A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Annual Migration of Clouds
by Premee Mohamed

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted October 16, 2021

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Another post-apocalyptic story from Premee Mohamed, but as far as I could tell it has no connection to any of her other stories. She has written about the cosmic horror of reawakened elder gods, and the aftermath of alien invasion, but this is set in a time following climate disasters. Indigenous people have left the cities to forage the countryside as did their ancestors. The rest figured cities were the safest place to be, particularly a solidly constructed building in close proximity to a river. Reid and her mother live on the eleventh floor of what had been a university science building. It's the former University of Alberta, where the author earned degrees in molecular genetics and environmental science, both of which are utilized in this story. Drought, wildfires, and dust storms have wreaked havoc, forcing small communities of survivors into a regimented, subsistence level existence. What happens when Reid gets the chance for something more?

Premee trusts the reader to grasp the basics of the situation, concentrating on character development instead of details of the collapse. It has been at most three generations since "Back Then," since there are those who remember movies, TV, and cell phones. The younger ones only have the stories their parents or grandparents tell, or old books found in the ruins. Reid's favorite book is also about trying to survive in very harsh conditions, but it doesn't give her any clues that would help with her present dilemma. She's very smart, and has submitted essays for several years which are sent by one of her teachers to what is supposed to be one of the few remaining (or re-established) schools. An acceptance letter arrives, along with a tracking device she is to activate when she enters the Zone. Her mother is not the only one who questions the existence of the school, thinking it is nothing more than a fabricated diversion from their harsh reality. Reid knows the tracker is not something anyone in their community could have built, since it appears new, not repurposed from salvaged junk, and emits a light like she has never seen. Will she defy her mother, turn her back on her obligations, in order to pursue the dream?

One thing that might stop her is that she suffers from a fungal infection known as Cad, short for cadastrulamyces, a heritable symbiont. Her mother is also a victim, so was her grandmother, and if Reid ever has children they will likely have it too. The speculation is that it was released by the melting of the permafrost. It may be sentient in nature, at least Reid thinks it is. Several times through her narration she interrupts her thoughts or speech with something the symbiont is telling her, or at least what she interprets as the symbiont controlling the actions of her body. She thinks it is the Cad attempting to protect her, incapacitating her when continued movement might place her in danger. Or is she imagining that, projecting her own anxieties and fear? Can she overcome that, will the symbiont let her leave her family and friends, or will it trap her there forever? Some in the community think she's crazy if she doesn't accept the invitation, the others will view her as a traitor if she does. It's a perilous balance between individual initiative and communal responsibility. I won't reveal Reid's decision, but I hope for a follow-up to find out if it was the right decision. Highly recommended.

Oh, maybe I should say something about the title. Reid thinks of clouds as light and insubstantial, easily moved by the gentlest breeze. Her friend Henryk says they are actually very heavy since they are full of water, and it takes great pressure to get them moving. I'm thinking that's a metaphor for how different people are moved to do the things they do, either easily swayed by familial expectations or peer pressure, while it may take extreme measures to force some onto their own path. Whether or not that was the intention, I'll be thinking about it for quite a while.

 

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Author
Premee Mohamed

Published
September 28, 2021

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