Claire North wins the John W. Campbell Memorial Award!

TheFirstFifteenLivesofHarryAugustThe John W. Campbell Memorial Award was announced this weekend and Catherine Webb took the prize. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was easily one of the best and most satisfying SF novels of 2014 and well done to Catherine Webb (aka Claire North) for winning! Recognized on several shortlists, and competing against many well-deserved finalists for this particular award, I’m happy to see this well-written novel finally get some award recognition!

Here’s my quickie-review, and here’s more info on the award and the list of finalists.




BSFA Shortlist Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

TheFirstFifteenLivesofHarryAugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Setting: Pre- and post-WWII Europe. Over and over again. With some dalliances to China, Argentina, U.S.

Summary: Harry August is a “kalachakra,” a person who lives his life over and over again, but he is a “mnemonic,” and remembers everything from his previous lives. A little girl (another kalachakra) brings him a message to his deathbed: The world is ending, but more rapidly than before. Harry thinks he knows why, but can he stop it without becoming part of the problem?

Existential quote:

What is the point of me? [145]

Some reader criticism: It’s so boring. It’s just about this old guy.

My response: Shouldn’t you be watching your cartoons right now?

Why it’s so cool: Forget redundant reincarnation. That’s just the crux. With the barreling invasion of premature technology (color television in the forties, cell phones in the sixties), North (Webb, actually) conveys a surreal world unready for its advancements. Maybe it’s not so surreal…

How it feels: Riveting, with game playing and historical manipulation. Taut with character tension. Not since Batman and Joker have a protagonist and antagonist needed each other so badly. High quality storytelling.

Funny lines like:

If Pietrok-111 was a one-horse town, Pietrok-112 was the glue factory where that horse went to die. [174]

Best enjoyed by: Book or audio. North’s writing is captivating, but Peter Kenny’s narration is like buttah. (Kenny can switch character voices on a dime, hence his recent Audie Award nomination.)

SF literary sibling: Oh, you already read that other big name 2014 SF novel about a club of immortals who battle for control over time and reality? This one comes without the contrived and exaggerated fantasy mess.

Should you read this? Yes. Yes, you should read this.

Should you give this to a friend for Valentine’s Day? I did.


This review is part of an 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.

Previous BSFA Shortlist Reviews:
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson
The Race by Nina Allan
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Upcoming BSFA Shortlist Review:
Wolves by Simon Ings