The Annual Migration of Clouds: Hope gleams through a dark future

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad

Whether it’s writing weird horror, fantasy, science fiction or science horror fiction — a subgenre I think I just made up — Premee Mohamad is one of the best around right now, and she does great work in the novella length. Her latest example is 2021’s The Annual Migration of Clouds, a short, harrowing work set in a tight-knit community surviving after catastrophic climate change and a loss of arable topsoil.

Reid is a teenaged girl in a small, successful community. This group is egalitarian, with each person doing their part to keep things running, even though they have no farmland, no electricity, and little in the way of medicine. Reid is one of the miraculously lucky few who just got an invitation to Howse University, an enclave of pre-disaster learning and technology. It’s so rare to get an acceptance that some people think Howe is mythical or even a sinister plot. Reid has never heard of anyone who has been accepted. Even the location is a mystery, forcing the recruit to find it on their own, a final test in a way.

Climate change, rising oceans, and extensive droughts have changed the part of the world where Reid and her mother live, and one of the biggest changes is the Cad fungus, which colonizes humans, eventually killing them. Before the fungus kills, though, it protects its host. By controlling the central nervous system, the fungus can control physical movement and behavior. Reid’s mother is a host, and so is Reid.

While the Howse acceptance is wonderful, it’s loaded with problems. Specifically, the group she lives with is so tightly-knit that the loss of a single person leaves a noticeable gap. Reid fears that there will be no way the group can care for her mother if she leaves. Worse, her mother definitely does not want her to go. As her mother’s arguments grow louder and stronger, Reid, like us, begins to wonder if it’s her mother speaking or the Cad fungus itself.

The fungus is the very first thing we see in the story, and it is Reid’s most intimate relationship. Whether Reid likes it or not, there is a kind of communication between her and the fungus inhabiting her. Reid is afraid to leave, and thinks the fungus doesn’t want her to leave, and at the same time she desperately wants a chance to change this world. She comes up with a plan to earn enough community credit to cover care for her mother, even if it means risking her life and lives of others — and if the fungus will even “let” her participate.

Premee Mohamad

Premee Mohamad

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a complex story told in a few pages. The community where Reid, her mother, and her best friend Henryk live is regulated, survival-based, warm, nurturing and friendly. Reid knows nearly everyone. The town teacher encourages all the students to apply to Howse University. People take care of each other. Alongside the neighborliness is a harsh justice system that concerns itself more with the eradication of a potential threat than with actual guilt or innocence. These aspects seem contradictory, but they fit together smoothly and are believable in this isolated place.

Henryk and Reid are best friends, who enjoy taunting the elders by producing increasingly mangled variations of “See you later, alligator,” as a way of saying good-bye. Their banter sparkles, lightening the mood of the piece in several places. Ultimately, an act of betrayal comes between them, and the clock is ticking down to the time when Reid must make a final decision — stay or go.

Mohamad’s prose is etched with a diamond-sharp precision, swooping into heartbreaking moments and moments of strange, weird beauty, making us laugh, and making us hold our breath in terror during a crucial part of the book. There is some classic SF “What If?” here, in the global warming world, not just the science of the climate but the sociological questions of this community. What does the individual owe the society that nurtured and protected them? How much right does a society have to require people to meet other people’s needs? It’s also a coming-of-age story, and then there’s the Cad fungus, and Reid’s final resolution with the thing that inhabits her and will ultimately kill her. As I was reading this, I just felt like I couldn’t put the book down. When I finished it, I paused for a moment to feel a sense of awe at how much is addressed in this slim novel.

I try to avoid the word “original” in reviewing, because it’s used so often it’s lost most of its meaning, but The Annual Migration of Clouds is a story that isn’t like anything I’ve read before. It works because the character of Reid is so immediate and inhabits this world so thoroughly. Go read it.

Published in September 2021. A novella set in post–climate disaster Alberta; a woman infected with a mysterious parasite must choose whether to pursue a rare opportunity far from home or stay and help rebuild her community The world is nothing like it once was: climate disasters have wracked the continent, causing food shortages, ending industry, and leaving little behind. Then came Cad, mysterious mind-altering fungi that invade the bodies of the now scattered citizenry. Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to get away ― to move to one of the last remnants of pre-disaster society ― but she can’t bring herself to abandon her mother and the community that relies on her. When she’s offered a coveted place on a dangerous and profitable mission, she jumps at the opportunity to set her family up for life, but how can Reid ask people to put their trust in her when she can’t even trust her own mind? With keen insight and biting prose, Premee Mohamed delivers a deeply personal tale in this post-apocalyptic hopepunk novella that reflects on the meaning of community and asks what we owe to those who have lifted us up.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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2 comments

  1. sounds fascinating!

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