Thursday, April 10, 2014

1143. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August photo The_First_Fifteen_Lives_of_Harry_August.jpg

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.

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