Sunday, August 20, 2006

The end of Cloud Atlas

Feel I must write this--promised it to myself, can I finish before midnight (when I said I would go to bed at 11)?

Where was I?

Oh, yes, section 5, where it gets interesting--because it's the future, at least 25 years, hopefully more. I say hopefully, because I don't want to be living in this future. The section is called "An Orison of Sonmi-451." An Orison (I had to look it up, proving I don't remember my Shakespeare) is a prayer, but in this future world where language has taken as many turns as in Orwell's 1984, it is more a confession or final statement. Sonmi-451 is a clone (as the name might suggest). The section is not entirely original. It owes much to Brave New World and Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made into the film Bladerunner). I find it interesting that 40 or so years ago--when Dick wrote his book he believed that future slaves would be Androids, replicants. Now we are much more likely to presume they will be clones, fabricants here--we've seen the limitations of imitating the human form in robotics, but cloning has moved faster than we ever supposed--yet we still agree that with the ability to "make" people, will come the decision to 'make" a slave class. Like Huxley's novel, the lower orders are "genomed" to believe that their lot in life is the best (I am glad I am a Beta because I don't have to think as hard as the poor Alphas) in order to prevent uprisings. In high school I wrote an entire essay on the fact that Brave New World really WAS Utopia because the discontent of desiring that which we cannot have is removed--we are happy because we are MADE happy. My teacher was alarmed, but had to give an A for the quality of the argument. And like BNW, chaotic nature will always win out over man's order. Sonmi-451 ascends--that is she becomes aware of her surroundings and desires to learn more than how to be a cashier in a McKimChi establishment. That's right, Korea is a superpower. At one point Hokkaido is referred to as "Eastern Korea." Subtle and frightening--that is Mitchell's brilliance as a writer. It's a throwaway line, and yet it says it all, no needless exposition. Remember, Mitchell has spent the last 10 years teaching English in Tokyo studying the cultures of Asia and this book is nearly three years old!
Added to the mix is the modern sci-fi concept of planned sabotage, of conspiracy within conspiracy. This theme is popping up everywhere--and that means it's in the zeitgeist--this is what we really fear, that the disasters of the world are created IN ORDER TO PRODUCE SCAPEGOATS AND FEAR! "To generated the show trial of the decade. To make every last pureblood in Nea So Copros mistrustful of every last fabricant. To manufacture downstrata consent for the Juche's new Fabricant Xpiry Act." Think about that for a moment. That 9/11, if not actively planned, was at least allowed IN ORDER TO JUSTIFY THE SCAPEGOATING OF THE MIDDLE EAST! Try to sleep now! I'm not convinced, but I'm willing to consider and just considering is scary. Think of the movie Syriana. Give them the weapons and then use their use of weapons as a reason to wipe them out. Oh, dear.
One depressing development in Sonmi's world is the micro-chip under the skin--called a Soul (and clones don't have them) but it turns out that a Soul is just a credit/ident chip so money gives you a Soul in the future, spending is mandatory, perhaps now as well...

Section 6 is even farther forward in time--a wold like that in Mara and Dann where the last remnants of all that we know, of civilization in any form is dying.

In Section 5 Sonmi's last wish is to finish watching the film of Section 4 that was interrupted by her arrest. In Section 6 the narrator (English degraded to another language--I love writer's who do this well, Russell Hoban in Ridley Walker for instance) sees a hologram (magic to his eyes) of Sonmi's Orison. A child, for instance, is named F'kugly. And betrayal is Judasin. "My parents an' their gen'ration b'liefed, somewhere, hole cities o' Old Uns s'vived the Fall b'yonder the oceans, jus' like you, Zacyry. Old-time names haunted their 'maginin's...Melbun, Orkland, Jo'burg, Buenas Yerbs, Mumbay, Sing'pore." Oh, how important we think we are, Ozymandias, don't we.

And then the stories fold themselves up. We flee with Sonmi--here's a terrible line, "Think of the disastrous Pentecostalist Coup of North America." Is it coming? "Once genomed moths spun around our heads, electronlike. Their wings' logos had mutated over generations into a chance syllabary: a small victory of nature over corpocracy." In the end, chaos will always win.

Note: the brand has become the noun--all computers are sonys, all shoes are reeboks, all entertainments are disneys. Thus the line, "[Our retirement paradise] is a sony-generated simulacrum dijied in Neo Edo." Sonmi writes Declarations before her arrest, "My fifth Declaration posits how, in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only "rights," the only law; are whatever is willed by the most powerful." Sound familiar?

In the second part of Section 3 we get this:

"Exposition: the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave.. Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction--in short, belief--grows ever "truer." The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent. The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies..."

He goes on to talk about the virtual future that we imagine (two of which he--the writer--has just presented to us) and how that imagining may or may not influence the future that actually comes to pass. I am reminded of Bradbury's The Toynbee Convector where a man effects change by telling people that he's already been to the future and seen it (very optimistic Bradbury) or of Belamy's Looking Backward which attempted to actually do that (prior to Bradbury). Can Science-Fiction/Fantastic Fiction help us become better by showing us terrible futures that my come to pass from the world we live in today? Can it show us an ideal to work towards a la Star Trek's Federation?

What is memory? Is there any truth (that we can access) that is not ever disappearing Rashomon like in personal bias, need and ego? Do we remember events or do we remember photos of events? In the future will all of these little blogs stand as remberances, Orison's of the great unknown masses?

Section 2--the letters of a composer explores the problem of artistic creation--the author believes he must die upon completion of the Cloud Atlas Sextet because he will never again create anything of such value in his life--the creation itself is killing him, Mozart like. And if he dies, then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, see above.

Section 1--the end of the diary--a little sorrow amidst the global tragedies, that man is monstrous to man because he can be--yet the hero is saved and still believes in the good in man.

So we are full circle. Some 20 years ago when I first read The Jewel in the Crown and the rest of the "Raj" quartet I was staggered by the perfect structure that Paul Scott had created. The parallels he drew--quite literally starting with a British masacre of Indians and ending with an Indian masacre of Indians. History repeats. What mastery and control, and patience and persistence to write so well.

Took me an hour to write this (the time seems to be from when started). Tired and will be even more tired tomorrow but glad I can say I did it and did not let it slip by for mere practicality.


anthony said...

hello, enjoyed reading this. i am currently reading the cloud atlas and thoroughly enjoying it.

good work

Anonymous said...

I know this entry was written some time ago, but H just read Cloud Atlas and came upon this and found it a good read. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I searched "an orison of sonmi-451" on google after reading cloud atlas because I loved the tale so much - this article was very enlightening - nice one.

Anonymous said...

I've been desperately scouring the internet for more Sonmi info and this was infinitely helpful. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

All shoes are Nikes, not Reeboks. Apart from that, thanks for the insight! Going to read Cavendish and laugh myself silly some more....