Cloud Atlas 07 - An Orison of Sonmi - 451

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So for me this was the high point of Cloud Atlas, though Sloosha's Crossing is a close second. Even though the plot was nothing special, I thought everything worked in this story - the exotic world-building, the characters and their motivations, the horror and dystopia all were believable fictions to me. It was rich enough that I kept asking myself, "But what is over there just out of frame?" without feeling that anything was lacking - just like a real world where we just cannot describe everything. I'm currently working on a new setting with a local group, and am finding that we can just leave a lot of stuff vague until its needed. I was raised in RPGs where published settings were exhaustive, but have discovered that it is not really necessary as long as I have a clear idea of why the NPCs are doing things. The other members of the group may disagree with me of course.

Anyway, I found the detail provided here was just like that, e.g. the university was like a university, but different in ways that increased my interest as a reader. And the vocabulary was at the right level of oddness.

This was also the story that I actually noticed similarities with the Luisa Rey Mystery., e.g. the car trips. I suddenly realised there was a similar flight to safety in Timothy Cavendish, which I hadn't connected. For me this further undermined the whole reincarnation reading - I started to notice that themes and motifs were what was keeping the stories together.

Have other things to say, but would like to hear from the rest of you ...

Comments

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    I’m curious. Can all the stories be mapped to this one?
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    For me also, this was the most compelling individual story - well imagined and well executed. Foreshadowed in the second story, but in such an oblique way that on first reading one could easily miss the reference. A marvellously consistent yet disturbing world that has a real air of authentic possibility.

    I particularly liked the way Sonmi, with her steadily growing perception, realises that she is being set up by both sides to fulfil a specific role, yet continues to do so despite this - the same perception tells her that this option is actually the most likely to be fruitful according to her own agenda. But she plays the part with conscious awareness, not simply as a puppet. Of course, the question for her (as for us) is whether it is all too late for anything to be effective as a means of change?

    And as we mentioned in one of the initial two questions, language starts to break down here as compared to our current style, but in fairly gentle and easy ways.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    So for me this was the high point of Cloud Atlas, though Sloosha's Crossing is a close second. Even though the plot was nothing special, I thought everything worked in this story - the exotic world-building, the characters and their motivations, the horror and dystopia all were believable fictions to me. It was rich enough that I kept asking myself, "But what is over there just out of frame?" without feeling that anything was lacking - just like a real world where we just cannot describe everything.

    Is it very different from the way the alien (to European eyes) world of the Chatham Islands is portrayed in Ewing's account, or even the setting interwar Belgium, now outside living memory? In other words, do we notice the "hints at out of frame" more in this story than others, because the "out of frame" is unfamiliar?

    (I'm reminded of a trip for work for somewhere in the Persian Gulf. Part of the social programme was a visit to a museum. The general consensus was that most of the exhibits (geology, astronomy, electromagnetism, etc) were below the level of our party (a group of senior academics), but the section on on Arabic history was excellent and pitched just right. No, I thought: all the sections were pitched at the same level, but we had lots of prior knowledge in most of the sections, but not the Arabic one. It was the right level for us because we didn't know anything about it.)

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I particularly liked the way Sonmi, with her steadily growing perception, realises that she is being set up by both sides to fulfil a specific role, yet continues to do so despite this - the same perception tells her that this option is actually the most likely to be fruitful according to her own agenda. But she plays the part with conscious awareness, not simply as a puppet. Of course, the question for her (as for us) is whether it is all too late for anything to be effective as a means of change?

    I did like that revelation. She was a puppet, but allowing her to spread her message was the best chance of bringing down the regime. But she may not have been successful, but subsequent scapegoats might have been. Why tip her hand to the regime, in the form of the interrogator, and hence prevent further iterations of awakening?

    The artifice in this story forces us to reflect on the artifice that underlies the other stories. The Luisa Rey story is perhaps the most far-fetched in that regards, but the Cavendish story is also pretty unlikely.

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    On the first read through I found all the stories absorbing. This time, however, this one was one of the least interesting to me, though I found the second half much more absorbing than the first, for this and other stories.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    On the first read through I found all the stories absorbing. This time, however, this one was one of the least interesting to me, though I found the second half much more absorbing than the first, for this and other stories.

    I agree with this. I found the first half of the book overall hard going, but the second half much better. How much of the first half of the book could have been cut? Perhaps not so much for this story, but I think quite a lot for Cavendish.

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    I wonder if the feelings @Apocryphal and @NeilNjae are expressing are a consequence of the ring structure? Normally with a story we accept a fair amount of setup and then expect things to get going (cf the conversation about The Gradual). Here we just get through some setup for Ewing, then we start setup for Frobischer, then Luisa, and so on. Not until we get to the second half of the innermost ring do we start to get development and resolution

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    Maybe, but I normally have much more tolerance for setup than @NeilNjae does, so I think in this case it’s more a function of my state of mind.
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    I think the ring structure was actually too important. Highlighting that form is completely dominant over function, as Mitchell did at the end of the first chapter with it ending mid-sentence, seems to me to indicate to the reader that neither the speakers nor what happens to them is what matters. Just as in music, one response to a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, might be "Technically good, but boring."

