The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

TheFirstFifteenLivesofHarryAugustWhen I read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North last month, I was completely blown away by what I now consider one of the finest genre novels of the last few years, but because of scheduling issues I had to write my review for the author’s newest novel Touch before getting to Harry August. (You can find this review here.) Unfortunately, by the time I’d written that review, the two novels had sort of merged in my head, to the point where I’d now have to reread Harry August to be able to write a decent review.

There are after all some obvious similarities between Harry August and Touch, most notably the fact that they both deal with immortality, albeit in very different ways. There’s a circular form of immortality in the former: upon “dying”, Harry is immediately born again, under the same circumstances, to the same mother, on the same date. By contrast, in Touch the protagonist’s immortality is linear rather than circular: he can transfer his consciousness to another body by a simple touch.

Both of these novels are brilliant, but The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is without a doubt the better of the two, and one of the best genre novels I’ve read in years. It was also the first novel I listed on my Hugo Ballot this year.

Because of all of this, I feel a bit inadequate about still not having written a proper review, and so I am going to cop out by just linking to Paul Kincaid’s excellent review on Strange Horizons. It says many of the things I’d like to say, but in a much more coherent and thoughtful fashion than I could ever dream of.

So. Go read his review, then go buy The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and read it. I can’t recommend this novel highly enough.

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Mind Meld: SFF Series That Hooked Us After the First Book

Mind Meld, by Rick Celis

Mind Meld, by Rick Celis

Today you can find me over at SF Signal, where I was once again mind-melded. (It gets easier after the first time.)  This time, the question posed to the panel was:

What series do you love that didn’t get off to a perfect start, but hit the mark later on? For bonus (imaginary) points, what book in the series leveled it up?

Click on over to SF Signal to find the answers by such SF/F luminaries as Lee Kelly, S.C. Flynn, Luke Brown, Mike Ferrante, Harry Connolly, Courtney Schafer, and, um, me.

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Persona by Genevieve Valentine

PersonaPersona by Genevieve Valentine is an excellent novel. This probably will come as no surprise to those of you who have read the author’s two previous, critically acclaimed novels, Mechanique and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, but as a newcomer to Valentine’s works I was quite blown away. (I should probably add that, based on feedback from friends and on those two books’ blurbs, Persona appears to be very different from her earlier work.)

Persona starts off in near future Paris, where Suyana Sapaki is about to cast a vote in the International Assembly (IA). Suyana is the “Face” representing her country in the IA, which means she has virtually zero decision-making power: she is a figurehead, a glorified spokesperson who says what she is told to say and votes the way she is told to vote.

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Reading Habits

SevenevesNo new reviews this week because I got sucked into work and reading and random life craziness, so instead I decided to indulge in a meme. Remember memes? I know right? This popped up on The Speculative Scotsman and I thought, well, here’s a great excuse to talk about myself and procrastinate. It’s not like I have a ton of work and a Hugo ballot to complete or anything. Anyway. There will be new reviews next week, I promise.

1. What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading?

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. (Which I’m not supposed to review yet, as per the publisher’s request, so I’ll just say: WOW.)

2. What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading and why?

Usually I finish almost everything I start, but American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle really didn’t work for me.

3. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t?

Weird question. Whatever I put here, someone will likely say “what do you mean, most people don’t like this?!” I’ll take it in the spirit of “most people I *know* don’t like it”, and say the Void trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton. I completely understand why most of my friends don’t like his stuff, but I enjoy it in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way.

4. What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked but most people liked?

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley. I admired the concept, but the execution just didn’t work for me. Sorry Kameron, I still think you’re awesome.

5. How long do your single-sitting reading sessions usually last?

This is entirely a function of whether my 7 year old is in the vicinity or not.

6. What are you currently reading?

A Crown For Cold Silver by Alex Marshall.

7. Do you like it so far?

Yeah, although the p.o.v. switches around a bit too much for my taste. It’s also driving me completely nuts that I don’t know who the author really is.

8. How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading (or the last book you read)?

I didn’t buy it — as with most things I read nowadays, the publisher provided me with a review copy. But for the record, the last book I actually bought was an electronic copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

9. What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought?

Physical book. Hmm. I think it was one of C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner novels, which I’m mainly buying because I want the entire set in the same format (mass market paperback) for some odd reason I can’t quite figure out. (This is also why I haven’t read book #15 in the series yet — the paperback is only coming out in April.)

10. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like the most and why?

Space opera. Good, intelligent space opera just makes me happy and tickles that old sensawunda thrill for me. Ann Leckie, Lois McMaster Bujold, and of course the late, great Iain M. Banks. I’ve been known to persist in reading a bad novel just because it features FTL drives and ancient space-faring civilizations. (See also: Peter F. Hamilton.)

11. What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why?

Aside from the ones I just don’t read (like most paranormal romance), I’ll probably surprise folks by saying Steampunk. Steampunk has to be really really good to work for me. (Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear is an example of really really good Steampunk, by the way.)

12. What is your favorite electronic reading device?

My Kindle Paperwhite. It’s light and small, I can hold it in one hand, the battery lasts forever, and it works in almost any form of light.

