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The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe

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3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  239 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
A forgotten SF classic that exposed the pitfalls of voyeuristic entertainment decades before the reality show craze.

A few years in the future, medical science has advanced to the point where it is practically unheard of for people to die of any cause except old age. The few exceptions provide the fodder for a new kind of television show for avid audiences who lap up the ex
...more
Paperback, 239 pages
Published 2012 by Gollancz (first published 1973)
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Chris
Jul 07, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi-dystopia
Most, if not all, of us have seen part of or even a whole episode of a reality show. Even though of us that avoid the Real Housewives series like the plague have watched shows on HGTV, a cooking show, or even a show like Deadliest Catch. Whether or not we still watch them is a different story, but odds are you have seen part of a reality show sometime. At their best, reality shows are educational – cooking show for instance, or blended with competition – like say some cooking shows or the Amazin ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I saw that Jeff VanderMeer had written the introduction for this, so I snagged it when it became available in Edelweiss for review.

I wasn't super into it. I think I was struggling to read it in the context of that time. Because reality tv is so pervasive now, it's almost a logical step to consider a reality show that follows a death. We have some of that already when people announce they are choosing assisted suicide, when news becomes reality tv. But considering that this is from the 1970s, it
...more
Anna
Aug 03, 2016 Anna rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, scifi, dystopia
First something I must get off my chest: I heartily dislike the new goodreads homepage. It’s far too busy, I much preferred the less cluttered old version. Secondly, this is a short novel and only took me three days to read because it is, pardon my French, grim as fuck. A bitterer, more cynical sci-fi novel I have rarely come across. The conceit is as follows: Katherine Mortenhoe is diagnosed with a terminal illness that will kill her in mere weeks. As such illnesses are vanishingly rare, she im ...more
Steve Dewey
Mar 02, 2014 Steve Dewey rated it really liked it
Set in some unspecified time period in which people rarely die of illness, only of old age, such "unnatural" deaths are televised and have become a spectacle for an audience unused to such suffering. The book has been seen as a reaction to the intrusiveness of television and nascent reality TV programming; yet, in the end, it is predominantly a book about people and relationships in a particular near-future milieu.

Indeed, Katherine Mortenhoe doesn't even appear on television until half way throu
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Bbrown
Jan 26, 2017 Bbrown rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
It's a rare book that has both an NYRB Classics edition and an SF Masterwork edition, but don't let that raise your expectations: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe got reprinted by NYRB Classics because someone thought it could be pitched as one of those prescient works of science fiction that predicted a current trend, in this case reality television. It got the SF Masterwork edition, on the other hand, because the SF Masterwork collection is decidedly a mixed bag. The premise here is undercut ...more
Simon
Jan 09, 2015 Simon rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf-masterworks, sf
Pre-empting reality TV, an intrusive media and a voyeuristic and hypocritical public are the themes explored here.

In the near future and most diseases have been eradicated, people only die when they get very old (or by accident). When someone actually becomes terminally ill before there time, they are of intense public interest and, to the right media tycoons, they are fit for exploitation. So dedicated to journalism and witnessing the truth, Roddie replaces his eyes with cameras so he is perman
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David
This book is about a hundred pages too long. The first 2/3 was fascinating, utterly riveting. Then the main characters went on the run together and it deteriorated very quickly. The writing is good; the characters are excellent; the plotting is abysmal.

This book is almost universally described by readers as "the best science fiction I have ever read." If you are thinking about reading it you should know that there is actually precious little science fiction in it. The speculative elements that a
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MichaelK
Jan 10, 2016 MichaelK rated it really liked it
The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe (1973) by D.G. Compton is the best SF Masterwork I've read in months.

Reality TV is very popular these days. We can, if so inclined, choose to watch real people: competing over performance skills (The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, etc), being affluent housewives (The Real Housewives of Cheshire, etc), working in a kitchen (Jamie's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, etc), working in a tattoo shop (Miami Ink, etc), driving on icy roads (Ice Road Truckers, etc), coping
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Martina
Aug 24, 2015 Martina rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
It surprises me that The continuous Katherine Mortenhoe is not more widely known. I've only recently found out about it (while browsing the shelves in a local bookstore, to boot), but the interesting blurb incited me to read it. Boy, am I glad I did. Now I totally understand why it's a part of the SF masterworks collection.

