It must be extremely difficult to write something that takes place in the distant future, in a society far different than the one in which we live. I have just finished The Orison of Sonmi-451, the 5th story in David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”, set in a very different world indeed, and it was brilliant.
The story is told from the point of view of Sonmi-451, a clone who is awaiting execution for the crime of gaining intelligence. The story is set in what we know as Korea.
In this society most of the menial jobs are done by genetically engineered clones, or fabricants as they are termed. They are created without human emotion or souls and relegated to serve the purebloods of society by a lifetime of working at places like “Papa Song’s” diner, which is obviously a takeoff on McDonalds with its golden arches. They are given limited knowledge, and know nothing of things like secrets or humor.
Although Sonmi’s story itself is quite intriguing, the thing most interesting about this segment of the book is the creation of a language to represent life in futuristic Nea So Copros. Mitchell has made generic many of the words of our present society. All cars are called fords. Nikes are shoes. A rolex is a watch. Sonys are laptops. The verb sony means to call. Nikon is a verb meaning to take pictures. A hygiener is a toilet. Yellow-up is the equivalent of dawn in a world below ground. A sunpole is a streetlight. A city is a conurb.
In order to understand this story, it was necessary to learn a new language, one vaguely built on English with some new words thrown in for things we have never named. At first it was a little maddening. But as the story progressed, my mind opened up to the possibility of new language.
I love books that stretch one’s imagination, that make us think in a slightly different way. I experienced the same thing when reading The Magus years and years ago.
My son is reading Cloud Atlas as I read it. We check in daily to compare notes and to talk about the subtleties of the book. He and I both agree the book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we both are thoroughly enjoying the read.