David Mitchell's first two novels unfortunately lacked a solid (or even liquid) moral core. Things just seemed to happen: molecules collided, wheels spun, characters drifted rudderless. The prose was scintillating but ultimately sterile.

His latest, Cloud Atlas, fills that abyss. In an interview with the Washington Post "Book World" [1] (2004-08-22) Mitchell explains the sea change :

WP: What, in your mind, distinguishes this book from your others?

DM: It has more of a conscience. I think this is because I am now a dad. I need the world to last another century and a half, not just see me to happy old age.

That's a profoundly good thought! (Of course, even those without their own biological progeny can share it. And next time let's try to look ahead a bit longer than 150 years, eh?)

The six novellas that nest matryoshka-fashion to make Cloud Atlas are individually brilliant experiments in storytelling. Some are quite science-fictional, with strong echoes of the best Cordwainer Smith sf stories of the 1950's and 1960's, both in social responsibility and in edgy style. (Smith's underperson C'Mell in particular resonates with Mitchell's fabricant Sonmi-451.) Other segments of Cloud Atlas are reminiscent of Spider Robinson's alternative-future Orange County tales.

Sure, there is the occasional pedestrian passage, graphically violent encounter, predictable plot device, and cosmic improbability. (And --- techno-quibble warning! --- that was no radio telescope on page 276 inside the dome on top of Mauna Kea.) But overall, Mitchell's combined originality and poetic finesse makes Cloud Atlas a seriously delightful read. More, please!

(see also My Religion (6 Nov 2000), TripleThink (25 Jul 2002), GhostWritten (12 Mar 2005), NumberNineDream (30 Mar 2005), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicPoetry - 2005-04-07

(correlates: SyntacticSugar, NumberNineDream, GhostWritten, ...)