A pair of British Cloud Machine operators takes a variety of humorous weather-creating jobs in this picaresque debut story collection.
The first tale introduces the concept of manufactured, made-to-order weather, provided by the Black, Black & Blackemore company near Manchester, England. Employees Captain Cumulus and his faithful engineer Puffy White of the Cloud Machine Nimbus prefer to take unusual assignments instead of run-of-the-mill weather operations. Cumulus has a soft spot for Holland, so he and Puffy fly there to Mr. Sonnemans’ class and demonstrate pea-soup fog, as well as rain made of actual cats and dogs. Cumulus and Puffy then continue their escapades in both Holland and Britain. In some stories, the Cloud Machines are top-secret, but in others, the company advertises in local papers to raise funds (offering services such as revenge drenchings), and the overall conceit is delightful. The corps of Cloud Machine owners is full of wacky characters whose successes and spectacular failures are consistently entertaining. Several stories feature the Cloud Machines creating dramatic visual displays; for example, Smith describes in precise detail the rehearsal process for a disastrous (and amusing) Cloud Parade for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Cumulus also takes on a rescue operation for a fellow pilot, goes on an overseas foreign-aid endeavor, and helps investigate reports of a rogue Cloud Machine that’s sabotaging cricket matches. There are both male and female captains, although women are in far shorter supply and are treated by their peers with occasional sexism (“Abigail was not only very attractive but also wore the tightest of trousers, which highlighted her shapely backside—a feature which had attracted his gaze on a number of occasions”). Although this aspect lends the tales an old-boys’-club feel, the stories are fun adventures overall, and each episode could almost stand on its own.
A collection of lighthearted, chuckle-worthy tales with an inventive hook.