Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Review: Cloud Permutations by Lavie Tidhar
I stumbled into a #hashchat on Twitter, where World SF blog creator, GUD contributor, and prolific writer @LavieTidhar was answering questions from the audience. If the Library of Congress was on the ball with their Twitter archive, or I had a better memory, I could amaze you with the brilliance of my question. As it is, I will try to impress you with the brilliance of the book that I won with that lost-to-posterity question.
'Cloud Permutations' is part myth, part science fiction adventure. Its roots are both broad and deep; they nurture a story that is personal, well-defined, and brilliantly textured and contextualized, yet still archetypal.
Tidhar draws from his experience in the remote islands of Melanesia to paint for us one possible permutation of the clouds. Heven is a world populated, centuries ago, by Melanesian settlers from distant Earth. They have been cut off, due to unknown circumstances (a trope Tidhar has pulled off beautifully before), and their day-to-day life has grown to fill those circumstances as /kastom/. There is one rule above all others, core to keeping the peace: you will not fly.
Kalbaben and his best friend, Vira, go against the /kastom/ of Heven and pay a heavy price, Kal's first step towards a prophecy he ill understands. He is banished to the merchant-island Tanna, given to remote relatives. There, he is befriended by an ostentatious and crafty albino, Bani, who takes him under his wing.
The adventure they embark on is not easy, nor just, nor kind, nor innocent, but it is told with a rich brush, in language, in interaction, and in scope. The world of Heven has many histories, touched on lightly in parts, and heavily in others. Tidhar borrows from many standard sfnal tropes, and makes something unique of them: in blend, tone, and setting.
The story that is told most directly, the life of Kalbaben, is sweet or bitter-sweet depending on how you choose to read it. It ends perhaps a touch too simply, except 'Cloud Permutations' has many more stories besides, and Tidhar weaves them in a tapestry worth reading for its many ragged layers.