Cloud Warrior: The Amtrak Wars Book One by Patrick Tilley
After spending the first seventeen years of his life in the under-ground world of the Lone Star Confederation, Steve Brickman, a newly-trained wingman, emerges to join a Trail-Blazer wagon-train selected to make the first deep-penetration strike into the territory held by the Plainfolk Mutes.
The mission is part of a centuries-old conflict for possession of the blue-sky world in which both sides have fought with the ut-most ruthlessness. Steve is aware of the dangers but he has no inkling that his arrival has already been predicted by the enemy or that he is destined to embark on a perilous adventure; a test of courage and endurance that will totally change his life and cause him to doubt the truth of everything he has been taught since birth.
Much as I enjoy a good old-fashioned zombie apocalypse, and I really do, there are plenty of other types of Armageddon that are just as worthy of consideration. Back in the early-to-mid eighties, Patrick Tilley wrote a series of six novels, collectively known as The Amtrak Wars, that follow various cultures in the Earth’s far future who have survived a global (probably nuclear) holocaust. The next apocalyptic work of fiction I want to take a look at is book one, Cloud Warrior.
The success of Cloud Warrior, and the rest of The Amtrak Wars for that matter, is down to a couple of things. Firstly, there is Tilley’s exquisite attention to detail when it comes to world-building. The Federation and the Mute’s separate societies have been created in such a way that their mutual hostility makes perfect sense. The enmity shared by both sides perfectly mirrors the historical bad-blood that existed between the Native American population and the settlers back in the Old West.
It’s fair to say that the leaders of the Federation go out of their way to foster the pioneer spirit. They paint the Mutes as nothing more than ignorant sub-human savages. The Federation’s militaristic/technological society is built around the premise that they are the rightful owners of the ‘blue-sky world’ and the Mutes (or anyone else for that matter) need to be subjugated.
The Mutes meanwhile have gone entirely the other way and developed a far more tribal culture, more in keeping with the aboriginal people of America. As an aside, I particularly like the way that Tilley has created the clan history within the Mute society, their ancient antiquity being our present day. The Mute clan names of power and mythology always manage to raise a wry smile. Can’t go wrong with the likes of characters named Motor-Head, Flat-Top and Ultra-Vox.
Initially, it appears that the Federation are out and out evil, but of course things are not quite as cut and dried as all that. The author does a worthy job of not favouring one side over the other, there is good and bad on both sides of this cultural divide. Political conspiracies are rife and lead right to the very heart of the Federation, while the Mutes are driven, almost fanatically so, by a prophecy of the “thrice gifted one”.
There are many standout characters, Steve Brickman from the Federation and a Mute called Cadillac of the clan M’Call feature strongly, but my personal favourite is the Mute medicine man/shaman Mr Snow. Think a slightly tripped out version of Yoda, crossed with a geriatric member of ZZ Top and you’ll get the idea. Mr Snow’s enigmatic pronouncements, and cryptic tutelage of Cadillac, standout as my favourite scenes.
If you are looking for a first class science fiction novel that builds into a landmark series then I would suggest that Cloud Warrior might be the one for you. Going back and revisiting it I was pleased to discover that it has stood the test of time and feels just as fresh and original as when I first read it. I rarely use the word classic but I think I might just have to in this case. The best news – when you finish this there are still another five books in the series still to go.
Cloud Warrior is published by Orbit and is available now.