-on, but, as changes accumulate in the branch, the branch merges back into Prime in a logical manner. This has been demonstrated in a manner of novels.

I do not know which theory I support, and I do not want to influence you before reading this novel. But before reading it, you ought to know that it involves people from our almost near future (late 21st century), traveling back to our time and attempting to assimilate. The affect of their travel has an unwitting effect on our heroine, Prenna. First, because she is seen as she emerges from the wormhole bringing her here, and second because she does not accept her condition. Is she the only one in the group of travelers willing or wanting to change the future they came from? What effect will those changes bring forth? Will she succeed? She has a companion in her attempt to change the future... The person who saw her when she arrived. A 17 year old boy. Ethan.

Written in a very enjoyable style and told from the perspective of two teenagers on the run, this is a surprisingly enjoyable read. In a few words: "I could not put it down." And one other commendation for this book: "This is not your typical YA Fantasy". You might think what these characters go through is improbable, but not to me. Ethan is old enough to be capable of achieving everything he does in this book, and Prenna has an emotional reserve in her. You will understand where that comes from, once you read the book.

I recommend the book for anyone who likes a good time travel story, and especially those who like a well written YA story. Most YA stories don't inspire me, and I feel, create needy, narcissistic adolescents. Not this one. And that's a compliment of the highest order.

Three and a half stars.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

1143. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a Time Travel story. It is also a story about re-incarnation (or at least a form of it). It also a story about living one's life over and over again. But, unlike what the publisher will have you think, this is not the first book to do so. Claire North is a pseudonym for a very well know British Author... and apparently, no clues have surfaced, as of yet, of who this author is.

First, a little jaunt down memory lane about what has gone on, in this type of genre fiction. The following titles are very similar to this one, despite the publisher's claims:

  1. Time and Again by Jack Finney
  2. From Time to Time by Jack Finney
  3. Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson
  4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  5. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
  6. and the classic, and still the best book in the genre: 
  7. Replay by Ken Grimwood
There are other similar books, I am sure, but for now, these are the ones that come to mind easily.

I want to be upfront and mention, that I have not read Kate Atkinson's book, although it has come to my attention recently. It is on my TBR.  I also, never read Jack Finney's follow up to "Time and Again". From the simple synopsis of the books, thematically, the books that are the most similar with "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" are "Life after Life" and "Replay". For me, as a reader, "Replay" is a masterpiece in the specific subject matter and the context in which it addresses it. It gives you a sort of wistfulness, a sort of remembrance of years gone by, dredging up an opportunity to think about all those times you could have went "right" went you went "left" in your life and vice-verse.

But, this is NOT a review of that book, "Replay". This is a review of a brand new book.  And it turns out, despite my apprehension that thematically the two books were going to cross into similar territory, the two books are actually very dissimilar. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August turns out to be an exceptional book and stands out on its own, as a very successful science-fiction book. Although it bills itself as a Time Travel story it turns out to be more of a parallel universe story, or more precisely, it resides in that special area where string theory says higher dimensions allow for the existence of multiple Universes and our Universe is born and dies again, over and over, and so is everyone in it. Including some very special people. These people are called Ouroborans  or Kalachakra. Who get to live through every iteration of the Universe.

Harry August is born in 1919. And he is a Kalachakra. Not until he dies and is born again in the same circumstances does he realize his predicament. He has lived this life before, and he remembers everything that he did, so, is there something he can do to improve his predicament? But, this is only the second life. After you've relived a few more times, you realize there are other things you can do to improve your lot, and maybe even the life of those around you. Your immediate family? How about your wife? And as it turns out, Harry is not the only Kalachakra. Ouroborans have been born throughout the ages, and they have created what is called the "Cronus Club" (Cronus = Time), with charters in most major cities of all the major continents. Knowledge is passed on from generation to generation and century to century.

There is only one major rule for Ouroborans. Do not mess with history. Allow the Arrow of Time to flow as it always does without interference and foreknowledge of events to come passing to normal humans. (In other words, you can't kill Hitler, for example). That is why it is important for Harry and the other Ouroborans to hide their identities, remain secretive, protect their kind and punish those of their kind who try to change history. But how do you change time, if your time span within one Universe is finite? As a Ouroboran, you have the ability to live multiple lifetimes across multiple Universes as you are reborn again and again.

This then, sets-up thematically, the main conflict of the story. Harry and his arch-enemy and sometimes friend Vincent Rankis. Vincent is also an Ouroboran that Harry meets in one of his early lives when he becomes a professor of Physics. But Vincent has some big plans. And these plans not only affect all Ouroborans, they affect the entire Universe, they effect reality, they effect the entire Universe. Harry is determined to stop him from the first page... There is also something else special about Harry and Vincent which most Kalachakra do not possess. Will this ability serve him or hinder him as it does one of his Kalachakra lovers?

This is simply an extraordinary novel. A powerful, fantastic novel. I went into it with a lot of trepidation and hesitation, because of so many previous examples in the genre. And maybe, that is the reason why the author decided to remain anonymous and use a pseudonym. I do not know. However, judging by the success of this book, I bet, the name Claire North will become known very soon. I sure hope so. Because, I'd like to see more works by this author. Not necessary in the same milieu. That almost never works.  Case in point, Jack Finney's From Time to Time. It's just that I kept expecting another great novel from Ken Grimwood, but then, the author disappeared. Leaving us with a masterpiece, yes. But just the one.

A very easy five star book. Highly recommended. Go, buy it. NOW. READ IT. You will not regret it.