The Many Selves of Katherine North
By Emma Geen
Published June 7th 2016
Was looking for a newly published book to read, and once I read the blurb for this book I went straight to Amazon and bought it. I had to interrupt this novel in order to get through the novellas for the Hugos, which was a shame, coz this is a novel where you have to be paying attention to all the time skips and body changes, but I was still able to follow along.
At the end it was worth the effort, as Kit’s journey through different animals and human treachery proved to be a very entertaining, thought-provoking read.
This book centres around a fictional technology called phenomenautism, which allows people to project their consciousness into an artificially made body. The most common use of this technology is animal research; the main character researches animals impacted by humanity by living as that animal for a time. The descriptions of the animals were really on point; my favourite was the octopus. Geen has done a lot of research on how animals experience the world, and it shows. Each new animal Kit gets to be feels different, and exciting. The technology itself – including all the side-effects and support needed to make it work – are described in great detail, without feeling like massive info dumps. We learn what is needed to keep the original body going while Kit is being an animal, we see how the artificial animals are made, we get some reference to how they are transported to their environment, we have a mention about how this technology impacts VR… all this, and I never felt like I was getting overloaded with exposition. We get the exact right amount of information for phenomenautism to seem like a real practice.
Kit is also an engaging character. She is nineteen, and has been jumping into different animals for seven years. The story is told from her 1st person perspective, and seeing how her experience in the animal world shapes her thoughts on human life is great. Though we also have to wonder if she’s becoming too detached from humanity at times. Eventually Kit realises that her employer, Shencorp, isn’t all it seems. They want to go from purely research based to allowing tourists to pay thousands to experience what it’s like being an animal. This raises a bunch of ethical questions about how humanity views and uses animals. It also gets Kit into a lot of trouble. When we first meet Kit, she’s on the run after discovering that Shencorp has done something really dodgy.
So the story starts big, with Kit on the run and with nowhere to go. It’s exciting watching her try to get by and plan how to take down Shencorp, and the flashbacks are good. But then the flashbacks get a bit too obtrusive for my liking. Well, not really the main flashbacks, but a lot of the time when we’re in the present, Kit ends up hiding somewhere and thinking about the past, so we kinda have two sets of flashbacks that slow the main story down. It makes the story drag a bit in the middle. A lot of that stuff needed to be pared back a bit, and maybe replaced with more parts about Kit trying to find food and shelter while plotting her revenge on Shencorp.
But that is the only complaint I have about this book. The Many Selves of Katherine North is an entertaining story, that asks big questions about identity, ethics, and the value of the animal world. There is also a cute fox cub. Highly recommended.