Tag Archives: Science Fiction

First 15 Lives of Harry August

It has been another interesting year, and broader notes about that are coming.

Among the many interesting experiences in 2015, though, I feel like recalling one remarkable book in particular: The First 15 Lives of Harry August, by Claire North aka Catherine Webb.

This was excellent on multiple levels. First, I found it a simple compelling page-turner. It’s also very cinematic; I can picture vividly the lead-in scene as the first few seconds of a movie trailer. “I almost missed you, Dr. August. I need to send a message back to the past…”

Beyond this, the conceit is one of those things that comes close to being something new under the sun. North basically asks “what if a small number of people all experienced something like Groundhog Day, except for their entire lives rather than 24 hours?” The consequences are challenging; you basically have to imagine a series of timelines in sequence, which mostly follow the same course except that certain individuals always begin their lives remembering all that they experienced in each previous timeline. It pretty much works, though. The resultant world and its more detailed, human consequences are fascinating.

What impresses me most of all, though, is how these have stayed with me now for many weeks since I finished the book. Themes and ideas have kept coming back to me, and I have gradually concluded that—by explicit intent or not—The First 15 Lives of Harry August is an insightful metaphor for life itself.

Read More →

Why “The Martian” will be a blockbuster hit (unfortunately)

After reading The Martian the other day, I gave it four of five stars at goodreads. I read the whole thing in about 24 hours, and can certainly recommend it; up until the very last page I probably would have rated it five out of five. It basically dropped one whole star in the final paragraphs.

Upon reflection, I’ve decided that my main complaints about the novel come down to sentimentality. My minor complaint involves a strain of fantasy in the story; by contrast the object of my major complaint (supercharged during the closing paragraphs) is probably all too realistic. It could make sense to complain about too much and too little realism at the same time, I suppose. But in this case, my objection isn’t really about extremes as much as it’s about an extreme (in my view) of sentiment.

It felt somewhat odd when I finally realized that this is the common theme to The Martian‘s flaws (as I perceive them). In many ways it’s very, very strange to apply the word “sentimental” to this story in any way. To be completely blunt, while I found it a page turner and while I’m not alone, I think the majority of The Martian feels remarkably like a space-exploration-themed series of sample engineering problems from a college textbook. It reminds me of Verne, particularly The Mysterious Island, except with the engineering content ratio much higher. The majority of the other content, meanwhile, documents meetings of NASA administrators.

Again, I found the result nonetheless gripping, and much credit to author Andy Weir. That said, the story he produced from these parts made me frustrated and even angry at points, and unlikely as it may be the reason is basically unchecked sentiment.

I’ll be blunt a second time, now, and just say that my biggest complaint about The Martian is how the whole thing is basically a fantastic, horrible illustration of the aphorism that “one life is a tragedy, a million lives is a statistic.”

Read More →