I’ve been wanting to read Cloud Atlas: A Novel ever since I heard that part of it takes place in post-apocalyptic Hawaii. I’ve lived here since I was three, and have always wondered what it would look like if we were cut off from the rest of the world for an extended period of time. So when I came across the audiobook, I grabbed it.

It’s basically six separate stories or novellas, each only slightly related to the last, and the structure of the book is fairly unique in that the first five sections all just stop, right as they’re getting interesting, in one case in mid-sentence. Then after a complete sixth story, you finally get the endings of the first five in reverse order.

And the stories themselves couldn’t be more different from each other. Here are the descriptions of each from Wikipedia:

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
Pacific Ocean, circa 1850. Adam Ewing, an American notary’s account of a voyage home from the remote Chatham Islands, east of New Zealand. The next character discovers this story as a diary on his patron’s bookshelf.

Letters from Zedelghem
Zedelgem, Belgium, 1931. Robert Frobisher, a penniless young English musician, finds work as an amanuensis to a composer living in Belgium. This story is saved in the form of letters to his friend (and implied lover) Rufus Sixsmith, which the next character discovers after meeting Sixsmith.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
Buenas Yerbas, California, 1975. Luisa Rey, a journalist, investigates reports of corruption and murder at a nuclear power plant. The next character is sent this story in the mail, in the form of a manuscript for a novel.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
United Kingdom, early 21st century. Timothy Cavendish, a vanity press publisher, flees the brothers of his gangster client. He gets confined against his will in a nursing home from which he cannot escape. The next character watches a movie dramatisation of this story.

An Orison of Sonmi~451
Nea So Copros (Korea), dystopian near future. Sonmi~451, a genetically-engineered fabricant (clone) server at Papa Song’s diner (a stand-in for MacDonald’s), is interviewed before her execution after she rebels against the society that created and exploited her kind. The next character watches Sonmi’s story projected holographically in an “orison,” a futuristic recording device.

Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After
Hawaii, post-apocalyptic distant future. Zach’ry, a tribesman living a primitive life after most of humanity dies during “the Fall,” is visited by Meronym, a member of the last remnants of technologically-advanced civilization. This story is told when the protagonist is an old man, to seemingly random strangers around a camp-fire.

Of course my favorite part was Sloosha’s Crossin’. It’s told in a corrupted pidgin English, similar to that of Riddley Walker, but not quite so hard to understand, and I recognized most of the geography and place names, and even some of the cultural aspects of the various tribes on the island. Way cool.

But even though that one novella is worth the price of admission, the other five stories are all really interesting too, particularly the story of Sonmi 451 in a future dystopian Korea. They’re all told in a different narrative style, and each has a bit of a twist toward the end to keep you guessing.

Cloud Atlas: A Novel is technically 1/6th post-apocalyptic, and 1/6th dystopian, so overall only about a third of it is related to the genre. But even so, I give it my full recommendation; it’s a really cool book.

Originally posted 2010-06-09 01:22:18.