Diversity in the Age of Y2K: On Miriam Seidel’s ‘The Speed of Clouds’
Seidel’s debut novel addresses themes of community, acceptance, and openness with the depth these themes deserve.
Novel | 268 Pages | 6” x 9” | Reviewed: Paperback
978–0–9995501–0–6 | First Edition | $16.95
New Door Books | Philadelphia | BUY HERE
Miriam Seidel’s debut novel, The Speed of Clouds, gives an insightful and compassionate look into the world of late 20th century fandom and the need for community. Set in 1999 among the early days of home Internet access and the height of the Y2K cyberbug hysteria, this novel deftly explores the turning point of fandom going global and focuses on the individuals and groups most affected, both positively and negatively, by this shift.
Protagonist Mindy Vogel is not having a good month. First, her so-called friends voted that she be replaced as Commander of the Cyborg Appreciation Society — the fandom group that she founded and turned into a huge deal. Then, her mother took up with a sleazy dude from New Jersey. To make matters worse, her best friend has started hanging out with a bunch of losers who prefer being rebels over being part of the Federation. Throw in that it’s almost her 24th birthday and that she’s still living wheelchair-bound at home with no independent future in sight, and it’s no wonder she’s on edge all the time.
Mindy’s only respite is her imagination, where she is SkyLog officer Kat Wanderer, adventuring through the galaxy with ease and sharing her experiences with her cyborg consort. In the world of SkyLog, she knows exactly what to do, how to behave, how to perform her duties with grace and aplomb. But as life continues throwing her curveball after curveball, Mindy is forced out of her head and into the real world, where, for the first time in a long time, she takes the difficult step of confronting herself to determine what she wishes the future to hold.
The Speed of Clouds is a compelling read for many reasons. First, the characters themselves are treated as complex individuals. No one falls into tropes or stereotypes, and the diversity present transcends boundaries of class, ability, race, and sexual orientation. Mindy has spina bifida, a congenital spinal defect that severely limits her lower body mobility and function. At the beginning of the novel, her entire life is wrapped up in online chats, in emails, in the fan group she started, and in ignoring that her medical condition is actually worsening. She treats those who disagree with her with disdain, going so far as to insult strangers at Cons who cosplay characters she doesn’t like:
“Santak wanna-bes tend to be plus size. You can’t miss them at the Cons. […I]t’s never been my thing. If you want pseudo-Dark Ages escapism, stick with Hercules or Xena, I say.”
But the loss of her fan group means that she has to start listening and talking to other people, and by the end of the novel, she has to learn to confront her own prejudice and bitterness.
Other characters stand out, as well. Mindy’s best friend, Zuzana, is a musician recording found sounds and mixing them into otherworldly melodies. Zu also comes out as gay by the end of the novel and doesn’t allow others to bring her down. She is strong in the face of Mindy’s anger, and a true best friend, supporting Mindy when it’s necessary but also calling her out when Mindy crosses a line. And because Zu has her own life outside only what Mindy wants to do, Zu is a strong character in her own right.
Even unlikable characters avoid the trap of being stereotyped. While at the beginning of the novel it seems as if Mindy is typecasting everyone, as Mindy’s awareness grows, so does the complexity of every character, no matter how major or minor.
Because the characters are so well-written and come across as fully formed people, The Speed of Clouds is able to address themes of community, acceptance, and openness with the depth these themes deserve. Mindy and others see the Internet as the miracle it was in 1999, the gateway to connecting with those who shared their vision and ideals for the future in a present that ostracized many in the fandom and cosplay communities.
“I remind myself of all the ways I’m connected to the bigger world from here. […] Online, I’m fearless.”
And because of this, the characters are able to find a voice and acceptance. As Mindy evolves her sense of self, she begins to accept that this online world is the first step toward creating the life she wants in the real world, as well.
Overall, this is a fantastic read with characters who will make you cheer and hurt for them, a plot that delivers, and strong depth of feeling all the way through.
JACLYN BROWN is a Staff Book Reviewer for The Coil, and a high school English teacher in the Midwest, energizing 14- and 15-year-olds to find and express their voices responsibly and with conviction. In addition to teaching, she is a book reviewer with the #DiverseBookBloggers initiative dedicated to reading, supporting, and promoting underrepresented and marginalized voices in literature and publishing. When she is not gabbing on endlessly about books, she can be found debating local and global politics with friends, chilling with her cats, interpreting dreams, and planning world travel with her wife. Find her online.