THE YEAR THE CLOUD FELL
by Kurt R.A. Giambastiani
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Kurt R.A. Giambastiani has created a world in which the Cheyenne Indians have managed to maintain a strong nation in the face of President George Custerís anti-Indian administration in the 1880s. The novel focuses on Custerís son, George Custer, Jr., who is taken captive in May, 1886 after the dirigible he is piloting crashes in Cheyenne Territory.
Giambastiani is most interested in the political situation which has arisen between his version of the United States and the Cheyenne Alliance. As the US prepares to go to war against the Cheyenne, the Indians use the presence of George, Jr. to work out a way to end the continual strife between the "Horse Nations" of the United States and themselves.
Giambastiani has introduced numerous changes to his world. Physically, the Gulf of Mexico extends far to the north and Florida is missing. Ecologically, dinosaurs still live in the Great Plains, and politically, many of the European nations maintain a presence in North America in the 1880s. While his changes are intriguing, he does not explain how they all work together. Why are the Indians, dinosaurs, and Gulf of Natchez such as small influence on the political history of the United States. A presumed lack of a California Gold Rush, at least one which kept people within the United States, should have had some effect on the world of 1886.
The characters who populate the world of The Year the Cloud Fell never really connect with each other. They arenít quite caricatures, nor are they archetypes, although the potential for either appears in most characters. George Juniorís relationship with Storm Arriving, one of his captors, seems less natural and more like a necessity to allow Giambastiani to advance the plot and explain the Cheyenne world to the reader. Other relationships appear just as contrived, particularly Storm Arrivingís relationship with the Cheyenne visionary Speaks While Leaving, who foresaw Georgeís crash and subsequent capture.
Unfortunately, while many of the ideas Giambastiani works with are interesting, he seems too intent on tossing in every possible idea, thereby creating a stew which has a variety of disparate flavors which do not manage to coalesce into a complementary meal. Had Giambastiani elected to focus on one or two of these ideas, whether in the realm of natural history, politics or science, the novel would have been tighter and more enjoyable.
Giambastiani has announced a sequel to The Year the Cloud Fell. With luck, he'll be able to further develop his characters and their relationships while focusing on fewer items to give it a more cohesive feel.
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