The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
|The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: Rebecca Foster|
|Summary: In her work for the shadowy ShenCorp, Kit projects herself into the lab-grown bodies of all kinds of creatures – especially foxes but also everything from spiders to seals – to better understand animal behaviour. An inventive but somewhat disorienting debut novel.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: June 2016|
|Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus|
|External links: Author's website|
As a Bristol-area 'phenomenaut', nineteen-year-old Kit projects herself into the lab-grown bodies of all sorts of creatures. She's recently spent a lot of time as a fox (appropriate given her nickname) and got particularly close with a vixen named Tomoko. It's becoming much harder for her to leave the animal world behind at the end of her 'jumps'. Even after Buckley, her neuroengineer, signals her to 'Come home' and she resumes her original body, she has trouble giving up animal tendencies like territorialism, toileting outdoors and raiding bins.
It's not just foxes; Kit has also been a mouse and a bird, and readers follow her on her temporary transformations into a spider, an octopus, a seal and a rattlesnake. The ostensible reason behind the jumps is to better understand animal behaviour and the impact that humans are having on vulnerable populations. Thus, during her eight hours as a spider Kit picks up tips on weaving technology; her time as an octopus shows her how oil drilling is negatively affecting the species.
However, Kit's employer, ShenCorp, hopes to expand its operations. They plan on offering 'Consumer Phenomenautism'. Trips into the consciousness of endangered animals are soon to become a tourist experience. ShenCorp is even investigating creepy human-to-human transfer, too. All of this is top-secret but presented to Kit as an opportunity for promotion. They want her and Buckley to develop the customer experience, including pre-jump testing. She'll miss the in-depth research involved in jumps and feels uneasy at the thought of using animals for financial gain, but ShenCorp makes it clear that, as an ageing phenomenaut (most of their employees are younger teens), this is her last and only chance.
Like a lot of speculative fiction, this debut novel combines believable technology with far-fetched scenarios. There's a lot of made-up jargon that can initially be a challenge to plough through, but once you get the hang of it you can suspend disbelief and happily follow Kit along on her jumps. All the same, the way the novel is structured makes it repetitive and disorienting. You constantly have to work out who/what Kit is now, which makes the action hard to follow. A simple date, time and location marker at the head of every chapter or section would go a long way towards clearing this up.
As it is, the novel is rather disorienting. It's got a lot of interesting ideas (Geen is a psychology and philosophy graduate, after all), but the reading experience was only so-so for me. In the best passages, though, Geen really helps you imagine what it would be like to be another kind of creature entirely, as in this account of being a spider: 'Then I feel the dribble. Juices are oozing from my rear and hardening into weight – my spinnerets are producing silk. The realisation takes me by surprise. Of course, I've read about this but the actual experiences of a body are rarely as I'd expect.' Recommended to science fiction fans, but literary fiction readers might hesitate.
Further reading suggestion: Another literary work of science fiction we can recommend is The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. If you can't get enough of foxes in fiction, you'll want to read Glow by Ned Beauman.
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