Sunday, April 8, 2018

Book Review: The Speed of Clouds by Miriam Seidel

Book Review: The Speed of Clouds by Miriam Seidel
*To Be Released from New Door Books on April 10, 2018*

Mindy Vogel is haunted by the future. In frequent daydreams, she toggles between her real, wheelchair-bound life and the adventurous life of her fanfic alter ego, SkyLog officer Kat Wanderer. She's haunted by all that Kat can do which she cannot---belong to an organization of comrades, walk, and fall in love---yet. Because at twenty-four, Mindy's future is very much ahead of her, wheelchair notwithstanding.

Through Mindy's "SkyLog" fanzine and related emails, Seidel evokes Star Trek fandom around the turn of the millenium, but also creates a new and compelling science fictional universe, similar to what Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl does for the Harry Potter fandom with "Simon Snow." Mindy is among the pioneers transitioning fandom from print to digital, boldly encountering like-minded individuals from the comfort of her chair behind the monitor. One of the richest (and sadly not quite resolved) story threads concerns a contributor to the fanzine, TadMesh, an imaginative high school student whom Mindy later meets in real life. Tad's fanfiction which delves into a fateful meeting between the Santak, a Klingon-like warrior race, and the Mesh, Seidel's creepy analogue to the Borg, not only addresses vital nerdy questions but provides insight to his real-life character, as Kat Wanderer does for Mindy.

At the beginning of the novel, Mindy's life has been upended by a coup in her fan club. As part of the coup,  Seidel explores how the "Mary Sue" trope can be leveraged against female writers. Now, my understanding of the "Mary Sue" had been a ridiculously competent/beautiful/unrealistic female character created by a male author, but the flip side of that is accusing women of inserting themselves into the story to fulfill their wishes--which Mindy is clearly doing. But Seidel, especially in light of Mindy's plight on Earth, asks the question, what's wrong with fantasizing about yourself in space, with abilities and opportunities that you couldn't have on Earth? I know I've fantasized about living in the Federation. Isn't that what fanfiction is all about?

Furthermore, Mindy's longing for the future takes on a tangibility from a disabled perspective that an able person might not have. For example, I remember being transfixed by Geordi's visor, as a small child with terrible eyesight. As an adult, I remain tantalized by Dr. Crusher's offhand statement that headaches are rare in the Federation, among all the other medical possibilities. Seeing a character in a wheelchair is also so completely appropriate as a representation of the fan community. However, this story isn't only set in space, and Mindy has some wish fulfillment to do in the real world as well. Against her will, her friend Zuzana drags her to a Santak fan club, which sets in motion some changes in Mindy's life besides elaborate stage makeup. From Mindy's vantage, it's possible to see how scary some of these changes can truly be. For example, I highly empathized with the "No More Elective Surgery" policy that Mindy espouses toward the beginning of the book. I've only had one (nonelective) surgery, and based on that experience, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't volunteer for one again ever. Her words illustrate perfectly why she's placed on such a precipice between fantasy and reality:

Wheeling back through the lobby, those childhood dreams of bionic freedom keep coming back to me. I know now that replacement parts aren't in the cards, but the whiff of that old fantasy got me a little high. No it's either wheels or crutches on the horizon. (31)

The Santak club gradually becomes a place of refuge for Mindy, Zu, Tad, and other misfits, the type of characters that you would surely find playing MMOs like in Felicia Day's web series "The Guild," if this had been set at a later date. The central love story is certainly almost as awkward as the ill-fated romance between Codex and Zaboo. That said, there's a lot to love both in the interpolated fanfics themselves and in Mindy's quirky explorations on Earth.

The Speed of Clouds is recommended to fans of all types, especially female sf fans, audiences with visible and invisible disabilities, and anyone who's ever imagined a geodesic gym might be a beacon toward your real home.

Received for review from the author. All opinions are my own.


curlygeek04 said...

This sounds really interesting, I'll check it out! I'm not very into fan fiction but I'm intrigued by this character and I can identify with wanting to be part of a different world.

Space Station Mir said...

@curlygeek04 I personally really enjoyed the fanfiction/Star Trek references, but it's very much an extremely fleshed out representation of who the protagonist wants to be!