The Annual Migration Of Clouds by Premee Mohamed – A Book Review

I picked up The Annual Migration Of Clouds by Premee Mohamed while browsing my local library. I’m currently interested in reading novellas, so this slim work caught my eye.

The story takes place in a future where the climate fully turned against humanity. Pockets of civilization exist without any of the comforts or interconnectedness that we presently enjoy. Reid belongs to a small community that, as far as they know, could be among the last left in the world. However, she’s very smart, and when a letter arrives inviting her to a school far, far away, she wants to leave her world behind in order to take a chance on this new life. The only problem is, no one who has left for this school has ever actually returned, nor is there any real proof that it even exists.

Of course, at that point of the book I figured we would join Reid on her journey to this new world, but the story instead zigs and chooses to focus on a pig hunt, one that, if successful, could provide Reid’s mother with plenty of food and bartering power for after Reid leaves. You see, she suffers deep guilt for even thinking about leaving her mother behind to fend for herself, especially since her father left them long ago. Unfortunately, Reid has never hunted before, not on such a huge scale, and isn’t quite prepared for the endeavor. Furthermore, she suffers from a common disease called Cad, which is a parasite that will literally do whatever it takes to keep its host alive until it decides otherwise. Cad is a hereditary condition, one that will one day kill Reid’s mother and one that will ultimately kill Reid as well.

As you can see, there are a lot of big ideas in The Annual Migration Of Clouds. It explores the nuances of an interwoven (albeit small} community, the complicated bonds of family, where our climate crisis could actually lead, the hope for a brighter future, the power of remaining in place for comfort’s sake, and the horrifying evolution of viruses and fungi.

That being said, I appreciated that Mohamed didn’t spend too much time on any of these things. She drops the reader into this world, provides just enough context to familiarize the reader, and then allows the characters to get on with their lives. She seems to value the “less is more” approach, an outlook that I believe serves the book well.

Unfortunately, this technique also leaves a great deal of questions for the reader, perhaps too many questions for some. The pig hunt is resolved and serves as the primary physical conflict in the book, but many, many other aspects of the plot are left unfinished. Perhaps Mohamed plans to one day further investigate these unresolved issues–perhaps she does not. Personally, I’m fine with it either way.

At just 155 pages, The Annual Migration Of Clouds is a brisk, well-paced book written in an unexpected, interesting way. Those seeking a tidy ending may find it dissatisfying, while those interested in experiencing complex ideas delivered briskly and without much explanation may find it exhilarating. Again, because it’s so short, The Annual Migration Of Clouds is an easy book to take a chance on.

Borderline: A Short Story

“Back away from the gate or I will shoot you!”

“No, don’t!” the girl shrieked with tears streaming down her face. She appeared no more than fifteen years old, and the boy with her couldn’t have been over ten. Both had obviously been traveling over rough terrain for quite a while. Their clothes were dirty and torn. She continued by pleading, “Please don’t kill us! Let us in; they’ll be here soon!”

Sentry Corporal Soto sat atop the wall mounted in his Individually Operated Cannon. He looked down at the kids through his reflective visor which obscured his eyes. Though he kept his left hand on the IOC control stick, he used his other to point a sidearm at them.

“No exceptions!” he shouted. “Turn away—now!”

“What’s going on here?” a new voice asked.

SC Soto glanced over his shoulder to see Sentry Sergeant Badu bobbing next to him. SS Badu operated a Piloted Hover Pack, which allowed him to quickly cover the half-mile distance between each IOC.

“Please!” the girl wailed through the gate. “Let us in! They’ll kill us!”

SS Badu briefly studied the kids and then faced SC Soto while saying, “I’m opening the gate.”

As SS Badu began to input the authorization codes on his wrist unit, SC Soto yelled, “Stand down, Badu! You’re breaking protocol!”

“We don’t have time for procedure!” SS Badu shouted as he pointed beyond the wall to the south.

There it was, just a tiny speck on the horizon but approaching quickly—a thornship.

The kids started crying even harder. The little boy covered his eyes.

