Tag Archives: Bring Clouds to the Kingdom

A Complex Novella with Strong Concepts | Review of “Bring Clouds to the Kingdom” by Zack Metcalfe (2016) Iguana Books

Kingdom

We have often talked about the duality of human nature. Left and Right. Male and Female. Urban versus Rural. Ying and Yang. Yet the concept may be a bit more complex than the simple terms we use to illustrate them with. That is the thought I kept recalling as I read Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom.

Page 1-2 Prints in the Snow

Two men walk through the snow. Before and behind them is evergreen growth, mountains and biting cold. They wear thick coats woven from layers of lion hide and the dense fur is pulled and pushed by the wind.

A footprint in the snow, leading toward the mountain in the north.

He kneels over the print and sees five toes. He waves over the other man, who likewise kneels and sees.

“Do you think Abraham was here?” one asks.

“Who else would be in this wretched place without shoes?” replies the other.

They stand and one addresses a metal box strapped to his waist. On it is a button, a light and a bell. The button is pressed once and seconds later, the bell rings seven times. They nod to one another, then continue north, following the prints.

These prints, mostly snowed over, are difficult to follow. North is their only guidepost. The mountains grow taller as the men approach and the wind sometimes throws back their hoods. Snow gets into their coats and boots, quickly melting and soaking their skin. One man trips and the other stops to help.

The faint howling of wolves is carried to them in the wind. They both go still . . .

Another howl comes, this one closer.

Another howls, this one farther.

Silence.

Metcalfe has written a complex and detailed story here about not only climate change but also one which explores human nature. The plot deals with two men pulled from time and placed in the future where the world is dying and sorrows are universal. One man builds an empire, using bricks, mortar and manipulation to gain and keep his power. The other gathers what life still exists to build a kingdom of greenery and harmony. This two visions bitterly contrast each other on what is left of the Earth.

Page 34-35

At the tree line, observing this network of tents, is Assir. He is thinner and dirtier than he has ever been, and his feet are bloody. Exposing his pale skin to the fullness of the sun hurts him.

He moves with the utmost calm, so much so he is overlooked by the labouring masses, who themselves are better cleaned, better fed and better focused. He joins them under the tents and watches them mix the sand with charcoal and mud.

People pass him, bush shoulders with him, without seeing the wretch of a man in their midst, his lips cracked from thirst and eyes red with exhaustion. Digging tools and potted plants are exchanged among the people with such routine that a flower is accidentally thrust into Assir’s hands. The force of the exchange nearly knocks him down, but he remains upright, his gaze fixed in front of him, his thoughts lost in a dream.

Slowly, he looks down at the flower. It’s small, with two wax green leaves and yellow petals spotted with orange. The soil in which it lies is marginally darker than the sand and is wrapped in dried seaweed.

This fragile example of life weighs on Assir, more in mind than in body. He looks again at the masses of people  . . . and collapses.

Metcalfe has certainly created a novella with deep ideals wrapped up inside a narrative. It is a complex story but one when an honest reader completes it, will ponder carefully some of the thoughts and images in it. And that is what a good narrative should be about.

Page 69

“Conquest and war and the horrors they bring about are  . . .  simple. They are the refuge of cowards and bullies and bastards. To survive and live in harmony with the world . . . requires the greatest courage of all. To create life rather than destroying it is  . . . godlike.” Assir cranes his neck and observes the young forest surrounding them. “This forest and the people who built it have worth. You and I . . .have none. You’ve abandoned your moral compass in despair and enabled these murderers. I beg you to find it again.”

Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom may be a complex read but it is one with concepts and ideas worth considering. It does what good literature should do.

*****

Link to Iguana Books’ website for Bring Clouds to the Kingdom

Link to my Q&A with Zack Metcalfe – “(W)ith fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite (people) to witness it”

“(W)ith fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite (people) to witness it | Q&A with author Zack Metcalfe

Kingdom

You do meet the most interesting people in the most unusual situations. A few years ago while cleaning out my closet, I listed an old typewriter on an online classified site. A few hours later, I received a reply from Zack Metcalfe for the item. I had since been following Zack on several media sites and reading some of his writing. He has been keeping busy in the last few years and has published a few books, including his most recent work, Bring Clouds to the Kingdom. Zack was kind enough to enlighten us all about what is new in his life by answering a few questions for me here.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of a outline of Bring Clouds to the Kingdom?

