Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Published: 2004

Genre: science fiction

Length: 509 pages

Setting: various parts of Earth, from the 1800s to the far future

Interest: It was one of The Telegraph’s picks for best sci-fi and fantasy novels of all time.

Summary: We see a glimpse into a significant event in six people’s lives that are intertwined. Adam Ewing is traveling on a sailing vessel back to his home in San Fransisco. He recounts his adventures along the way with his new companion, Dr. Goose. Next, we are introduced to Robert Frobischer, a disgraced Englishman and composer who’s taken up with an old master composer as a source of room and board. Next is Rufus Sixsmith, a nuclear engineer whose report on the latest nuclear power plant is being violently suppressed by the power plant. Louisa Rey tries to get it published, but is nearly killed several times for it. Next is Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who’s finally struck it rich and then his brother gets him to check into a retirement home that he can’t leave. Next is Sonmi-451, a fabricant who is the first stable ascendant and therefore disruptive to current society. Finally, there’s Sloosha, who lives on Hawaii after Civilization has mostly collapsed.

Final thoughts: This was an impressive and highly enjoyable book. The structure of the stories was unique. Except for Sloosha’s story (and his was the farthest into the future), you only got half the story at first. The next story always tied back to the previous story somehow. Usually, you were reading or watching something the author produced and the next person in the storyline was only able to observe part of the story. Trying to figure out how the current storyline tied into the previous storyline was a fun puzzle.

I was definitely impressed with how different each storyline was from the other. There was historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, a post-apocalyptic story – at least one of the story types should appeal to you. Each of the narrators was easily identifiable via dialect and voice. Reading the first half of the book, each story seemed fairly complete, but then we came back to each one and found out what you thought was happening, probably wasn’t the truth of the situation. There was such an arc going up and back down in time that I loved, especially how the author made it logical that we should get to see the second half of each story.

I haven’t watched the movie and I’m not sure I want to. I don’t think a movie would be able to keep the connections and depth I saw in the book.

Title comes from: Several of the characters used the phrase in their story. For example, Frobischer named his composition Cloud Atlas.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 58/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge

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Filed under Book review

6 responses to “Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

  1. I really loved this book, too! I read it because it was a book club pick, and was surprised by how much I liked it. It is also a rare case (in my opinion) of a non-sci-fi writer getting the world building part of writing sci-fi right. I get really frustrated by sci-fi that doesn’t do a good job with world-building, and after some big disappointments in this regard, I mostly avoid “literary” writers doing sci-fi- but this book is the reason I’ll still give it a try.

    • So much of the book wasn’t science fiction though – only the last two out of six stories. I wonder if that’s why the author did a better job than usual outside of his typical genre.

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this! Good review!

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