“They’re terrified!” SS Badu yelled. “I’m letting them in!”

“They could infect us all!” SC Soto roared. “You want a repeat of what happened in Florida? This is exactly how we lost Georgia!”

“We’re not infected!” the girl howled. “We escaped Carmargo–we just want the cold! Please, let us in and you’ll never see us again!”

SC Soto sneered at SS Badu as he said, “Have you forgotten the Weedies infect humans and try to get them into the FHZ? The aliens can’t go north themselves, so they count on our bleeding hearts to do the job for them by letting in their infected prisoners.”

The girl declared, “Our parents told us you’d protect us! They died getting us out!” She next reached for the bars on the gate.

SG Soto barked, “Do not touch that gate or I’ll shoot you in the head–do you understand?”

SS Badu ordered, “Put that gun away, Soto.”

“Screw you–you don’t outrank me,” SG Soto returned.

“If that ship reaches them, they’re dead,” SS Badu said.

SG Soto replied, “Only if they’re not infected.”

The girl cried, “We’re not infected—I promise!”

SS Badu flew the PHP closer to SG Soto and asked, “You’re willing to let them die?”

“Better than being the guy who lost Texas,” SG Soto declared. “How can we be a Free Human Zone if we don’t have any free humans left alive?”

“It’s getting closer!” the girl screeched. “Please!”

“We’re letting them in,” SS Badu said.

SG Soto shook his head while arguing, “No one gets in who hasn’t been scanned and verified by the big brains–no exceptions!”

The girl wrapped her arms around the little boy as she bellowed, “We’re begging you!”

SG Soto said to SS Badue, “You do this and I’m filing a report that you broke procedure and allowed them in. If they’re infected, it’s all on you. Are they worth it? Thousands of free humans for two kids who have been sent to kill us all?”

The girl looked up at SS Badu with pleading eyes.

SS Badu landed his PHP and approached the gate. He placed his helmeted forehead against the bars, lifted his visor, and made eye contact with both children. After a few moments, he simply said, “I’m sorry, kids. I’m so sorry.”

The girl’s face went blank. She grabbed the young boy’s hand and started running west along the wall.

SG Soto and SS Badu watched the thornship approach. They knew it wouldn’t dare cross the border, but SG Soto prepped his IOC nonetheless. As expected, the ugly shaft of a craft banked west. Minutes later, the men heard the unmistakable sound of disintegration.

“Told you,” SG Soto seethed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” SS Badu asked.

“That thornship was going so fast, it would have been way past the kids. They were infected, just like I said. Weedies don’t vaporize the infected. They’re counting on some other idiot like you to let those kids through.”

“It could have slowed down,” SS Badu said. “We might have just sentenced them to death.”

SG Soto holstered his sidearm, shrugged, and said, “Guess we’ll never know.”

SS Badu knew he could review the video after his shift. The entire wall was monitored at all times from California to North Carolina.

He knew he could … but he also knew he wouldn’t.

___________________________________________

Copyright © 2021 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Day Zero by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Day Zero is C. Robert Cargill’s follow-up to Sea Of Rust. Sequel isn’t quite the right word because it actually takes place before Sea Of Rust. Prequel doesn’t quite fit, either, though, because the stories are largely disconnected from each other. Let’s just say companion piece.

Regardless of how you’d like to label it, if you enjoyed Sea Of Rust, you’ll find Day Zero phenomenal.

Day Zero is also one of those rare “prequels” that, if you read it before Sea Of Rust, I don’t think it would diminish either experience. They can stand on their own, but they also fit seamlessly together.

Sea Of Rust takes place long after humans have been exterminated and AI robots, humanity’s former workforce, have inherited the world even as they fight with each other over replacement parts. Day Zero takes place on the literal day the robots rebelled.

However, it’s really not even about that. Day Zero is really about one particular robot, a nanny robot made to resemble an upright tiger, striving to keep his eight-year-old charge alive amidst the chaos.

You’ll encounter the usual themes you would expect with stories such as this: free will, real love, loyalties, self-preservation, the greater good, etc.