“Two men are pulled from their places in time and discarded in a strange future, where sand abounds and sorrow is universal, and here they exercise supernatural talents to shape a dying world. One gives birth to empire, exploiting the remnants of the human race as brick and mortar to realize ambitions from centuries past. The other corrals what life remains in an attempt to drive back the sand and build a kingdom of green, repurposing the desperation of his fellow human beings to recreate the Earth he once knew. These visions, lofty and indomitable both, prove incompatible.”

This is the description you’ll find on the back cover, but I’m of the opinion this book defies any true summary by virtue of its strangeness. In essence I have two characters, one personifying old ideas and the other personifying new, simplifying the crises of our time in their conflict. It follows this theme to surprising depths and I’m immensely proud of it.

2) Goodreads.com has this book listed as your second work of fiction. Is writing fiction something you enjoy doing? If yes, why?

If we’re counting properly this is my ninth work of fiction to date, the first six being self-published and the latter three at various stages of professional publication. Bring Clouds to the Kingdom is number eight.

I adore fiction writing because it unties my hands. If I wanted to discuss the issue of climate change using non-fiction for example, writing a story for a local newspaper let’s say, I can only tell people the available facts and hope they care enough to imagine the future on their own. But with fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite them to witness  it. By telling them a story, I can bring issues to life and accomplish more than I ever could with non-fiction.

3) What are you reading right now? Who are your favourite writers?

Right now I’m reading Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway and Resurrection Science by M.R O’Connor. I try to have a work of fiction and non-fiction going at once, one to keep my writing sharp and one to keep me informed, respectively.

My favourite writers are Ernest Hemingway, Tim Flannery, Carl Sagan, Jane Goodall, Jack London, Farley Mowat, George Orwell, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Daniel Quinn, Harper Lee and I suppose Mary Shelley.

4) How long did it take you to write Bring Clouds to the Kingdom? How did you get involved with Iguana Books to publish it?

This novel, or novella, if you like, took one year and seven months to finish. It was originally twice its present length as I was trying to cram too many plots into a single narrative. I finally cut out the majority of it and the result was a surprisingly linear tale which I sent to Iguana Books in the fall of 2015. They told me it was weird in all the right ways.

5) Your biographies have you listed as a environmental journalist. Do you add themes of environmentalism to your works of fiction?

Yes, without fail. For me fiction writing is as important a tool as journalist for raising public awareness. But I always aim to spin a good yarn regardless.

6) Are you working on any new fiction right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m presently working on a full length novel which explores the potential of resurrection biology, the science of reviving extinct species. The technology has make extraordinary leaps in the past decade but the only reference most people have to it is Jurassic Park. That bothered me so here I am. This novel tells the story of people rebuilding the ecosystems we’ve destroyed in the last two centuries in a way I hope is engaging.

7) Have you done any public readings of your work? If yes, is that something you enjoy doing?

I’ve done two public readings in the past but not yet for this book. I will in time.

8) Again, your biographies have you listed as growing up in Ontario but now living in Halifax. How do you like living there? Are there special cultural items/event/places in Halifax that inspire you to write?

I grew up in Ontario then followed by journalism career to Prince Edward Island for a couple years. Two years ago I moved to Halifax to join the environmental movement and there’s no doubt these places have each inspired their share of my work. I never would have written book number five, Abel, without the red sands and solitude of West Prince County, PEI, nor would book number seven have seen the light of day without the bus terminals of Halifax West and the rocky landscapes surrounding my apartment. It’s difficult to say which aspects of Atlantic Canada inspired what, but my best writing has been done here on the coast.

9) You seem to have an active role on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using those apps. in relation to your writing?

I think of social media as a necessary evil, to be frank. I’ve always enjoyed the big stories and big topics most of all, and fighting for attention on those bite-sized platforms can be exhausting and reductive, but it must be done. I have things to say I think people need to hear and that’s often where they look for enlightenment. So it goes.

10) We first met when I sold you a typewriter via an online classified site. Do you use a typewriter for your writing? If yes, why?

I remember buying that typewriter. The last typewriter manufacturer in the world had shut down a few hours beforehand so I immediately scoured Kijiji. I still have it, too.

Word processing software is superior in every way to a typewriter but I keep one around for one reason above all – power outages. They are rare but when they happen, I have the pleasure of lighting some candles and hammering those outdated keys. I refuse to ever be without writing equipment and on those few occasions when my computer wasn’t an option, my typewriter became indispensable. Wrote most of a newspaper on it once, during a three day power outage on PEI while a snowstorm made all roads impassible. My fingers were bruised by the end and it felt wonderful.

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Link to Iguana Books website for Bring Clouds to the Kingdom