The third book in Robert Llewellyn’s sci-fi book trilogy News from the Clouds sees protagonist Gavin Meckler fly his plane into a third parallel future, this one ravaged by the extreme effects of climate change. Living in 2015 with the threat of more nasty weather, flooding, and polar animals dying off, of all Llewellyn’s possible futures, this one feels the most likely. It’s also the worst. Every plant has been ripped out of the ground from extreme winds. All that stands on Earth are immensely strong buildings that are constantly being repaired by robots during still air. Many people float around on giant puffy air ships that look like clouds. Llewellyn carefully constructs a political atmosphere between different clouds, creating conflict between different types of cloud people, now that there really are no planetary nations left. It is during one of these inter-cloud conflicts that Gavin learns medical technology has advanced so far, they can now replace 50% or more of the human brain with tech. The principle conflict between clouds then becomes whether or not this is a good idea.
Like the other two books in the series, News from the Clouds deals with Gavin’s emotional lethargy, although in this book, it really doesn’t come up until chapter 15. He writes:
“I had a strong sense that if I just let these thoughts, desires, and emotional feelings run away with themselves, I would start going insane […] I somehow knew that if I went mad, it wasn’t like dying or sleeping, it wasn’t as if the ‘me’ that I was aware of would just stop being and I would turn into a deranged person. I could sense that the pain I was feeling now […] would overwhelm me and I’d be drowning in pain.”
This is an interesting and realistic observation of what is going on in the subconscious of someone who blocks out emotions.
I am on the fence about how I feel about the timey-wimey rules of this world Llewellyn has created, those rules being that if Gavin traveled forward in time to 2211, then to another possible future in 2211, then to another possible future in 2211, then he would need to side shift back to the first possible future (Gardenia) before going back to his own time. This doesn’t match up to my instinct, which pictures time like all the classic branching diagrams you see in time travel films: like a fork with the handle being the present and the three prongs being different futures. If you go backward down any of the prongs, you always get to original starting point. So why would Gavin need to side shift first? Although it’s possible I missed some of Brad’s explanation, Ebrikke warns Gavin that there are alternative pasts as well as alternative futures, which if you think about it would also be true, but I’m having trouble believing Gavin would have access to them. So, despite that it gave my brain a jolt to have film-popular time travel mechanics deconstructed like this, I have to say it’s nice to read something that isn’t a cliche. Whether it would make any sense to a physicist, I have no idea.
One of the fortes of Llewellyn’s writing is his level of detail in Gavin’s knowledge about airplanes. I don’t know whether the author can fly planes or what percentage of the airplane sections of the book are researched vs. invented, but it reads like someone who really knows what they’re talking about and makes everything else in the book all the more believable. The ending, though perhaps inevitable with what loose ends needed to get wrapped up, was surprising and satisfying from both the exterior sci-fi timey-wimey plotline and the internal emotional development for the character.