Thursday, September 23, 2004

cloud atlas, good but not that good?

I read Cloud Atlas and I rather liked it. But I’ve been surprised by the amount of praise it’s been receiving from the Booker judges. Yeah, it was good and the structure was interesting (and did actually work as part of the narrative to create tension and closure – more than just a gimmick!), but I didn’t think it was quite as revolutionary as people keep suggesting. I think what it has managed is something of a cross-over, two of the six stories that make up the narrative (or perhaps that should be two of the books that form the meta-narrative?) are really sci-fi and, like some of Margaret Atwood’s novels, take ‘regular’ fiction readers by surprise and delight them. By this I don’t mean that ‘regular’ fiction readers are stupid, just that the best sci-fi excels in the kind of big ideas that Mitchell tackles in Cloud Atlas, but don’t gain the same readership and cachet thanks to their classification as sci-fi/cult/geeky etc. I’ve certainly read similar stuff by sci-fi authors that has stayed with me for longer than Cloud Atlas.


Blogger paulhd said...

As much as I don't care for Sci-fi/Fantasy I've long been annoyed at the snobbish reaction to it for people who read 'proper' books. Generally sci-fi/fantasy suck big time, but there have been some excellent books written within that genre. It's incredibly annoying when people who look down on genre work read something like Cloud Atlas or Atwood and deny that they are reading genre material because then they would have to conceed that there's some merit to genre work beyond their preconcieved notions based on the majority of the dross out there (like there isn't an awful lot of bad 'proper' books out there) That Brave New World or 1984 are rarely seen as sci-fi is ridiculous, just because they have more to offer than laser guns and space ship. Already Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has been taken out of the sci-fi/fantasy section to be given prominence in fiction, it's a book about magic in Victorian england for God's sake! It's just the same as when Maus came out in bookshops, all of a sudden to the general reader it's not a comic, because that would mean they were reading a comic and they couldn't possibly do that. Or kid's book that adults can enjoy, all of a sudden they aren't really kid's books, they need different book jacket to differenciate them, they need to be put in the adult section because it wouldn't do to say go to the kid's section.... GAH! Anyway, apologies for ranting on your blog instead of doing it on mine

24/9/04 11:00 am  
Blogger paul said...

Yes, quite. The problem is that people view sci-fi/fantasy as being adventure stories containing either hi-tech or magic and all the nonsense words and staple ideas that go with these. There are plenty of books in the genres that are like that. But the great stories are about ideas that explore the human condition or the universe itself. Where we might take ourselves with new technology does not mean a story focussed on the miniature of the technology, but the consequences of our all-too-human use of the technology.

So, while Mitchell tackles this idea of a lose collection of individuals that somehow give rise to grand and futile narratives and events (the way we’re all drifting around aimlessly but with some kind of tenuous linkage, a metaphor for the whole of human kind now and always) with aplomb it is certainly not new to a seasoned sci-fi reader. As just one example, Greg Egan's Diaspora - although it contains some 'hard physics' ideas - also excels at creating dizzying thoughts about who we are and what we might become. And, for my money, is far more jaw-dropping than cloud atlas.

27/9/04 8:52 am  

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