The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August: A Worthy “Star Gene” Product

Piece of 15 Lives CoverHave you read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August?

I haven’t, but Mr. AMB has (see his review below).

I was a bit disappointed to learn that this novel’s formerly pseudonymous author turned out to be someone with hereditary connections to the publishing industry.

However, in this case, at least the lucky recipient of the “star gene”– my favorite euphemism for nepotism and privilege — seems to be a genuinely talented writer.

This science fiction novel sounds great.



From Mr. AMB:

Philip K. Dick once defined “science fiction” as a work of fiction “predicated on our known society,” but “different from the given one in at least one way, and this one way must be sufficient to give rise to events that could not occur in our society.”

“In good science fiction,” Dick wrote, “the conceptual dislocation … sets off a chain-reaction of ramification, ideas in the mind of the reader,” so that it “ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create — and enjoy doing it.”

In Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, the ‘difference’ between our world and the book’s world is that a small subset of people don’t really die. Instead, after they die, they’re re-born at the same place and time they were born before, and then, around age 3 or 4, the memories from their past lives return. Science fiction based on a phoenix-like protagonist isn’t exactly a new idea — has whole pages devoted to “Resurrective Immortality” and “Born-Again Immortality,” and there’s, cough, Dr. Who — but North deserves credit for the depths to which she explores the deeper “chain-reaction of ramification” that comes with the concept.

North raises a variety of interesting philosophical, psychological, and historical “ramifications,” and addresses each in compelling ways. For example, the “second life” for most of these people often drives them completely insane, as they struggle to understand why they have distinct memories of their own life as it unfolds. They then move through religious, pastoral, and hedonistic phases as they, cursed to live forever like Classical gods, try to figure out what to do with themselves. Most of these people adhere to a general policy of “non-interference” — again, not a novel idea, the Time Lords do that, too, and plenty of sci-fi works talk about the problem with killing Hitler — but North handles this well, deftly creating a compelling plot that revolves around those very issues.

“Claire North” is a pseudonym. Pseudonyms tend to have a really short life these days, but, through scrupulous avoidance of reviews, I was able to read the book without learning who wrote it. After reading it, I suspected that the author was a man between the ages of 35 and 55, and I was pleasantly surprised to see I was dead wrong. (Spoliers! That’s their Wikipedia page.)

Yet, because one of the book’s themes is the considerable influence that a person’s birth has on their destiny, it’s worth noting that the author’s father was once the head of the British subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. I can’t help but wonder — considering the crapshoot that is the publishing industry — whether any of this author’s works would have made it to the shelves without such an illustrious family connection.


  1. Intriguing. I read ‘Station Eleven’ on your recommendation. So did my husband. We both agreed it was high on the list of good reads this year. So thank you. Claire North, whoever she may be, will have to come down a little in price for me to click the buy button, but I have downloaded a sample and, who knows? If I like it enough, I may throw caution to the wind.

  2. I loved this book! It was driving me batty to figure out the author; I even listened to the British radio broadcast at work to hear the reveal. Looks like “North” has another book out and will continue to put more books out. Splendid!

  3. I read this a little while ago and had NO idea that Claire North was a pseudonym. It’s interesting to figure that out now after the fact, thanks for sharing. I did enjoy this when I was reading, but it’s kind of disappointing to learn her success could be fueled by family connections. – ashley

  4. 1. Why the hell is the ebook version more expensive than the paperback or hardcover? It always pisses me off to see this, and now I hesitate to buy it despite your glowing review.

    2. Not only did she get published, but she was able to use at least three different pseudonyms. Recently, I briefly attempted to establish a second pen name and failed miserably. But then I don’t have relatives in the publishing business. 😉

    3. This book sounds so interesting! Perhaps I will buy it when I feel more financially flush.

    1. The answer to your question of why the ebook is more expensive than the paperback is found in the name of the publisher. it’s Hachette, the company that was in a long battle with Amazon over its right to price its own ebooks. Here you see what Hachette was after, a tremendously stupid last ditch effort to get people to buy the paperback and not the ebook. It is pure and simple greed, and I won’t buy the book. I may take it out of the library (highly unlikely) but I won’t pay more for an ebook than for its paperback.

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