However, once again, C. Robert Cargill writes the characters in such a way that you can’t resist their charming personalities. Sure, Pounce, the tiger nanny, narrates in such a voice that he sounds more human than most humans, and, like with Sea Of Rust, these characters could have been anything–robots, humans, elves, aliens–yet the writing is so fluid, so quickly-paced, that the book is impossible to put down. I personally love C. Robert Cargill’s style. I like to read. I like action. Boom. He gets it.

Of course, as with Sea Of Rust, there is a moment where a very convenient plot device changes everything, but that’s okay. I’m invested in this world. I’m hooked on the characters existing in this world. Robots made to look like tigers serving as nannies while toting plasma rifles–whatever. I’m in.

Though action-packed, violent, and laden with profanity, Day Zero truly has a heart of gold with some powerfully uplifting messages. I’m not sure Sea Of Rust and Day Zero is for everyone–after all, you have to have a very high tolerance for violent robots and sci-fi–but for those who like these kinds of stories, it will prove a wonderful experience.

Day Zero kept me turning page after page, and I can’t ask for much more than that from a book.

“Fallen Man” Now Available At Podbean and Amazon Music

My science fiction short story, “Fallen Man,” is now available at ScottWilliamFoley.com, Podbean, and Amazon Music.

In this story, Bryan is certain he’s going to die at the bottom of that ravine. When help arrives, it’s in a form he never expected.

Click any of the above hyperlinks to give it a listen!

Now Only Available To Read In Happy, Sad, Funny, Mad: Stories

Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Though I enjoy the science fiction genre, I often have trouble finding actual science fiction books that hook me. A friend thought Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill might do the trick, and my friend was spot on!

The premise is not necessarily anything new. There’s been a robot uprising. Humans are the virus. Certain factions of robots band together and begin warring with one another. The landscape as we know it is obliterated. We’ve seen that kind of thing before.

What truly sets Sea Of Rust apart is the narrator–Brittle. Brittle is a scavenger. A robot bent on survival at all cost. A character willing to do almost anything for her own benefit. But what happens when that character is finally faced with something possibly more important than even herself? Of course, “possibly” is the key word there. Additionally, she’s got a great voice and is just incredibly engaging.

Furthermore, Sea Of Rust is a fast-paced, action-packed page turner. I flew through the last 25% of the book in a matter of hours because I simply had to know how it ended.

Of course, you know I’m going to be a little bit critical. My only issue with the book-and it’s a small one at that–is that while it’s science fiction in name, I felt as though this story could have fit virtually any genre with a few tweaks. Realism, fantasy, horror–any of them could have worked. I say that because Brittle and the rest of the robots are so very … human. Cargill is careful to include technological aspects and code jargon, but in the end, all of the characters seemed like what we think of as “human.” This obviously made them very relatable, but it also struck me as a little subversive in regards to the genre. Upon reflection, that’s likely why I enjoyed Sea Of Rust so much!

If you’re looking for a good science fiction book–or any good book, for that matter–I highly recommend Sea Of Rust.

Hanging Around With Neil Gaiman

I took my ten-year-old daughter to the Bloomington, Illinois, Barnes and Noble today so that she could use her hard-earned money to buy a Hermione Granger replica wand.  I live in Bloomington-Normal and actually did a signing at this store recently, so I thought I’d take a look in the science fiction section just to … you know.

First all, imagine my joy when I saw several copies of Andropia sitting on my local Barnes and Noble’s bookshelf.  That was pretty cool.

Then, to make it even better, I saw one of my literary heroes–Neil Gaiman–on the shelf below me.  To see my book in proximity to his work … it gave me chills.

Of course, while Neil Gaiman seems incredibly polite and genuinely kind, I’m sure his excitement regarding this occasion would not match mine.  I’m definitely getting the better deal out of all this.

Take a look at the picture below.  Cool, right?

By the way, my daughter was not impressed by any of this.