    I'm not saying that I think Cloud Atlas was boring, but I do think it is not a completely successful, and that is because Mitchell has made too much the form. What matters, what draws the crowd, is the composer's formal skill rather than their representation of the world, it is the form which is meant to elicit admiration for the composer at the expense of any other reaction from the reader.

    Insert usual rant about entrepreneurs and work in the heavy industry of dreams here.

    I think the problem is upon repetition (re-reading), it will start to look a little threadbare. No entrepreneur can make a living money from re-reading, just like they can't make money from cures.

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    Interestingly we had similar concerns about the use of the gazetteer form for the (obviously fictional) story Christopher Priest put together in The Dream Archipelago - is it appropriate to use one written form to deliver a quite different kind of content? And so risk one's readership getting caught up on the wrong thing, as it were.

    Personally I don't have a problem of principle with experimenting with form, though clearly it's a value judgement whether the experiment works in one case or another. If we think of the kind of forms we experience in streamed media these days, they tend to be either
    a) monster-of-the-week, returning to status quo at the end of each episode, or
    b) periodic high-adrenalin cliffhanger so the audience is hooked to come back next week (or next series, as the case may be)

    Arguable neither of these fits very well with the style which has developed for the modern novel, but they do very well in their home context. One can easily imagine writing a kind of novel using one or other of those two forms, and my gut feel is that it would have to be handled very well by the author to make it come off.

    Here, David Mitchell is using a form which was at certain times in the past very much a standard method of delivering stories, so it's not so much experimentation with novelty as experimenting with retro - quite a long way retro in terms of the modern novel! So there is certainly an unfamiliarity with this form for a modern audience. I enjoyed it, but it remains to be seen whether it's a book I return to over and over.

    At a guess, if I read it another time I would discover more interconnecting threads which I missed the first two times, as I strongly suspect Mitchell is a clever enough author to have put much more of that kind of thing in there. Would that be enough to keep me enjoying it, or would it start to look threadbare? Not sure yet...

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Here, David Mitchell is using a form which was at certain times in the past very much a standard method of delivering stories, so it's not so much experimentation with novelty as experimenting with retro - quite a long way retro in terms of the modern novel! So there is certainly an unfamiliarity with this form for a modern audience. I enjoyed it, but it remains to be seen whether it's a book I return to over and over.

    At a guess, if I read it another time I would discover more interconnecting threads which I missed the first two times, as I strongly suspect Mitchell is a clever enough author to have put much more of that kind of thing in there. Would that be enough to keep me enjoying it, or would it start to look threadbare? Not sure yet...

    I'm not sure either. It's a good book, and I expect I will read it again in a little while. But there have been some works I have been re-reading for years, and they change as I do. I'm not sure CA will prove capable of that.

    I think that satisfying work needs to not only provide interconnecting threads within itself, but also without itself, change the reader not only within the work but also without the work. I think traditional story-telling provided (and provides) a healthier outside than these modern stories. I love a candybar, but you can't live on them, and at some point they become harmful in even small quantities. At some point they need to give way to nourishing food, no matter what they short-term payoffs. And people who pedal only junkfood (I'm not referring to Mitchell or Priest here, but perhaps to some in their entourages) ... well at some point I think they, like junkfood, go from merely unhelpful individuals to active community problem.

    I guess that over the last couple of years, seeing modern fantasies and speculative fictions overpower accomplishment of an actual world many people yearn for has made wonder if these works are as harmless as they seem. Is the mass production of fantasies of interconnectedness (conspiracy) entirely unconnected with my world: People attacking other people outside hospitals and schools because of the failure of their dreams of independent sovereignty, while almost 7,000 people have died of COVID-19 on the island of Montreal.

    One of things that I think CA is doing is presenting an individual as not simply a community, but the universal community.:

    @NeilNjae said:
    Mitchell said of his book:

    Literally all of the main characters, except one, are reincarnations of the same soul in different bodies throughout the novel identified by a birthmark ... that's just a symbol really of the universality of human nature.

    Maybe it's time for work that puts dreams of souls aside for dreams of communities, at least until we sort out some more pressing matters.

    Hey @NeilNjae what edition of Cloud Atlas did you get? I want to read this.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:

    Hey @NeilNjae what edition of Cloud Atlas did you get? I want to read this.

    That quote was lifted via wikipedia, so no help there!

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    @BarnerCobblewood i think you should read A Stranger in Olondria with us.
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