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Science fiction fantasy isn’t my usual genre. However, I have absolutely loved Claire North’s previous award-winning book: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Indeed it has been one of my favourite reads for a while.
Thus, the minute I heard that Claire had penned a new novella, Sweet Harmony, I had no real choice except to devour the book immediately! My choice to read a book by Claire North seems, quite frankly, predetermined.
Interestingly this kind of logic is also the theme of the book 🙂
When does a choice become an addiction?
When does a choice become a foregone conclusion?
Choose to find out now!
Author: Claire North
Publish date: Sept 22, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Books Group ( Imprint: Orbit )
Category: Sci-Fi | Fantasy
Good, scary book! It makes you look at a future, which unfortunately seems very likely. Especially with the way science and technology are progressing. Though it is rather bittersweet, the story packs quite a punch! I would recommend it for a quick weekend read. Trust me, it would lead to some very interesting dinner table conversation!!
Sweet Harmony is about a dystopian world where everything that seems like a choice is actually now a foregone conclusion. You are nudged, seduced and even programmed to push certain buttons to upgrade. And I am not talking about upgrading a mobile application, but your human body! No kidding!
In the protagonist’s world, you don’t actually have a choice over your body. You are started off as a baby. You are injected with nanobot vaccines that work much like today’s virus-based vaccines. Yet, like all things that come from a place of good, these too go out of hand.
Now, vaccination is important! Especially in a world that is waiting impatiently for one against the deadly coronavirus. In fact, there has never been a more critical time for the argument to invest in rapid immunization.
However, what if your immunity was a subscription-based model? What if your private insurance provider was actually a tech provider that seduces you with ‘upgrades’ for your body? What if they tell you that you can now go ahead and buy yourself some code that will alter your brain chemistry or enhance muscle tone or even libido! All with a tiny click?! Of course, each upgrade comes with a price tag. At times, you will be lucky enough to get a great discount or a super-saver pack.
This is how we meet perfection; sculpted robotic designed perfection – Harmony Meads. Harmony is a lovely young lady who has it all. A massive number of upgrades to make herself the ultimate picture of beauty and poise.
As a young girl Harmony had made one simple in-app purchase to upgrade herself. It was a choice! Heavily peer pressured, but a choice. It had been so simple! Indeed, why should anyone now ever eat right, exercise or even brush your teeth when all of it can be fixed with a click?! Why bother?
But then…reality kind of oozes out; quite literally. She has a pimple. The nanobots aren’t functional.
The book moves from the present to her past. You see flashbacks of the decisions she makes in the name of choosing what’s right for her.
With each nudge and tailored notification, for another in-app body upgrade, you watch her dependence increase. Unfortunately, Harmony and her peers’ worldview and self-worth is linked to physical appearance. Hence, you watch as her dependence increases while an avalanche of debt buries her in.
We watch as Harmony falls into the proverbial rabbit hole. As a reader, you root for her to emerge victoriously, but…
Short though, the story packs quite a punch!
I believe this is an important book. Maybe we need to see how easily things can get out of hand – even when they come from a place of good.
Does it all sound implausible?! Well, in my opinion, what is CRISPR – the gene-editing tool but progress towards this ‘designer body’. When does it go from a beauty filter on Instagram to getting a real-life filter with a nanobot?
If you watched the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, you will be familiar with how many pre-teen girls are now actually requesting for plastic surgery to make themselves look more like their Snapchat filter image. Crazy!
The book may seem a lot of hyperbole, but we need a mirror. Speaking of, the novella, reminded me of the Black Mirror TV series.
I would say that the book will be over in a couple of hours – at max! Yet the haunting premise will keep you pondering over our future. In fact, as I read the book, I had an amazing debate about technology vs morality. Perfect book club setting.
The only thing I just wasn’t happy with was how it closed. The end really tainted the experience. You’ll find out.
How To Buy The Book:
More about the Author:
Claire North is the pen name for the Carnegie-nominated Catherine Webb, who also writes under the name Kate Griffin. She wrote her first book at the age of 14, and since then has been making her presence felt in the literary world.
The author also works as a lighting designer for live music.
Complete list of books written by Claire North are here – Amazon link
I feel that Claire North is practising for the Black Mirror anthologies expected to come to market in 2025.
Claire North is one of the three authors that have been contracted by Charlie Brooker – the creator of Netflix’s Black Mirror TV show. Charlie is working on the first volume of an all-new Black Mirror fiction series. The other two authors contracted are New York Times bestseller Cory Doctorow and Sleeping Giants author Sylvain Neuvel.
Penguin Random House will be publishing the Black Mirror fiction series.
Questions for the Book Club
IMP: SPOILER ALERT, visit this section only after you’ve read the book:
- Can you think of examples when a choice became a need or an addiction? (E.g. mobile phones, poker etc) .
- Do you think that Harmony is a victim? Does she really want to change?
- If you had an opportunity to ‘upgrade’ yourself would you consider it? If yes, what would you choose to update?
- In the book, we see a case where nanobots have allowed a lady to survive albeit like a vegetable. In this context, do you think mortality is actually a gift?
- “The power of that – of being able to choose – is a rush, it’s the greatest drug…”. Do you agree with this thought process?
- Jiannis controlled Harmony’s body and appearance. Why do you think Harmony allowed this kind of a relationship? What do you think she realised when she finally broke up?
Disclaimer: Thanks to #NetGalley and the publisher for #SweetHarmony by #ClaireNorth – an ARC in exchange for an honest review.