Cloud Atlas

Cloud AtlasA few months ago, I remember reading a MetaFilter thread where somebody was asking for recommendations of a good, modern sci-fi-ish book to recommend to his wife, who doesn’t actually like sci-fi. One title that popped up a lot was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. (Here’s the thread.) I spotted it in the bookstore not long after and picked it up, but I didn’t get around starting it til last week. I didn’t really know anything about it other than it was supposed to be one of those “postmodern” novels where the timeline is a bit of a puzzle and the bits are all intersecting. Needless to say, I was pretty surprised to find myself reading some sort of Hornblower tale of the South Pacific, with a bunch of 19th century Englishmen learning about Maori history. “This is science fiction?” And then suddenly… it changed completely.I don’t want to ruin it for you though, so I’m going to keep the plot discussion minimal. But don’t worry; it’s not a nerdy genre piece with aliens or spaceships. Most of it isn’t what you’d classify as “sci-fi” at all. So don’t let that put you off. But if you think you might read it AT ALL, don’t do any googling on it or read the Wikipedia. The structure is a lot more fun to discover on your own and I’m glad I came to it without any expectations. Suffice it to say that the “gimmick” tested my patience at first, and you may well find the first half of the book a little frustrating. (It’s not confusing though; these isn’t a hoity-toity story where the language is impenetrable.) By the time we got to Korea, I was completely hooked. (Sonmi’s tale was my favorite by far.) And then suddenly it all starts to make sense and you reach the top of the mountain, and you’ve got it worked out and you’re sure you know where the second half is going to go – because you’ve already seen where it’s going to go – but you plunge in all the same and you’re both racing to find out what happens and dreading each link in the chain that brings you nearer to the end… and then suddenly you’re right where you expected to be, but you’re still amazed that he managed to pull it off. So if you’re looking for something a little different, something that is both an entertaining read and a work of stunning inventiveness, I really recommend Cloud Atlas. Now I just have to convince the Snook that getting a comet tattooed on my shoulder is a good idea…

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  1. I’m a fellow fan of the book, Kris–I’m glad you enjoyed it. I even got a few of my students to read it! Not all of them finished it, of course, but most did.

  2. I agree with you on it being good but not great, Max. You’re exactly right on the “what does it all mean?” analysis. There were a lot of themes and issues addressed, but none of them particularly stood out more than the others. I enjoyed it more for the sheer imagination of it – six different stories, all with very different tones and styles, all with interesting plots that I wanted to see resolved. (Frobisher was my other favorite as well.) And even the ones I didn’t like so much – like Cavendish – had their moments. (I laughed out loud when the little guy jumped on the bar and exhorted the Scots to save them.) There’s also a certain satisfaction in watching an author set up a bunch of dominoes and then watching them tumble down in order. (Confession: I also enjoyed The Da Vinci Code for this reason. I’m a sucker for plotty books.)

    Sidetrack: There was a book I saw mentioned on your blog in the past month or so, Max, but I can’t remember the title. I just remember that you insinuated it had a pretty big plot surprise, and a whole bunch of people had left comments about it. I was afraid to go into the discussion though for fear of being spoiled. Can you remember the one I’m thinking of? I checked at the time to see if it was out here yet and it wasn’t, but it may be now and I’d like to get it.

  3. The Ruins! By Scott Smith! AWESOME!

    (Sorry…I just really enjoyed the book.)

  4. Sweet! I knew it was something like that. I’ll look for it again today.

  5. I GOT IT! I’m a little perturbed that it was in the “Crime” section though. I normally don’t go for the crime books. You better come through for me here! 🙂

  6. Um, TOTALLY not a crime book, don’t worry–it’s flat-out horror. And not that high-falutin’ horror, but full-on blood n’ guts. A lot of blood n’ guts.

    Can’t wait to see what you think. Here’s my original post with comments, should you want to see other folks’ reactions after you finish.

  7. I started reading it last night before bed, and it felt OMINOUS! Too scary to read before bed. So I think it’s going to have to be a daytime book. I can’t believe you tricked me into reading horror! I’m normally too much of a scaredy cat for it. 🙂

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