Ray Smith's Reviews > Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
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Mar 29, 13

Read from August 01 to 10, 2012

Can a novel be silly and unoriginal AND awesome at the same time? Yes, and that novel is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. I've never read a writer with so much talent tell such mediocre stories. And David Mitchell is writer with mega-talent. His prose and dialogue are both stellar, and his character development is rich. But what about the novel?

First of all, as everyone knows, it's not a novel but actually 6 stories, spanning from 1850 to centuries (millennia?) into the future. This very large time span, along with Mitchell's writing, makes the novel awesome. But like the novel Dune, the future as envisioned by Mitchell is silly. No, I do not believe an interstellar civilization would return to feudalism as its governing system (as in Dune), and no, I don't believe a culture capable of cloning humans would be so callous to its clones (the Korean era in Cloud Atlas) nor do I believe, no matter what tragedy, people would return to a Stone Age technology (the post-apocalyptic Hawaiian part). This is lazy thinking, just winging it.

Worse, unlike Dune, half of the stories (maybe even more than the half) are ripoffs of other stories, particularly famous movies. The Korean episode is, what else, Blade Runner with an all-Asian cast; the Hawaii episode is Mad Max or, if you want to go there, L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth; and the Lousia Rey story just Silkwood without Meryl Streep (right down to the baddies running her car off the road).

Finally, what the hell is this novel about?! Now, if it's just a brain-dead action novel like James Patterson's books, that's one thing. But clearly, Mitchell is trying to say SOMETHING BIG. What that is, I have no clue. If it's what the movie trailer is saying--"Everything's connected!"--then okay, so what? And how does Mitchell show this connection? By having all the main characters have the same "comet"-like birthmark and each era's principal characters reading a book or watching a movie/hologram from the previous era? Okay, that's nice. But this is just gimmick with no payoff.
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