Balcony of Fog, Rick Shapero. Half Moon Bay, CA: TooFar Media, 2020.
Summary: In a post-nuclear world, a laborer and a fugitive from a vengeful lover inhabiting a thunderhead meet up, transform to cloud-beings and eventually engage in a climactic battle.
Arden is a toiler in a post-nuclear war of toilers and overlords. He builds and repairs sluices channeling the water from ever present storms. He dreams of more, sailing away on the Mariod, named after a woman who sacrificed herself for him. After a beating from an overlord, he slips away to his boat and encounters a woman who seems to descend out of the sky. Estra is escaping an angry thunderhead driven by her former lover Ingis.
Of course they instantly fall into love and into the sack. Then when their escape plan is frustrated, Estra leads Arden into a transformation allowing him to ascend to the clouds. Arden finds himself transformed into a cloudlike figure capable of riding the clouds. For a while, it seems an idyllic life of incredible beauty. They immerse each other in Vats, cleansing them of bad memories and traumas, Spindles that draw out their wishes, and a pond of which they write their most private thoughts, which are transformed into cranes. Then there is love, where they merge their “motes,” their whole being into each other.
Of course it can’t last. Ingishead driven by a jealous and powerful lover relentlessly pursues them. At one point, Ingishead abducts Estra, with Arden relentlessly pursuing and ultimately rescuing her back. But Arden knows that any victory is temporary until Ingishead is defeated. Even as Arden builds Ardenhead, consuming lesser clouds and learning to wield lightning, there is also an inner conflict. What is Ingis to Estra? Why did she become his lover in the first place? How much of her heart did he still hold?
On one level, the story is about the lead-up to a climactic battle. It is also a study of the corrupting effects of power, which we see at work on Ingis. But will power and jealousy win over love with Arden? Will he become another Ingis.
Meanwhile, the structures of power on earth continue. A vengeful strike at one point seems emotionally cathartic but systemically unsatisfying. The Vats, The Spindles, and the cranes are interesting devices for the emotional healing and self-healing these abused characters need, yet self-revelation carries its own dangers.
There is some interesting world-building and ideas about self-knowledge mixed with what seem to me adolescent fantasy and pettishness. I think a gifted writer could have created a story of greater subtlety. As it stands, it is just OK. I can’t help but wonder if the immersive component of this project, pairing an app with this book, led to writing that does not stand on its own but is driven by the companion technology. Whatever is the case, I’d pass on this one.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.