If North has a ‘shtick’, it is our world—our real, wonderful, edgy and oft-baffling world—with a hidden twist. The introduction, for example, of a single, fantastical power—such as invisibility (The Sudden Appearance of Hope) or a limited type of time travel (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August). In the best tradition of Golden Age SF, North then explores what that twist does—what its impact can be, what sort of society would time-recursive immortals create? What are the physical limitations of body-hopping? What are the unique problems that these powers can create? In the best tradition of post-Golden Age SF, North then gently eschews all of that to focus on the human element. What do these powers, and institutions, and societies actually mean? What does it do to a human to be part of, but removed from, the rest of the world? What’s the emotional and moral cost, not just the cost paid by our unique protagonists, but by the rest of the world?
This review of The Gameshouse put into words the idea that the science in a sci-fi book is the motor and maybe the hook, but it’s because of the characters—the people—that we stick around any book.