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Literature / The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August

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"I'm fifty-four. I'm two hundred and six."
Harry August

A 2014 sci-fi book by Claire North (pseudonym of British author Catherine Webb), "The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August" is about the titular protagonist Harry August. He is born, he lives, he dies... Except he does this a lot more than most regular people. Harry is a kalachakra (or ouroborus, the names are used interchangeably), a member of a select few people who, upon dying, simply return to when they were born with all the memories and knowledge of their past lives.

This is all well and good until, while on the deathbed of his eleventh life, Harry is warned by a little kalachakra girl that the world is ending, and he must stop it from doing so.

The website for the book can be found here.


This work provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: The story ends with Harry dying and Vincent getting the book. The question of whether Harry truly managed to go with the plan in his next life or if Vincent managed to somehow prevent it, since thanks to the book he now knows everything, will never be answered.
  • Ancient Tradition: The Cronus Club were actually founded in the 18th century, but thanks to time-looping they've managed to bootstrap themselves into ancientness.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: In Harry's third life, Franklin Phearson breaks down and berates Harry, asking him "What is the point of you?" when Harry is both unable and unwilling to help him. The question sticks with Harry, and despite ignoring its context, it tortures him throughout his remaining lives, eventually leading to his betrayal of Vincent.
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  • Born-Again Immortality: Kalachakras play with this by returning to when they were born with their memories and knowledge. If a kalachakra is born in 1919, then their consciousness will return to that date upon dying. Because of this, a kalachakra can only exist within a set time period (e.g. 1919 until whenever they die in one life).
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Two characters get the receiving end of this.
    • After Harry is committed to an insane asylum in his fourth life (having revealed his secret to his wife), a CIA agent named Franklin Phearson discovers the truth to Harry's claim and tries to get details of the future out of him.
    • Harry gets another at the hands of Vincent, who hired a Torture Technician. This time the torturer uses a more nuanced method, involving a car battery, sleep deprivation, extreme heat, nail-pulling and a "creative" use of surround sounds, featuring violent noises, yelling in different languages, and techno beats.
    • Victor Hoeness, a kalachakra who, by speaking to others who would see the technologies of his future, brought advanced tech to the court of a 17th-century French king. This began a cataclysm which changed history enough for many kalachakras to simply cease existing. Once the remaining Cronus Club got their hands on Hoeness in his next life, they began torturing him as punishment for his action and in order to discover his point of origin (date and place of birth). When he finally broke and told them, they cut off his tongue, ears, hands and feet, gouged out his eyes and bound him in a metal straitjacket. When he died, the Club simply abducted him and repeated the process until he died a second time. However, after two lives and about two decades of torture, baby Victor wasn't able to use his hands, eyes, tongue or ears. The Club, upon discovering that they had essentially broken Victor, decided to kill him and abort his mother in the next life, thus removing Victor from existence.
  • Death Is Cheap: For kalachakra, dying simply sends them back to their birth, though they only start to consciously recall their previous lives at about three years of age.
  • Deathless and Debauched: Because most Kalachakra would rather not change history for fear of accidentally erasing future immortals, they prefer to spend their lifetimes pursuing pleasure in any way they desire. Harry himself spent a hundred and twelve years on virtually nothing but wine, women, and song, while his friend and occasional lover Akinleye (AKA the queen of a good time) is known for experimenting with both her sexuality and with drugs, even introducing Harry to heroin. Deconstructed; Akinleye's hedonism eventually drives her to a depressive period during which she gets AIDS, prompting her to request the Forgetting from Harry so that she can be given a clean slate in her next life.
  • Doomsday Device: Unintended one. The quantum mirror.
    • That said, the book implies that the mirror won't destroy the world itself - it's the constant leapfrogging of tech from the early 2000's being brought back to the 1940's to make the mirror possible that does the real damage, as the second half of the 20th century becomes a mad rush to show off new technology without thinking about consequences.
  • Driven to Suicide: Harry's second life - where he discovers his pseudo-immortality and is driven insane by the fact - ends when he throws himself out of the third floor window of an asylum at the age of 7. He later notes that many kalachakras go through this same stage of temporary madness and the Cronus Club finds possible members by looking at children who exhibit the same madness.
  • Fantastic Racism: The kalachakra look down on "linears" as inferior.
  • Friendly Enemy: Harry and Vincent
  • Groundhog Peggy Sue: Precisely what the kalachakras are. Unlike many examples of the trope, all of their loops begin at birth.
  • Immortal Genius:
    • The Kalachakra possess Born-Again Immortality via "Groundhog Day" Loop, and on the few occasions they've been documented by historians, they're usually considered improbably wise: not only have they had lifetimes to master their chosen fields of study, but they know the history of their eras almost off by heart.
    • This goes double for the few Kalachakra who can remember literally everything of their past lives: Harry himself is one, having used his unfading memory to become a professor of physics at an incredibly early age, even working on the Manhattan Project in one iteration of history. Vincent is a villainous example of this: he's using his scientific skill to perform a Technology Uplift in one timeline, then uses all the knowledge he accumulated over the course of that life to perform an even bigger uplift in the next one until he has a working quantum mirror.
