Queen of Clouds is inching closer and closer to becoming an actual thing out in the actual world. In the last few days I’ve seen the finalized cover, received the signing sheets for the limited edition hardback, seen a couple of early reviews, and started finalising the details of launch events. It’s all really exciting, but it got me thinking about the journey the book has been on, and where the idea came from in the first place.
SPOILER WARNING – This article discusses the plot of Queen of Clouds (in pretty vague terms). If you want the pristine experience, bookmark this and come back once you’ve read the book.
If you’ve have read The Moon King, you’ll remember that the worldbuilding of that book has a couple of kinda obvious features. First, that’s it’s a world populated by strange creatures and a version of nature that’s a little different to the one we recognise. And second, that it’s flooded. Biblical style. So, in Queen of Clouds I thought it might be interesting to explore how that world came to be.
It became obvious pretty early on in the writing that Queen of Clouds was going to be a story about a preventable ecological collapse, and about what would happen if people were unable to look beyond their short-term, selfish interests. (I know, zeitgeist much?) What I realised I really wanted to explore was the frustration we feel in trying to make people listen who… Just. Will. Not. To change minds that can’t be changed. And that’s how our heroes, Billy and Para, fare as the story progresses and the scale of the impending disaster gets ever greater.
The society of Karpentine, where the story takes place, arose after a technological rapture, turning its back on computers and AIs and putting human effort and achievement at the pinnacle of its system of worth. And I used this as a lens to magnify the notion of self-interest to a grotesque level. When the sylvans (think handcrafted, wooden automata) arrive, they present a possible solution: that the nanoparticle motes which permeate the world might be properly understood and harnessed in a spirit of cooperation. Instead the sylvans are seen as advantages to be stolen. Fearing that disaster is inevitable, Billy and Para are driven to ever more desperate measures.
If it sounds like a pessimistic take, well, one of the functions of science fiction and fantasy is to explore disaster scenarios without us actually having to live through them. But it’s not wholly so. Queen of Clouds is also a story of cooperation and fighting back, of finding ways to break rigid power structures. It investigates the meaning of true personal worth in a loaded meritocracy, and asks whether washing the slate clean would really be so terrible if the world that comes after such a society might be all the richer for its passing.
It’s been a long journey to get Queen of Clouds from those first ideas to the book you’re going to read. Not only have the story’s themes complexified and developed in the writing, but the world we live in has changed too. Queen of Clouds felt relevant when I started writing it, but it feels a thousand times moreso today.