The Cloud People

Title: The Cloud People

Author: Robert B. Kelly

I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer that I did not actually make it all the way through the book, but I got far enough that I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about why I couldn’t finish (because hey, I might find this book again later and forget why I never read it).

The book is based on an interesting premise: a floating landmass which acts more like an organism than a chunk of rock. The relationship between the various plants, gasses, and particles that cause the island not only to float but to compensate for things like shifting weight is an unusual dynamic that made a lot of sense.

But the rest of the worldbuilding starts breaking down.

First, a really petty annoyance: names. More specifically, why we have several people with typical Earth names like Paul and Jessie and then other people with names like Dimistre and Kalin, and this doesn’t appear to be different nationalities with different naming schemes.

Second, a point that comes up almost immediately is the lack of metal. On reflection, this makes perfect sense. The floating island is not a landmass lifted from the ground but an organic construct that is constantly rebuilding itself from floating particles. Thus there are no ores to mine, and no metal. But the book repeatedly violates this statement, particularly in the little details. Guards have swords. The way the arrowheads are treated implies they are metal. Syringes. In other words, a lot of things that in our world would use metal are mentioned without ever describing the presumed alternative since their world has no metal. And when various spacecraft are crashing onto this floating landmass, these metal spacecraft, everyone is more concerned that the pilot may be a prophesied messiah-character rather than frantically salvaging the scraps for both the tech and the metal. Especially the metal. That debris would represent a fortune once processed into items that ought to be rare, except nobody actually seems to care about the scrap. Even without knowing how to forge metals, surely they could figure out how to hammer it in shape, or at the least find sharp shards to use in weapons.

Third, the technology mix makes no sense. People live in castles, use swords and bows, and appear to have a roughly middle-ages lifestyle, but then they have a very good knowledge of pharmaceuticals, to the point where one character has a drug designed at the molecular level to induce a specific hallucination. So why are we using swords if biochemical warfare looks like a distinct possibility? And if they could develop that much in the realm of drugs, why hasn’t weaponry advanced? Even if there is some explanation later in the book for how this specific character is able to work around the technical limitations to modify drugs at the molecular level, other characters have access to enough knowledge and raw material to have, say, designed a gun or cannon based on the expanding-under-heat nature of the gas that allows their land to float. Or even a crossbow.

The rest of the plot wasn’t solid enough to pull me over the bumpy worldbuilding, so yes, I quit partway through. I rate this book Not Recommended.

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