Review: “Above the Clouds” by Richard Roberts

3 of 5 stars.

Included in Chronology published by Curiosity Quills Press, this unique story becomes quite compelling after an initial unnecessarily confusing hunting scene. The steampunk tale takes place in a world of airships and no land. How society got to this stage is unknown by its constituents, but nobody goes down to or beneath the solid layer of clouds below. A few clouds float above in their level of atmosphere and beyond that is the splendor of the cosmos with stars arrayed not unlike the Milky Way. Their zone above the clouds is similar to an Earth ocean in that large animals “swim” in this zone, and the airships hunt them with harpoons and cannons. The sharks are a menace. The skates, or rays [here called “kites” unnecessarily, when there is already an hawk-like Earth-animal called a kite] are a nuisance. The true prey is the large whales, which are so clearly not whales in that they have tentacles and “a bell.” The pointless confusion over calling something a “whale” in name when it is described as either a squid or medusa-form jellyfish is regrettable. The most whale-like features of these animals are their perceived intelligence and their haunting song.

The tale is narrated by a sentient airship named Red Baron that has a troubled relationship with his “father,” the human pilot. He also has the memory of a deceased, perfect older brother to try to live up to. Ultimately, he feels unloved and unappreciated by both his father and the rest of the squad, pilots and other airships alike. In his loneliness, Red scans through the “Chatter” frequencies where he often can listen in on others’ conversations, or at a certain high frequency, even on the whale song. It is on a remote channel that Red meets Rosie, a fellow lonely soul that has a problematic relationship with her mother. However, Red is afraid to reveal to Rosie that he is not a human pilot communicating over the Chatter.

Once this story establishes who Red is and his relationship to those around him [which takes a couple scenes], this tale takes off. The timelessness of a tale of two lost souls finding solace in each other with the whale song and cosmos as their only other friends translates well despite the strangeness of the world Red describes.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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