D.G. Compton had written this book in the advent of reality TV. He extrapolates that phenomenon to such lengths that may have been outrageous in the day, but alas, today it o
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Christopher
Jul 29, 2016 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What begins as a critique of media oversaturation ultimately becomes a stealthily touching rumination on the need for human interaction, understanding, and compassion. The narrative unfolds from two simultaneous perspectives, those of the eponymous Katherine Mortenhoe, diagnosed with a terminal brain disease brought on by sensory overload, and Roddie Patterson, a newscaster who has recently been implanted with an optical circuit which transmits his own vision back to the network for broadcast. C ...more
Daphna
Oct 15, 2016 Daphna rated it did not like it
I bought this book because I am always looking for reliable reviews that will broaden my reading experience. The New York Review of books referred to it as "a thrilling psychological drama that is as wise about human nature as it is about the nature of technology". Well, sorry NYRB, but it is neither. It was published in the seventies and the technology aspect is anachronistic and irrelevant. And yet, it didn't have to be. Reading Orwell's "1984" published in the late 40s and Zamyatkin's "WE" pu ...more
Edward Davies
Apr 06, 2014 Edward Davies rated it really liked it
This is an interesting look at how society has sadly become over the years, with a true fascination with celebrity and the unusual, a concept which has been used in such movies as The Truman Show and edTV. With this novels focus on a world where death is not common place, the illness of a seemingly ordinary member of society can quickly turn their lives into a living hell. The fact that the woman in this book may not in fact have the illness she has been told she has just adds to the overall pat ...more
Mark
Nov 10, 2016 Mark rated it really liked it
An alternate present more than a science fiction, and a biting attack on the tv world that should have been tired but in fact had only become more true. I was expecting mortenhoe to be shallow and comical but she was a charm.
Carol Peters
Sep 15, 2016 Carol Peters rated it really liked it
It's only not a 5 because Moby Dick is a 5 & this is not Moby Dick, but it is quite fine, Compton's imagining where we are going with our live-streaming & vicarious life streams. Thank you, whichever goodreads person suggested this one.
Michael
Dec 14, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it
A fine and prophetic novel of reality tv and celebrity culture that reads like it could of been written only a few years ago and not the nearly 40 that it was,
The only thing that stops me giving this 5 stars is the slightly lame ending, but a fine piece of early 70s british sci-fi none the less.
fromcouchtomoon
Aug 24, 2014 fromcouchtomoon rated it it was amazing
A new take on making love to the camera. (Kind of.) (Not really.)
Michael Whiteman
Mar 25, 2017 Michael Whiteman rated it really liked it
This is a look at a possible future seen from the 1970s, where death is so rare that the dying become celebrities, smothered by voyeurs wanting a taste of the pain and with companies offering protection in exchange for endorsements.

Roddie, a tv reporter with eyes replaced by cameras, is tasked with following Katherine, who has been told by her doctor and a tv company that she is terminally ill, to document her last month before death.

Roddie's focus is on discovering the "continuous Katherine Mo
...more
Noel Coughlan
Feb 09, 2017 Noel Coughlan rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
Katherine Mortenhoe has a terminal illness at an age that is extremely rare in her time. This makes her fodder for a voyeuristic reality television show determined to track the final weeks of her life in humiliating detail. Roddie, whose eyes have been replaced with cameras, is the man charged with this task.

