Book club: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (January 15-17, 2010; spoilers)

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Book club: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell (January 15-17, 2010; spoilers)

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1russilwvong
Nov 26, 2009, 10:07am

For our next book, let's do Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Quite a few people on Ask MetaFilter have recommended it strongly (I've never read it myself).

Let's meet back here and post our comments between Friday January 15 and Sunday January 17, 2010. Again, if you want to post earlier or later, that's fine too, we just want to maximize our chances of getting a conversation going.

2krtierney
Dec 30, 2009, 3:01pm

Ah, Cloud Atlas is a great book! I hope you like it.

3russilwvong
Jan 17, 2010, 12:25am

Meh.

4russilwvong
Jan 17, 2010, 12:33am

Okay, that's a little too dismissive.

It's a dazzling performance, with an innovative structure and a wide range of styles. I found each of the individual stories compelling (the William Tell scene in Sonmi's story was particularly moving). But in the end, I didn't find the novel as a whole entirely satisfying. The common theme tying together the stories -- exploitation -- was presented somewhat naively. In Mitchell's view, power is bad, end of story, and we need to renounce it or we'll destroy ourselves. I can't help arguing with this view.

5russilwvong
Jan 18, 2010, 12:05am

Looks like all the discussion is happening in the MetaTalk thread:
http://metatalk.metafilter.com/18713/MetaFilter-book-club-Cloud-Atlas

Previous MetaChat book club discussion:
http://metachat.org/index.php/2006/01/08/book_club_cloud_atlas

6russilwvong
Jan 18, 2010, 12:21am

Thinking about it some more, it's the concluding couple of pages that I find most problematic. Mitchell uses Adam Ewing's voice to tie together the theme of exploitation. It's eloquent, but in my view, pretty wrong-headed. I find myself thinking that Mitchell obviously hasn't read Andrew Schmookler's Parable of the Tribes:
http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC07/Schmoklr.htm

Power is a necessary evil. The Moriori renounced power; they were destroyed. Only power can balance power.

One of the most interesting aspects of power is one that Mitchell doesn't seem to be aware of. Hans Morgenthau observes that it's human nature to resent others' power over oneself as illegitimate and tyrannical, while *at the very same time*, seeing the power one exercises over others as natural and legitimate. (To take a local example, Canadians resent the power of the United States, while regarding the position of Canada's francophone and aboriginal minorities as part of the natural order of things.) In the "Sloosha's Crossin'" story, Meronym slaughters four Kona and tops it off with a quip straight from Lethal Weapon ("I'm getting too old for this"). While her action is morally justifiable in the circumstances--she's trying to rescue her friend--there's no indication that she recognizes this as an exercise of power.

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