Interzone Issue 217 (August 2008)
In “The Ships like Clouds, Risen by Their Rain” a science fiction story by Jason Sanford and illustrated by Vincent Chong, humanity is living on a muddy world. This world has no crust, no truly solid land. Over time, all buildings sink into the loose soil (much like the leaning tower of Pisa). The only way that the world maintains its mass is through the dumping of organic matter by the cloud ships that constantly blow through.
However, the dumping of matter and water is extremely dangerous for those who live on this world of mud, often resulting in death. It is the duty of the local weatherman, Master Tem, to warn the people of the arrival of cloud ships. But Tem has always wanted to know more about the strange ships of the sky, but what he and his assistant Cres discover is that they must first dig down into the soil (a forbidden act) to fly high in the sky.
Sanford’s story builds its world based on the recent historical events of the recent Katrina and Ike hurricanes and flooding of the American Midwest. After that, though, it moves in quite a different direction. Told in first person through the eyes of Master Tem, we learn more and more about the symbiosis of the mud world, the humans, and the ships that seem to use it only as a dumping ground.
Sanford is using the story to make a comment on the nature of being human, and how struggles, and physical life are not detrimental to our nature as humans, but are in fact fundamental. Toil and strife make of us something greater, and it is only in our adversity that enables humankind to reach for the sky.
I will tell you that the title of the story “The Ships like Clouds, Risen by Their Rain” is a dead giveaway to the solution to the puzzle of the mud world that Sanford presents. But you won’t really know why till you have read it. It’s a clever bit of wordplay, and creates a great a-ha moment when its meaning is revealed.
I did enjoy reading it. Sanford has a simple, easy to understand style of writing. He is not attempting to give us a story that is all emotion, or a sort of hazy experiential type of writing. It is streamlined and clear. I did end up with a few questions though. The story has a bomb like effect of some balls of light that fall from the ship, but even the ending doesn’t really make clear what those were. This is important, as it is a plot device that moves the story forward. Where they come from is explained, but not what they are. The organic material and the water are sufficiently explained, but not this.
“The Ships like Clouds, Risen by Their Rain” is enjoyable to read. Its celebration of the physicality of the human condition is different in this postmodern world, with its all-consuming focus on the metaphysical. The story also revels in the symbiosis of all life. I liked it, and it is worth picking up Interzone Issue 217 to read it.
Image © 2008 Vincent Chong. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.