Review – The Annual Migration of Clouds

Premee Mohamed
Tense, Pared Down “Cli-Fi
(CWs Below)

Cover of The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed. It is white with a green trim, featuring a magpie (dead, perhaps?) with day-glo green fungal strands coming out of various parts of its body

Author’s Note – Y’all, I had a hard time getting this review written, for whatever its worth. Apologies if it starts out a little unwieldy.

The world is changing, twisting into a shape unrecognizable. There are many authors stepping into that unknown and exploring what it means to live in a broken-down, drastically changing/changed environment and community. The Annual Migration of Clouds is the first work of Premee Mohamed that I’ve had a chance to read, probably among the best I’ve read in “Cli-Fi.”

Cli-Fi is a pretty loaded term. Climate fiction, as the name implies, is fiction that centers on the great changes occurring in our climate, and illustrates a world in which a story’s main characters interacts with those changes, frequently with a scientific and/or speculative perspective. (See this Wikipedia article for more.)

Jeff VanderMeer – a writer whose work immediately springs to mind when I think of fiction that grapples with climate change – wrote a really good article that unpacks a lot of the problems with both the term and topic. Setting aside the issue of the origins and usefulness of the actual terms, VanderMeer writes: ‘Even without this unnecessary human melodrama…there lies a problem of domain and dominion—both who gatekeeps the entrypoints and how we get to write about our current precarious position. “Cli-fi” is often interpreted to be a subset of “sci-fi,” and thus it’s expected to contain a speculative element. Yet, in this moment, cocooned uncomfortably within climate crisis, as if trapped within a porcupine turned inside out, the issue is not speculative. It permeates everything and everyone, even those who have not recognized it yet. Poetry, contemporary realist fiction, interdisciplinary art installations—any creative form, in any mode, can (and sometimes should) engage with the climate crisis, even if it’s just a persistent hum in the backdrop, like a misfiring bank of fluorescent lights.’

I think it’s interesting to consider his argument for fiction as a whole – both the role of the fiction writer in the effort to affect climate change and the appropriateness of considering them liable for that. In this case, I haven’t found anything that gives me a lot of insight into Mohamed’s motivation in writing this story, but I really enjoyed it, and appreciated its setting – imagined in the post apocalyptic ruins of the University of Alberta. I’ve seen it termed Cli-Fi, but I think that the crux of the story is more centered on issues of truth, loyalty and self-determination. The book’s publisher refers to it as hopepunk, and to me that’s a better fit than just Cli-Fi in general.

This is an unflinching, violent story, told in lean, gorgeous prose. The main character does not shy away from hard issues both within and without, but there is compassion in that telling. I don’t want to speak much to the plot as I think it could easily be a spoiler (not a lot of wiggle room with a thin novella), but there’s hope and possibility in the conclusion, even in light of the hard environmental difficulties that serve as background to it.

Content Warnings – death, loss of a parent, loss of a friend, illness, violence, hunting, animal death, dismemberment, suicide and suicidal ideation, possibly some aspects of abusive relationships

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