Thursday, March 03, 2016

"The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" - Claire North

I'm currently reading "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" by Claire North to my wife as her after-dinner treat.

[Update (March 15th 2016): after 11 readings I've abandoned this book. The plot is slow and uninvolving; the characters insipid and hard to engage with. At fast reading speed this is tolerable but when reading aloud, it's just too difficult to care.]

Here's what The Guardian had to say about it:
"From first line to beautiful denouement, Claire North's The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August  is a gripping read that is often quietly profound, emotionally affecting and intellectually dizzying.

"Harry August is fated to live his life again and again, a kind of identical reincarnation, born to the same parents, in the same body, but with memories of his previous lives intact. As he lies dying at the end of his 11th life he is visited by a seven-year-old girl with a message from thousands of years in the future that he must deliver to the Cronus Club: "The world is ending."

"The members of the Cronus Club are, like Harry, men and women who live their lives over and over. When, in his next incarnation, Harry duly delivers the message, he is told that there is no hope of effecting change. What follows is Harry's investigations into the eventual apocalypse, and his fateful involvement with his friend Victor, a "fellow traveller" intent on accelerating the world's technological progress for his own ends …

"As might be expected from such a narrative, the novel is an examination of determinism and free will, but also a subtle study of friendship, love and the fluid complexity of existence."
Claire North is the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, a prolific and acclaimed author. The book is well-written though I'd probably give it four stars on Amazon; the text sometimes strays too far into clunky exposition but the characterisation and plot development is not without interest.

This is probably speculative fiction rather than science-fiction: the difference being subtle and maybe even tendentious (literary types don't write SF, even when you think that's exactly what they're doing). Speculative fiction is not written from within a scientific or engineering culture.

I have taken to recording my half-hour readings - yes, I'm compiling a de-facto audiobook, full of clinking coffee cups, unwanted phone interruptions and random audience reaction. The folder is on my Google Drive and can be accessed here .. if you fancy being read to, very badly (format is mp3 and m4a). Eight instalments exist as I write; I'm about 25% through. More to come. (But now stopped - see update above).

Tech note: I found NCH's Switch and WavePad very useful (free download) for audio format conversion and audio-level boosting. Thanks NCH.


Google recently released an uploader program to transfer all your hard drive photos onto the Google Photos cloud. Choose the option where this doesn't come off your free allowance. I have something like 15,000 pictures and videos assembled over the decades, and more than 24 hours later, it's still uploading the last 649.

The results are arranged on a timeline, and transform Google Photos into a super photo album on a tablet: I'm really impressed. I hope that Google gets moving on adding image search tools - I'd like to tag a photo for a person or place (or any number of attributes or properties) and then search my whole, way-too-large-to-manage dataset.

The picture below, of the person read to each evening, emerged without AI assistance.

Unusually cheerful for first thing in the morning - a campsite in the Dordogne 2012

Who knows how much gold is buried in my back-catalogue?

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