Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

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Reading Wednesday 7/10

Recently read: The first fifteen lives of Harry August, by Claire North. (c) Claire North 2014, Pub Orbit 2014, ISBN 978-1-4055-2825-2. The first fifteen lives of Harry August is the sort of book I normally really like, intelligent SF which explores a cool idea. but it didn't quite work for me.

I chose it for a book by an author you've never read before in my Bringing up Burns book challenge. And then the first page says that Claire North is a pseudonym for an established author, so I thought I might have screwed up, but it turns out I haven't read anything by Catherine Webb or Kate Griffin either, so that's ok. Anyway I bought the e-book when I was planning a trip overland to Germany and loaded up my e-reader with a bunch of SF/F award nominees, and then didn't get to it.

There's some pretty good discussion of the tFFLoHA on last week's Reading Wednesday post, when I had read all but the last couple of chapters and was feeling somewhat negative towards it. I definitely do like the detailed exploration of the idea of people who return to the moment of their birth with functioning memories of their lives which now lie in the future. That's a cool take on time-travel loops, and one I haven't seen explored before, and there's some interesting speculation on how this would affect the "Ouroborans" who have this power. Various people in last week's discussion commented that it's literary SF and is somewhat marketed towards a slipstream audience. The writing is good but not obtrusive, and there are some vivid images and moments.

The problem I had with the book is that after about the first third just playing with this cool idea, everything is tied to a conflict between Harry and Victor, a rogue Ouroboran who wants to accelerate technology in order to understand the mysteries of the universe, and risks destroying the world. And I just didn't care about Harry versus Victor, despite the ostensibly high stakes. I think partly because I don't like evil mad scientist antagonists, the attitude that if you have some essentially magical technology the best thing to do is to meddle as little as possible, and trying to actually study the tech and its implications for physics as we know it, let alone trying to apply it, inevitably leads to doom and destruction. Despite the repeated hammering on how evil Victor is (he tortures Harry! He steals his girl!) I found it hard to accept the premise that the Cronus club's attitude of doing as little as possible with their powers other than making money for their members is really morally admirable.

Generally Harry treats other people as props in his story, including the women he claims to love, and that blocked me from really engaging in his story. One of the things I want out of more literary SF is decent characterization, and that's rather lacking in tFFLoHA. Even Harry himself is mostly a walking viewpoint. He doesn't seem to have much reason for doing either roughly nice things or unpleasant things, up to and including murder. He dislikes being tortured, fair enough, but he doesn't really seem to care whether he saves the world or not, which meant I didn't care either. I thought it was a bit unnecessary for him to have the second superpower of a perfect memory; yes, it means he can tell the story of all his lives in detail, but that seemed to be the only reason for that aspect, which I found annoying.

My biggest problem with the book, apart from being a bit bored with what should be the central conflict, is that there is way too much torture. I mean, it's the "good" kind of torture, in as far as that exists, because the people who do it are unambiguously bad guys, and it's not presented in a titillating way nor seen as particularly effective. But there's a lot of it and it's described in more detail than I really wanted to read. Also I winced a bit at kalachakra as an alternative name for Ouroboran, given that the book has absolutely nothing else of any Indian culture, but that's a minor point.

Currently reading: The Dervish House, by Ian McDonald, which is a book by an author you love. I haven't got very far into it yet, but it's classic Ian McDonald so far, ensemble cast lots of cool futuristic nanotech, doing interesting things with the setting in Turkey, and straddling the line between SF and magical realism.

Up next: Dunno, it'll probably take me at least a couple of weeks to get through the McDonald. The next item in the Bringing up Burns challenge is a book at the bottom of your "to be read" pile, which I think is probably Camp concentration by Thomas Disch. This was a present from rysmiel a long time ago, and I have an extremely negative emotional reaction to the title, which has been putting me off reading it even though I completely trust rysmiel to recommend me things that I'll actually like. After all, they got me to read Random acts of senseless violence, which is seriously brilliant book with an even more awful title than the Disch.

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Tags: book, reading wednesday

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