13. What was the last sf/f/h eBook you bought?

Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton. I actually own it in hardcover, but it was so damned BIG and HEAVY that I decided to spring for the Kindle version.

14. Do you read books exclusively in one format (physical/electronic)?

No. I used to read only paper books and resisted the ebook thing for a very long time, but with so many publishers switching over to electronic review copies, I gave in and started reading on my iPad a few years back, then purchased a Kindle when the battery life on the iPad ended up being too short for my usual reading sessions.

15. Do you read ebooks exclusively on a single device, ie. an eBook reader, a smartphone or a tablet?

Mostly on my Kindle, occasionally on my iPad if I forgot to charge up the Kindle, and in dire emergencies on my ancient Android phone.

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Touch by Claire North

TouchTouch by Claire North took me completely by surprise. I’d never heard of Claire North. (Yes, I know. More about that later.) I hadn’t seen much pre-release buzz about the book. I don’t think I’d ever read a book from (Hachette imprint) Redhook before. I frankly thought the blurb sounded a bit too standard-horror-ish, but I picked it up anyway to try a few pages and see if it could draw me in.

Am I ever glad I did. Touch is a gloriously dark and almost perfectly executed novel. (More about that “almost” later too.) It’s so good that I set out to get the author’s first novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, even before I finished Touch, and then read it before I got around to writing this review, deadlines and work and sleep be damned.

I was entirely unaware of this author until I crossed paths with Touch. Since then, I learned that Claire North is the second pseudonym of Catherine Webb. Webb has by now published sixteen novels, eight of them under her own name, six as Kate Griffin, and now two as Claire North. She was born in 1986, which means she’s under 30 years old as I’m writing this. She apparently wrote her first novel when she was only 14. Discovering all of this after just having read two of my favorite pieces of speculative fiction in years was nothing short of mind-blowing for me.

(I obviously haven’t read any of the novels she wrote as Webb or Griffin yet. They seem very different from her work as Claire North: YA for Webb, and more traditional fantasy for Griffin. Whether it’s the author’s decision or the publisher’s, I can definitely understand using different pseudonyms to compartmentalize these three very different styles of fiction.)

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Giveaway winner! (Karen Memory giveaway)

KarenMemoryWell, I completely forgot to announce the winner of the Karen Memory giveaway from, oh goodness, has it really been almost weeks now? Sorry about that!

Without further ado, the winner of this giveaway is:

Getty H. from Dallas, TX

Congratulations, Getty! Your copy of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear will be sent to you by the kind people at Tor Books.

For those of you who didn’t win, stay tuned as I hope to have several other great giveaways coming up soon, as well as the usual slew of reviews and SF/F-related ramblings!

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2014 Nebula Awards – the reactions

SFWAThe nominations for the Nebula Awards were announced today. As a resource, I’ve decided to try and collect links to the various reactions and discussions here, similar to what I did for last year’s Hugo award nominations.  (And later this year, depending on the amount of time and energy I have at the time, I’ll probably do the same again for this year’s Hugo Awards.)

Important note: I’m just collecting links here, not endorsing anyone’s opinion. If it’s a reaction to these award nominations, I’ll link to it. If you see a post that isn’t included, drop me a note in the comments or via Twitter, and I’ll add it as soon as I can.

2/25:

Preliminary Thoughts on the Nebula Nominees (Adventures In Reading)

Unpacking the Best Novel Nebulas (Chaos Horizon)

2/21:

Some Thoughts on the 2014 Nebula Nominees (Cora Buhlert)

Hit Chinese sci-fi novel nominated American Nebula Awards (I Cross China)

What you need to know about the 6 novels up for the 2014 Nebula Awards (Blastr)

Brief Note on Awards (Nerds of a Feather)

2/20:

Announcing the 2014 Nebula Awards Nominees! (Tor.com)

This Year’s Nebula Award Nominees (John Scalzi)

FINALISTS: 2014 Nebula Awards (with Free Fiction Links!) (SF Signal)

Read Tor.com’s 2014 Nebula-Nominated Fiction (Tor.com)

2014 Nebula Awards Ballot Announced (Locus)

The 2014 Nebula Awards Nominees (Electric Literature)

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY FINE and YESTERDAY’S KIN both receive Nebula nominations! (Tachyon)

BREATH OF WAR UP FOR A NEBULA (Aliette de Bodard)

2014 Nebula Award Nominees (SFF180 – on YouTube)

 The Nebula Awards Shortlist Is Full Of New Names (i09.com)

Ann Leckie’s ANCILLARY SWORD is a Nebula Award nominee! (Orbit)

 The 2014 Nebula Nominees! (Andrew Liptak for the new B&N SFF blog)

A REALLY SOLID LIST OF NEBULA NOMINEES FOR 2014 (Paul Weimer)

Brief thoughts on the Nebula shortlists (Larry Nolen, OF Blog of the Fallen)

Nebula Award Nominations (Chaos Horizon)

By all that’s holy in a sci-fictional universe, it’s a Nebula Award reaction post! (Jason Sanford)

Tabula Rasa member Rick Bowes nominated for Nebula Award (Tabula Rasa)

I’m a Nebula Nominee (Maybe 1.5 Nominees) (Ken Liu)

Eugie Foster Nominated for a Nebula Award (Foster on Film)

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