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Just dying the usual death...,
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This review is from: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Hardcover)
It's a bit difficult to know where to start with this. It's one of those genre-bending books where, for once, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. It's a sort of techno-thriller, and it's a sort of sci-fi too. Perhaps a love story, but also a kind of vampire-like horror story, Harry August acting at times almost as a Louis de Pointe du Lac from 'Interview With The Vampire'. It reminded me of Alfred Bester's 'Extro' but also of 'The Time Traveler's Wife'. In both of those, the characters have versions of immortality - in 'Extro' probably the more usual sort, in 'The Time Traveller's Wife' it's a bit closer to this; here, instead of a single life lived in unpredictable episodes, the characters have one life. Repeated and repeated and repeated. They call themselves 'oroborans' after the snake that endlessly devours itself, or 'kalachakras' from the Sanskrit for 'time cycles'.
They refer to everyone else as 'linears', the kalachakras who, after usually their third lives, start to realise that they and they alone, can remember all the details of their past lives. They consider the 'linears' to simply have the one life, but since the only obvious difference between themselves and the 'linears' is that they can remember their past lives and the 'linears' cannot, it is not at all clear that the 'linears' do simply have a solitary existence.
So that is the big idea here. And the story is one playing out of that idea. If you knew that you would be reborn when you die and that you would remember all the details of your past life, then you would no doubt do the obvious - commit to memory Grand National winners, historical events...and also, perhaps, scientific advances. And maybe you, too, realised that, much like Ursula Le Guin's hapless hero in 'The Lathe Of Heaven', you could effect changes within your life-span, your piece of time within that of the overall universe. And maybe, given this endless recycling of time, you would try to search out for some ultimate meaning, some kind of Douglas Adams like 'Total Perspective Vortex'. Or maybe, after a few lives, you'd just give up, hang the sense of it all and just try and have a good time.
The Cronos Club tries to give a helping hand, a little bit of guidance. But for a determined kalachakra, they are an irrelevance. After a few hundred years, tens of lives, these multi-memoried immortals, trapped in their slice of time, often meeting the same characters, albeit in different guises, either lapse into a kind of lazy, amoral fatalism, or becomes something altogether darker, more psychopathic.
It is well written, reminding me not only of 'The Time Traveller's Wife' and 'Interview with the Vampire' but also maybe Charles Yu's 'How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe'. The style is quite 'literary' or, in a way, wordy, a little verbose, not quite 'steam punk' but certainly not a 'Let's zap the aliens' - suitable, perhaps, for a narrator born in 1919. It works well because these musings provide an opportunity to reflect on what is happening, not just in terms of who does what to whom, why and when, but also the how of it all. Are they reborn into another possible universe, is this the 'multiverse'? Or are they just allotted their slice of the space-time universe and all they can know of past or future are the whispered messages of young-to-old and vice-versa? Are these protagonists to fight against each other for an eternity? Like a timeless Holmes and Moriarty perhaps - looping forever, but forever playing out different ends.
This is a 'Really Good Read' - it really is a rip-roaring sci-fi thriller done with style, speed and flair, but it also has a very human side, poignant reflections on fate, eternity and, I suppose, free will.