Cloud Atlas (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 14 May 2017 08:42

loud Altas - it's not one book, it's six!

Actually, it is only one book, a set of six stories told from differing human epochs. All the characters share a distinctive birthmark, a blemish in the shape of a comet on their shoulder. And all their stories link together very distantly, but, like instruments in an orchestra, all of them taken together produce a message to the reader. And the message can be bittersweet, yes, but uplifting too.

So, we have...

ADAM EWING - A San Francisco attorney who, in 1849, is on his return journey to his home from the far side of the Pacific, where he passes through various cultures and various barbarities, while suffering a brain parasite that might just kill him...

ROBERT FROBISER - A young composer and homosexual in the 1930s, who is forced to assist an aging maestro while crating his own magnificent piece, the musical perfection he will call Cloud Atlas. His story is told to us in letters to his once-lover, Rufus Sixsmith. Interestingly, he is reading Adan Ewing's Pacific account...

LUISA REY - In 1973, she is a feisty reporter investigating the corruption (and outright danger) around a west coast nuclear power plant. She meets the now older, now engineer Rufus Sixsmith in a stalled elevator, recovers his letters from Robert Forbiser after he is killed in a whistleblower attempt, and even while getting driven off a bridge and shot at by a corporate goon, she manages to hear Cloud Atlas in a record store...

TIMOTHY CAVENDISH - A seedy publisher in 2012, who is falsely imprisoned by his own brother in an old-folks home, he eventually escapes and returns to publishing, sparking his career's second wind with Half-lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery. Of course, he also publishes his own struggles as The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, which is made into a movie...

SONMI-451 - A fabricant working in a fast-food restaurant somewhere on the sprawling, polluted Korean coastline of 2144, Sonmi's unthinking, unquestioning routine is changed by the tinkerings of a bored PHD student. Eventually drawn into the political realm by anti-government rebels, she creates Declarations, a thoughtful piece of the rights of all sentients. In many ways, she is influence by an old movie she watched while in hiding, something about some man from long ago, Timothy Cavendish, who was also imprisoned and marginalized with old people. In the end, she is executed by the government.

ZACHRY - An old man in post-holocaust Hawaii, he recounts his own story, how his father and brother were killed by Kona raiders (and how he blames himself). He also talks about a group of high-tech traders who visit these lands. One of them, Meronym, elects to stay with his people for a time. His tribe all worship their goddess Sonmi. In the end, after the Kona overrun everything and enslave his people, Meronym sees him moved to a safer island.

Interestingly, the book progresses from the oldest time to the newest in a series of half-stories, leaving each character at some position in their life before moving onto the next. Zachery's story is the only one told in full, and after his, we resolve our tales in reverse order, until Adam Ewing gives us the book's payoff.

So yes, the stories wend like the ivy of the human spirit across the brick wall of injustice and slavery. You will see humanity at its beastly worse, with Christians enslaving natives, Koreans enslaving clones, and Kona horsemen brutalizing just about everything. In that, the book touches on the questions that any thinking human must ask in their lives - when looking at the world and how shitty it is, why bother? Why be good, why fight the good fight, why attempt to make an effort? And in a way, it answers just these questions (though, still, I have to admit that it is a downer to know that even with all these efforts and small success, the world does seem to be winding down in the end).

But I really liked this one. It held me even though I was in a tough week at work, working non-stop through day and night. While eating at my desk in the late, dark hours, I'd read about Zackery, of Somni, of Ewing and the others and know that even in a world of dark human misery, there are still twinkling stars of goodness.

Anyway, yes, it's a great read. The movie is fun in its own way (though it is a bit frantic in places, a lot more choppy, and takes a pass or two to understand. Further, they jam a happy ending on it (that Meronym's people have established a colony on another planet and lift poor Zackery into its utopia)). But the movie is worth watching, just as the book is worth reading. It's a strong recommendation from me. Have a go at it!


Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 20:31