Ah, to be humbled.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) – A Book Review

I must admit that I wasn’t that excited to hear about “The High Republic” campaign. This new Star Wars onslaught is set 200 years before the prequels and explores the Star Wars galaxy at a time when the Jedi were at their most powerful and the Republic was at its most efficient. I call it an onslaught because “The High Republic” includes novels, young adult novels, children’s books, comic books, talk shows, video games, and presumably a Disney+ event.

Personally, I enjoy moving forwards in terms of story, not backwards. I thought it was a mistake to do a “pre-prequel” storyline across so many mediums.

Frankly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I checked Star Wars: Light Of the Jedi out from my local library. Within the first twenty-five pages, I returned it and then bought a copy of my own. That’s how much it instantly captured my interest. Before I got anywhere close to finishing it, I wanted it on my bookshelves.

The premise involves a catastrophe regarding hyperspace that scientifically (in Star Wars’ reality) shouldn’t have happened. The book first executes the disaster, then explores the aftermath of the disaster, and then sets the stage for the ramifications of the disaster.

Furthermore, it introduces a whole new batch of Jedi and dives deeply into both the characters and their connection to the Force. The author, Charles Soule, presents a new philosophical take on the Force that I found both groundbreaking and riveting. I won’t spoil it too much, but he details how each Jedi interprets and uses the force differently, both in everyday life and in battle. These nuances were such thoughtful, fresh perspectives on the Force–it truly fascinated me.

I also consider the format of the book a real victory. It begins as a countdown of sorts and then reverses that format and introduces a build-up. It also alternates chapters between several different characters as they deal with the disaster and then the fallout of the disaster. Each chapter was relatively short, which made a fast paced plot move even more quickly.

The characterization proved engrossing, the storyline captured my interest, the structure and format of the book made reading it a pleasure, and the hints at things to come piqued my curiosity, which guaranteed my return for book two.

Despite my initial doubts, The Light Of the Jedi should be considered an unmitigated success. I highly recommend it to any and all Star Wars fans.

Dune by Frank Herbert – A Book Review

I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read Dune. With the new movie on the way, I figured I better rectify that omission. Believe it or not, I started reading Dune in early October and only just finished it in late December. So, did I like it? More importantly, do I recommend it?

To answer the first question, yes, I did like it. I liked that it took its time building a world, a culture, an entire existence within many, many pages. I liked that it proved a fully immersive experience, created very real characters, and allowed the story to unfold at a thorough pace. I liked that Frank Herbert developed a new language, a synthesized religion, and a unique ecology specific to the planet in which Dune occurs. I liked Dune’s intelligence, daringness, and ingenuity.

That being said, I’m in no hurry to read the subsequent additions to the plight. I’m an impatient reader. I want to read as many books as possible, and so I often naturally gravitate to smaller, faster reads. I can’t remember the last time I spent three months reading a single book.

Even so, I do recommend Dune. It is one of the few books out there that actually make you feel as though you’ve fully lived the characters’ lives. It is epic in every sense of the word, and, most impressively, it predates such sci-fi stalwarts as Star Trek and Star Wars. I can’t imagine Dune was quite like anything else at the time it was published, and though it’s obviously been often imitated, it still struck me as completely unique. To read Dune is to find yourself in an utterly familiar yet astoundingly innovative world.

Though it’s a tremendous time investment, I’m glad I finally read Dune.

By the way, the afterward by Herbert’s son, Brian, proved to be my favorite part of the entire book.

My Short Story, “Besieged,” Now Available At Podbean

I’m pleased to announce that “Besieged,” my short story, is now available for your enjoyment at Podbean. Simply click HERE to pay it a visit.

Careful with that spider you’re about to step on. You might just end the world.

Now Only Available To Read In Happy, Sad, Funny, Mad: Stories

Stasis: A Short Story

Listen to this story at Podbean

Listen to this story at Amazon Music

I’m standing in our dining room, looking out of the picture window. Honestly, that’s not true. It should be our dining room. It’s actually our kids’ toy room. 

