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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Cloud Permutations -- Lavie Tidhar

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Cloud Permutations

by Lavie Tidhar

PS Publishing
May 2010

Reviewed by Bob Blough

"Cloud Permutations" is a wonderful novella from new writer Lavie Tidhar.  If you have been following the online SF/F magazines lately you will have often seen his name.  He truly is a “writer to watch,” but his writing is as powerful and lovingly handled as any old master.  All he needs is a larger readership, and  I hope this novella helps secure that for him.

Mr. Tidhar writes from a non-American, non-British viewpoint which is refreshing.  His story takes place on the world  “Heven,” colonized by the descendants of the island nation of Vanuatu (formerly called New Hebrides, which is part of the Melanesian Island group).  Thus the customs and language are already mysterious to most Western readers.  

The story concerns a young man named Kal who, from the age of three, desires to fly.  Unfortunately for Kal, Heven (which is mostly a world filled with islands) is covered by clouds.  Through the years since colonization the inhabitants have forgotten how to fly and consider it to be against custom.  There are major taboos against it and space travel is quickly becoming myth-like.

Kal has three experiences as a boy that reinforce his overwhelming desire to fly.  At the age of three he meets a man from “the bush” who seems to evanesce into rain, into cloud.  Before doing this the man tells the three year old that they will meet again.  That is the beginning of the stories that gather around this boy of prophecy and solidifies within him his obsession to fly.

The second experience involves the flying of a kite from a cliff that ends in disaster.  This event scars him but re-emphasizes his need to fly.  This situation leads to his exile to the floating island of Tanna and his second meeting with prophecy.  A prophetess uses “water-drawing” to draw out Kal’s continuous dream since meeting the man who became clouds – a huge tower with Kal falling from it.  After these two prophetic occurrences Kal still does not understand his destiny, he just knows that someday he must learn to fly.

The third experience is his meeting with Beni, an albino boy the same age as Kal, who is overly smart, overly arrogant and thoroughly fascinating to Kal.  Their friendship and how it develops form the remainder of the novella as Bani has also been granted a prophesy and each of the boys has a part to play in relearning to fly.  To reveal much more--how this all plays out--would spoil reader enjoyment.  Know that answers are revealed while mystery is still maintained.

This novella is filled with interesting characters and a fascinating culture, and while at times it seems like fantasy it eventually reveals itself as SF.  One of my favorite things about it is that the story is told in flashback but by an historian who tries to sift fact from fiction from all the embroideries placed on this tale, some of them by principal characters.  We discover what has happened beyond the story itself, while at the same time it richly details and deepens a simple story of becoming an adult.  It is a story of a breakthrough into another reality that is layered on the reality that Kal already knows.  And I enjoyed the fact that we don’t follow the traditional SF hero in this discovery, but through the eyes of what a lesser writer would have used as “the sidekick.”  Therefore we can come alongside Kal in a very honest and heartfelt way.

I really enjoyed this novella, but it is in reviewing it that I have come to appreciate it even more. Lavie Tidhar is a writer who will dazzle us for many years, I hope.  Read “Cloud Permutations” then go find his short stories.  You won’t be disappointed.