The Sultan of the Clouds
The Sultan of the Clouds by Geoffrey A. Landis is the final 2011 Hugo nominee for Best Novella. (It’s the final because it’s the last one I read.) Landis gives us a very interesting glimpse into a possible future solar system. The solar system is largely controlled by 20 families. These were essentially the people who funded/continued space exploration after Earth governments had largely given up.
The narrator (Tinkerman) and Dr. Leah Hamakawa (a planetary ecosphere scientist) travel to Venus at the request of Carlos Fernando Delacroix Ortega de la Jolla y Nordwald-Gruenbaum–the titular “Sultan of the Clouds.” They meet Carlos and discover that in addition to controlling most of Venus, Carlos is twelve and wants to marry Dr. Hamakawa. Marriage of a younger person to an older person turns out to be a standard Venusian practice. When the younger person reaches an age of around thirty they then marry another younger person in turn. They term this continuous marriage a “braided” marriage. For political reasons, Carlos is seeking Dr. Hamakawa as an outside (of Venus) person so that he will be unencumbered by the strictures of the established line marriages. In other words, he has a plot.
Landis presents a very interesting method in which Venus has been colonized. The surface of Venus itself is quite inhospitable to humans in just about every way you can think of. If you travel upwards in the atmosphere to where the pressure is Earth normal, you have an interesting possibility. The atmosphere is still largely CO2, so a balloon filled with ordinary Earth air is buoyant. This has led to formation of the cloud cities of Venus. The cloud cities are bubble habitats (large) that float among the atmosphere of Venus. There are about 10,000 of these cities and Carlos controls around half of them. We spend a fair amount of time looking at the cities and their culture through Tinkerman’s eyes. Tinkerman is fairly bright, but somewhat passive and somewhat shocked at Venusian cultural differences.
The idea of colonizing Venus in this fashion is an idea Landis (real scientist!) proposed back in 2008. The link takes you to a nice article on that.
This story presented some interesting ideas and had a nice little mystery (Carlos’ plot). I liked it, but it did seem to be a bit of a set piece for the floating cities. Now, since the floating city idea is pretty cool, I didn’t mind that too much.