It's not every science fiction novel that begins (and ends) with a 19th century sailing narrative. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is far from your science fiction novel. So much so that it does the novel a disservice to include it in the genre. With narratives that interrupt and intersect one another, the novel is composed of sandwiched vignettes. The sailing voyage that opens the novel also closes it, with five other stories--all brilliant--in between. It's a novel structure unlike any I've seen before, with such fascinating connections between characters living thousands of years apart. A mindboggling study on what it means to be human, and with some pretty fantastic storytelling to boot.
It's tempting for me to tell you how a postapocalyptic Hawaiian dystopia has to do with a 1970s detective story, but it would be may more interesting for you to discover the connections yourself. While some of the connections are a little flimsy, the novel, as a whole, really works. Some of the themes of familiarity could have been pushed further, as could the reincarnation idea that sort of peeks out from time to time. But, with each of the stories being a piece of great writing, and David Mitchell's fantastic prose, Cloud Atlas is bound to make you think about some deep topics, the past and the future.
Bottom Line: Each of the six stories is entertaining and thoughtful in different ways. Easy to read on a surface level, Cloud Atlas could be a novel for the masses (especially science fiction fans), but with its length (around 500 pages) and its scope and depth of ideas, the novel is a true literary feat.
You can find David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas at your local chain bookstore, online, or at an independent bookstore near you (click here for a list). You can also download the eBook to your Kindle, Nook, iPad or other eReader. Check out the video on this page for the trailer for the movie, now on DVD and Blu Ray.