Written in the mid-seventies, this book is haled for its prescience. It certainly is insightful, if bleak. Even the humor that peppers it is grim. Most of the characters are unlikable except
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Joe Milazzo
Oct 27, 2016 Joe Milazzo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quintessentially British in its bleakness, Compton's novel flirts with domestic melodrama just enough to offer an immersive experience rather unlike most exercises in this genre. Even the mythopoetic "reaching" that accompanies the climactic action feels justified, however; such is Compton's deftness as a writer and his physician-like attention to his characters.
Tom Wascoe
Dec 17, 2016 Tom Wascoe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not my kind of genre. A semi-Sci-Fi novel that takes the logical extension of today's reality TV shows to their extreme. Some interesting reflections on life. Well-written.
Corey
Feb 04, 2017 Corey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chilling world where the line between reality TV and reality blurs. Sound familiar? Yet this was written in 1974. Made into an equally compelling movie entitled Death Watch.
Peter Landau
The premise of this sci-fi book, THE CONTINUOUS KATHERINE MORTENHOE, from mid-1970s England gets all the attention: in the future, where most disease has been eradicated, the middle-aged woman of the title is diagnosed with a terminal illness and given months to live. The novelty of her condition is broadcast nationwide as a reality-TV show. It must have sounded wacky back then, even though this was the era of movies like NETWORK, and current reviewers note how precedent it is in retrospect. But ...more
Richard
Nov 15, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent, if somewhat forgotten, 70's science fiction novel set in a future where technology has made death by anything other than natural causes extremely rare, and deals with the encroachment of the media into a dying women's final hours. We are led through the story by the titular Katherine Mortenhoe, the woman dying of a terminal disease, Vincent, the TV executive bargaining for the rights to broadcast her death, and Roddie, or 'the man with the TV eyes', the cameraman who chronicles the ...more
Lydia
Oct 02, 2016 Lydia rated it really liked it
Great book, not just because it's so uncannily prescient, in 1973, about the invasion of reality tv and the end of privacy. It's a love story about our need to really know each other's 'continuous' selves. Katherine Mortenhoe is a failure -- a mediocre writer in a mediocre marriage with mediocre dreams -- and when we learn she has 4 weeks to die it doesn't really hurt. Roddie is the newsman hired to insinuate himself into her last days and secretly film her through the surgically implanted camer ...more
Emma Dyke
Sep 16, 2015 Emma Dyke rated it it was ok
Although the book explores interesting themes - discussing the finite (if any) amount of personal privacy in a thoroughly voyeuristic society; along with classism to a certain extent - I feel it misses the point on both counts. There was a certain deplorability of both main characters that may not have been deliberate, but I found oddly refershing in thr scifi genre. This aside, the story itself is filled with vague nothings that are not explained, and has what I thought to be an unsatisfying en ...more
C.M. Muller
Jun 05, 2013 C.M. Muller rated it really liked it
I came to this novel through its 1980 film adaptation, “Death Watch”. Both are rather meditative, which in our current express culture was a welcome change. This is perhaps one of the earliest novels (being published in 1974) to focus on the effects of reality television, as exemplified in the fascinating introduction by Lisa Tuttle. While I wouldn’t classify the story as cyberpunk, it does feature the cyber-motif of surgically altered eyesight (in this case, “video eyes”). That said, don’t expe ...more
kasia
Dec 12, 2016 kasia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not generally a fan of sci-fi/speculative fiction, but I quite enjoyed this one. It manages the perfect balance of exposition, such that you understand the basic premise of this other time period without having to wade through pages of tedious explanation. I think it works because unlike other books of this variety, it's not all that invested in the world-building side -- it's really a character study. And the characters are totally persuasive. I got so into the story that only later did I s ...more
Ian
Aug 02, 2016 Ian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of those books that has an interesting concept and is sort of hard to put down, yet the main characters were just sort of awful. The world building was pleasantly minimal, but I never really felt anything for either of the main characters. Maybe it's just a product of the time it was written in (the introduction which puts the novel in context was way more interesting than the actual novel, in my humble opinion).
Montgomery Webster
Story: 5 / 10
Characters: 5
Setting: 5
Prose: 3

A strong concept, but with a poorly balanced plot. Half the book was spent setting up the story, leaving little space for a proper pace. In the end, the concept is the only thing to take away from this one...

Memory triggers: TV eyes, eternal public protests, reality TV
David
Sep 11, 2016 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book written in the early 1970's looks forward to the bad reality shows of today. Katherine Mortenhoe has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and a TV station has decided to film her demise without her knowing it. They pay off her husband. She becomes a public celebrity. As her disease progresses the reporter following her has second thoughts and confesses.
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NYRB Classics: The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe, by D.G. Compton 3 37 Jul 05, 2016 12:22PM  
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