Six are the vignettes that make up David Mitchell’s time spanning novel, Cloud Atlas. Six stories that are loosely connected over six time periods, past and future. Six stories that play themselves out partly in first halves, then sequentially reverse themselves backward to completion.
Alas, sick I am (a cold) in finishing this book, attempting to unravel it.
Despite this, I am mesmerized by the journey this book put me upon. The start was rocky, and many of the chapters took some slow starts to get the switch in narrative style- from the formal sprawling of 19th century Adam Ewing’s journal to the inquisitor Q&A of Sonmi-451 to the pidgen voice of post apocalyptic Zachary of Sloosha’s Crossin’.
Loose connections through 6 devices of communication – Ewing’s journal, Frobish’s song, Cavendish’s movie, Lousia Rey’s journalism, Sonmi’s recording in an Orison, Zachary’s story told to a son.
The sixness of this book is described by Frobish in the structure of his masterpiece, later found as a rare recording by Luisa Rey, who feels as though she knows the music she has never heard.
Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year’s fragments into a “sextet for overlapping soloists”: piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, ‘oboe, violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?
The novel (or novels) also ride on different times in history where power is exerted by one people over another, be it a hierarchy of class, race, money, weapons or even human versus beings bred for service– suggesting that perhaps this is human nature to harness and exploit or differences? As Frobish relates in his dsidain for the ideas of Morty Dhont:
The redictio ad absurdium of M.D.’s view, I argued, was that science devises ever bloodier means of war until humanity’s power of destruction overcome our powers of creation and out civilization drives itself to extinction. M.D. embraced my objection with mordant glee. “Precisely. Our will to power, our science, and those v. facilities that elevated us from apes, to savages, to modern man, are the same facilities that’ll snuff out Homo Sapiens before this century is out! You’ll probably live to see it happen, you fortunate son. What a symphonic crescendo that’ll be, eh?”
Note the musical allusion.
There are the opportunists in this tale that will spare nothing to take advantage of another for a gain, playing part of this machine of cruelty with power for that gain- I’d name them but it gives away some spoilers. Yet there are others, a few others, who do manage to buck this trend- the rescued Moriori, Lousia Rey, Joe Napier, Hae-Joo, Zachary, Adam Ewing, Robert Sixsmith- not without their own bag of faults, but obes we might hang some hope on.
As Ewing wrote in his last portions:
Scholars discern motions in history & formulate these motions into rules that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however, To wit: history admits no rules; only outcomes.
What precipitates outcomes? Viscous acts & virtuous acts.
What precipitates acts? Belief.
Belief is both prize & battlefield. within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & Bestiality, such a humanity is brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boerhaaaves & Gooses [evil characters in the novel] shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate shall bot fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our conscious itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the “natural” (of, weasly word!) order of things?
Why? Because of this:– one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual. selfishness uglifies the soul; for human species, selfishness is extinction.
Is this the doom written within our nature?
If we believe that humanity may transcend toot & claw, if we believe diverse races & creeds can share the world as peaceable as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Eartj & its Oceans shared equitable, such a world will come to pass.
So there it is- we get the world we believe in. If we are okay with violence and predation being a necessary part of civilization, we are on the path that leads to the Konas raiding the lands of the Valleysmen. Ewing (and I believe the author) is urging us to spend our lives making the world we want our children to inherit, not the ones we fear they will get.
Ewing relates in the end am expected reaction to his new found belief, that he will be told his life did not amount to more than a drop in a large ocean–
Yet what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?
Yeah, this book is reverberating a lot, a whole lot.