Three-A-Week (4.1): Sam J Miller’s “We Are the Cloud”

Published September 2014 in Lightspeed (Issue 52)

(Warning: I’m going to be talking about the story assuming you, my wife or imaginary reader, have read it. Here there be spoilers. Also, these are my rough, rambly thoughts; I make no promises regarding cohesion or concision.)

I keep putting myself in a pickle by reading stories that are so damn good and so damn hard to write about. “We Are the Cloud” is really beautiful in a tragic and uncomfortably true kind of way. Angel’s narrative feels at once personal and political; his individual experiences build and shape a reality we’re surrounded with. Sam’s website talks a little about his passion for community organization, and that comes through in “We Are the Cloud,” which paints a picture of the individual’s place within a community as both hopeful and desperate. It’s an incredible story, and one that I’m going to be thinking about for a long time to come.

I’m so fascinated by the evolving idea of alienation/separation in this story. Angel is a character who is completely disconnected from the community and society around him, and he even seems disconnected from himself, all of which are ways to keep people down and content with it. In addition to struggling with speech and living away from his mother and in a place he doesn’t seem to fit, Angel’s systematically enforced anxiety over his own sexuality means even his own desires are strangers to him, things he must avoid or feel ashamed of. And Case changes that for him, though not in the way we would expect. For a hot second, the story of Case and Angel’s relationship seems to be one about mutual support in times of darkness. Case appears and Angel begins to understand more about himself: he sees how his linguistic abilities change depending on the love/affection he is feeling; he allows his desire to overwhelm him and experiences what it’s like to truly want someone/something; he begins to feel connected, both to Case and to the world around him. Case comes around and Angel begins to plug himself in to the world.

But Case’s choice after the porn shoot changes everything for the story, and this is where I realized how incredibly smart the narrative is and how totally capable Sam is as a writer. Angel’s reaction to what he sees as Case’s betrayal is the perfect recognition of the depressingly complex situation of communities among the poor. Can we really blame Case for taking the money and running? For using another person to get ahead and (hopefully) get out of the damaging trap the boys of Egan House find themselves in? In some ways, it’s totally selfish. It’s the same kind of orientation toward the Other that keeps poor people poor and rich people rich; you see someone else as a tool to be used, and that justifies all manner of sins (cloudporting among them).

And yet, I find myself feeling a little sorry for Case, because he, like Angel, like Angel’s mom, is so much a product of the world around him. He seems to struggle with his decision to leave, and even though Angel’s revenge fantasies paint Case out to be a malicious and vile person, I think the truth is much more complex, much more tragic. And it’s clear that the author recognizes that, too. Angel finds himself still longing for Case, though he now recognizes that perhaps what he was feeling was not love but a desire that he’d long kept shut away from himself. It’s a mighty and important realization, and it was wonderful to see it handled so deftly.

Angel’s final scene is one that feels at once empowering and dangerous. He’s finally begun to understand his place in the world, and he’s beginning to throw off these illusory rules that have kept him in line. And he’s reacting to the bright flare that was his relationship with Case in exactly the opposite way that Case did. He’s using this newfound passion to create community, to reinvest in those around him. He’s become dangerous to the system that has kept him in line, and this is in part due to the cloudport, but it’s also really because he’s begun to see himself as an individual with a community. He’s no longer a solitary node; he’s one in a network.

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