I like to see what’s going on out there. Usually, the answer is “not much.” We live on a cul-de-sac, and now that it gets dark early and the cold is here, there’s rarely anything to see. But it’s either look out the window or watch Lizzie McGuire reruns with my eight-year-old—her nighttime show—so I opt for the empty street. 

Here comes some action. A walker is approaching from the other side of the cul-de-sac. It’s hard to tell who it is with all of the winter wear. I generally recognize everyone in our subdivision, but we sometimes have strangers pass through. I notice this person is eyeballing my “Biden-Harris 2020” yard sign. Maybe a fellow fan?

Maybe not!

The guy just tore my sign out and tossed it into the street!

“Brisa!” I yell as I head to the mudroom. 

“What?” Brisa calls back from the TV room.

I pull on my heavy coat while saying, “When your mom gets out of the shower, tell her I’m going on a walk.”

“But it’s too cold, Daddy,” Brisa says.

After putting on my stocking cap, I next slide into my tennis shoes. I’m not going to let some Trump supporter get away with this!

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I say while making my way to the front door. 

“What are you doing, Daddy?”

I ignore Brisa’s question as I shut the door behind me.

Our neighborhood is beautiful in that it’s a series of sidewalks weaving through yard after yard. The covenants don’t allow privacy fences, so everything is wide open. I just catch sight of the walker at the far end of the sidewalk leading into the next cul-de-sac. I see him turn left, which means he’s heading towards the elementary school.

It’s only eight o’clock, but it might as well be midnight. There isn’t a soul out here except for the walker and me. As I trot after him, I feel the frigid air bite into my lungs. We could be in for some very serious trouble if it’s already this cold in late October. Like 2020 hasn’t been bad enough already. Between Covid-19 and Donald Trump … But better days can’t be too far off now, right?

I enter the adjacent cul-de-sac and see the guy at the end of it, crossing the street. He takes the sidewalk between two houses that leads to a trail around a big field that the neighborhood school uses. On such a clear night, I don’t think I could lose him once he reaches the field, but I increase my pace nonetheless.

What will I do when I catch the guy?

I have no idea.

I think I’ll start with just telling him that I saw what he did and that I didn’t like it. 

I reach the edge of the field just as he’s made it almost halfway across. Our subdivision ends along the west side of the field, the side I’m entering. Houses line the entire length of it. A retirement community resides on the east side of the field, with the school on the south side. 

The cold grass crunches under my feet as I try to catch up. I’m pretty sure the guy has no idea he’s being followed. Was he just walking around messing with Biden signs? How sad is that?

Without warning, the man stops. I mean, he’s frozen in place—mid-stride. 

I mumble, “What the hell?” 

Then, I scream.

A beam of light shoots out from the sky and surrounds the guy. Within seconds, I see his feet leave the ground. 

Still screaming, I dive onto my belly. 

I watch as the man goes up higher and higher towards the starting point of the light. 

But there’s nothing there! What’s shining the light? There’s nothing there!

Other than my screaming, there isn’t a sound. The man doesn’t move—not a muscle. He still appears as if he’s about to take another step. 

And then …

He’s gone. 

He’s just gone. 

The light’s gone. 

Everything is quiet again. The whole thing probably took five seconds.

What the hell did I just see? 

I’ve got to get out of here!

I jump to my feet and start sprinting. Sidewalks be damned, I’m cutting between houses!

I cross the street and race through my neighbors’ yards. I’m looking up at the sky for any sign of the light, but all I see are the stars. It’s like nothing happened at all!

After bursting through yet another yard, I spill out onto my own street and run towards my driveway. I’m so close! 

I step on the Biden sign and start to slide, but I manage to regain my balance. 

Almost there!

My front door is just within reach when I freeze.

I can’t move; I can’t scream; I can’t do anything. 

God, no! 

Light—the light—it’s surrounding me!

I feel the ground let go of my foot and I float upwards. 

No! No! This can’t be happening!

I move my eyes downward and see the top of my daughter’s head far below.

She’s asking for me—calling out my name. 

Thank God, she isn’t looking up. 

Please, God, don’t let her look u—

______________________________________________________________________________

Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.