David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is a novel that consists six stories hidden inside one another (Inception style). They encompass a whole variety of genres and settings, from 1970s thriller to 1930s romance, far future sci-fi distopias to 21st century comedy. It is a compelling idea, and the book has garnered an astonishingly positive response. Astonishing I say, because I don't think it is particularly good. A commendation should be made to Mitchell for his ability to switch between entirely different genres, settings, characters and tone. But these individual tales are no good. These short stories (because that is what they really are; the perfunctory metaplot is just a ploy for the sake of publishers who believe short stories don't sell) are competently written, but generic and uninspired. Mitchell perplexingly communicates this flaw through his characters, having them repeatedly point out the similarities of their situation to other famous novels. In one instance, a cloned slave in a totalitarian future specifically mentions reading 1984 and Brave New World. I can't figure out what Mitchell is doing by pointing out the similarities. Perhaps he thinks that by doing it first, we are unable to make the same criticism. Or perhaps he is just suggesting that the Tropes Are Not Bad. Unfortunately, in this case, these tropes are bad. The dystopian tale pales in comparison to its forefathers, Huxley and Orwell. There is another story in which a young female journalist fights to expose evil corporate figures, which equally proves to be an inferior derivative of the countless (aready derivative) identical thrillers. All the short stories suffer this same problem. They are uninspired, and going through the motions. Perhaps one could argue that the sum of these flawed parts make an ultimately compelling, over arching narrative. They'd be wrong. The meta plot scarcely exists. The only thing connecting these diverse characters and scenarios is the identical brithmark they all have. No explanation is given for how these characters have this token thing in common. There is no suggestion as to why it matters. Ultimately, there seems to be little point to it all.
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