  • Inconspicuous Immortal: The Kalachakra possess Born-Again Immortality by way of "Groundhog Day" Loop; while many of them live large and devote themselves to extravagant lives of adventure, hedonism, philosophy, or scientific research, others are more than happy to spend entire lifetimes on a perfectly mundane existence. Harry himself has taken this path more than once, abandoning a decadent period of "wine, women, and song" in favour of becoming a labourer in Jerusalem. Harry also spends an entire lifetime as an unassuming journalist, simply in order to lull Vincent into believing that he successfully erased Harry's memories during their previous encounter.
  • Killed Off for Real: If a timeline is changed enough to prevent a kalachakra from being born, they're gone for good in all future timelines as well.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The Forgetting, the other way to "kill" a kalachakra. It involves a Memory-Wiping Crew carefully attaching number of electrical nodes to the head of the subject and injecting a chemical cocktail into their veins, which wipes the mind of the subject. The subject is then killed and reborn with no memory of previous lives unless the subject is a mnemonic like Harry, with perfect recall of all previous lives, who by the end of the book has survived three Forgettings at the hands of Vincent, although the book isn't explicit as to whether or not Vincent simply screwed up during the procedure.
  • Signs of the End Times: Message from the future kalachakras is quite clear. "The world is ending and we cannot prevent it."
  • The Masquerade: Kalachakras generally avoid revealing themselves. This is justified by the fact that, if they alter history too much, all the kalachakras who will be born in the future will cease to exist.
  • Muggles: Linears, as kalachakras call anyone who isn't reborn with their memories.
  • Really 700 Years Old: As people who have lived dozens of lives with centuries, if not millennia of knowledge and memories, all kalachakras count as this mentally. Amusingly lampshaded by one dying kalachakra Harry visits as a child.
    "You've trained as a doctor, haven't you? I can't stand bloody doctors, especially when they're five years old."
  • Resurrection/Death Loop: First-time immortals often Freak Out as a result of their first death, and even veteran kalachakra are often reborn with the trauma of their previous deaths still haunting them; as such, it's the duty of the Cronus Club to provide vital psychological support to newly-reincarnated members. More disturbingly, the Club's punishment of Victor Hoeness involved inflicting this on purpose.
  • The Reveal: The penultimate chapter reveals that Harry is writing the novel as a letter in-universe to Vincent on a typewriter. This explains the way he writes and in the introduction, referring to the reader (Vincent) as his greatest enemy and best friend. Counting on Harry's memories not surviving the Forgetting, Vincent revealed to him his point of origin (birthplace and date). Since Harry sat through the Forgetting with his mind intact, he's now free to die and cause Vincent's mother to miscarry, thus killing him in all future lives.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!: Many kalachakras treat linears like animals at best. Once you've reset a few dozen times, it's hard to care about "short-term" consequences that only last one life at most.
  • The Slow Path: Kalachakras stuck in an unpleasant situation can end their life to be reborn, relive to the current moment, and avoid the problem, but it is considered tedious (especially the first few years), and most try to avoid it, if possible. The Chronus Club and it's members will also sometimes send messages this way, with messages going backwards sometimes taking multiple cycles to reach their recipients.
  • Technology Uplift: Vincent's plan to obtain the technology needed for the quantum mirror is to send blueprints of future technologies to current scientist and wait for their progress. Then repeat it in the next life with new technologies they managed to discover.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: The kalachakras tend to be quietly wealthy based on their foreknowledge.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Definitely the kind of work where the author simply bends the rules of causality in the manner that best serves the next plot twist. For example, the characters' ability to lead completely different lives from one rebirth to the next is handwaved by stating that a single person is never enough to change the grand events of history, yet the end of the novel revolves around a single person doing exactly that. Okay, it's never stated it's plain impossible, and the change happens because certain person is trying really hard, but are we really to believe that no one has ever inadvertently knocked some dominoes out of place?
    • Not only large events, but small as well. How come the circumstances of Harry's birth are always exactly the same despite there being thousands of kalachakra living out their cycles long before that moment, having plenty of opportunities to unwittingly twist history in unexpected ways?
      • Perhaps upon death, a kalachakra simply returns to that certain point of origin and history only begins to branch after that? But in such a case, why do they make such a fuss of the fact that only way to kill kalachakra seems to be to either kill their mothers or cause them to miscarry before they are born? Would that not mean said kalachakra's birth is prevented in only THAT timeline, yet somehow events happen before the birth that do affect things like whether there even are Cronus Clubs in the first place, but NEVER the exact circumstances of a single kalachakra's birth, unless of course, the parents are deliberately killed... uh yeah, it's definitely one of those works where you should not think about it too closely.
    • Also, what makes a certain ball (the birth of a kalachakra) *start*?
  • Undying Warrior: The Kalachakra only possess Born-Again Immortality via "Groundhog Day" Loop, so most prefer to avoid violence - especially given that they usually end up reborn feeling the aftereffects of any trauma they experienced. The one exception to this is Fidel Gussman, who prefers to spend eternity on war, though he freely admits that he has no hope of changing the outcome of any of the conflicts he gets involved in, and fights simply because he enjoys the thrill of violence more than the luxury offered by the Cronus Club. Plus, he honestly prefers dying in battle to dying of cancer - his most common cause of death.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Harry and Vincent. They don't.