Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cloud on Silver

I've just finished reading John Christopher's Cloud on Silver (US title Sweeney's Island) and find it hard to understand why this gripping novel is out of print. I can only hope that when Penguin republish The Death of Grass next year, there will be a renewed interest in Christopher's backlist.

Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, the novel is about a group of people who are shipwrecked on a desert island in the Pacific and are disturbed to find creatures that appear to be malformed or mutated. The island clearly holds a secret and at first, the survivors plan to explore the mysterious, cloud-covered mountain that overlooks them. However, instead of pulling together they become increasingly distracted by power struggles and sexual tensions.

If I had to describe Cloud on Silver in fewer than ten words, I say that it was like Lost meets Lord of the Flies. Indeed, the similarities to Lost are so striking at times, that I can't help wondering if any of the series' creators have read Christopher's novel. The random appearances of non-native species and the sense that the island itself is a living entity are common to both, although Cloud on Silver is ultimately more down to earth.

John Christopher's novels place ordinary people in extraordinary situations, stripping away the veneer of civilisation to reveal the darker side of human nature. At times Christopher's vision seems excessively bleak, but to know what ordinary people are capable of we only have to look at recent history, particularly Bosnia and Rwanda.

Cloud on Silver isn't literary fiction and it has many flaws, but the sum is greater than its parts and the novel is as prescient as it is dated. Christopher's views of gender, race and society are old fashioned, but we should not dismiss him for being a product of his time.

Cloud on Silver would make a fantastic movie, although I suspect many people would mistakenly assume that it was a rip-off of Lost!


JRSM said...

Ah, this one's great. And have you read 'The Caves of Night', another of his thrillers (though without any sci-fi elements)?

Steerforth said...

I haven't, but I'm just about to.

C. B. James said...

I'd love to see more of his books back in print. I've not read this one, but it sounds good. I'd also like a chance to read The Loss of Grass.

I reread his tripods trilogy last summer and found they still have something to offer, though they are somewhat dated in their attitudes towards gender etc.

Lots of books with dated attitudes are still in print.