SF Novella of the Month, December 2021: The Annual Migration of Clouds

The #sfnovellaofthemonth for December 2021 is The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed, published in September 2021 by ECW Press.

Incredibly, Mohamed published three novellas in 2021 (and a novel, and a novelette, and…). Even more incredibly, all of these novellas are, well, incredible. After I read the second of the three, And What Can We Offer You Tonight (which I reviewed as the July 2021 #sfnovellaofthemonth), The Annual Migration of Clouds became one of my most-anticipated forthcoming releases—an anticipation heightened by the unexpected difficulty my local bookseller experienced in sourcing a copy to fulfill my preorder. When the book finally arrived, it did not disappoint.

There are many things I could say about this little book, but the first thing I must remark is that it is beautiful (and not just in form, though that cover art is truly stunning). Mohamed’s writing bubbles and flows like a crystal-clear brook uninterrupted by dams. Both poetic and precise, this is language that truly adds to the story. Scenery and setting are so clearly and tangibly described that this ravaged new world nearly leaps off the page, as do its characters and their complex and wrenching relationships. This is a little book that paints a big world and sucks its readers in through the deceptively pretty portal to a land they may never completely leave.

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a satisfying read on multiple levels. From big-picture elements—such as the perfect match between the novella form and the amount of detail and emotional content the author chose to include—to the tiny details of relationships, smells, sounds, and so on that enhance the story’s startling realism, there was no point at which I wanted any part of it to be less, more, or in any other way different from exactly the way it was written. This book is a lot of things, and one of those things is “just right”.

With The Annual Migration of Clouds, Premee Mohamed has created a perfect example of how to write climate fiction that—devastating though it may be—does not make readers feel hopeless or resigned. It’s far too easy to find books that focus on environmental collapse to the point of neglecting to give readers any hint of possible futures that humanity can endure, both on a species-wide scale and in a more individual sense. The possible world portrayed in this book is full of frightening details, and yet the story offers a future in which community, friendship, family, and everything else worth living and working for are still essential parts of what it is to be human and alive. I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic and cli-fi novels that focused on the survival of the individual, often at the cost of many other lives, often portraying community as cultish, sick, and dangerous. This novella zooms in instead on the tension between community (a relatively normal, relatively healthy community, made up of relatively ordinary people, that is) and autonomy, exploring the possibilities of finding and being true to ourselves without losing our connections to the people we love and the ideals we value. In doing so, it offers readers a truly timely reminder that we do not have to lose ourselves even as the world relentlessly changes around us.

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