#ScifiMonth Author Interview & Book Review: The City Below The Clouds by T.S. Galindo

“They’d been washed out of two units before because of oversleeping. It was a harrowing experience. Units were rented by the minute with a maximum of twelve hours. When the timer ran out, the door automatically opened, leaving the occupants exposed; ten seconds later, if the unit was not evacuated, or the timer paid, alarms would come on, ten seconds after that the unit would be flooded with acid-rain water; they called this getting washed out.”

https://onemore.org/2020/09/01/announcing-scifimonth-2020/

The City Below The Clouds Mycelium Network (Links)

This is a really exciting post for me. First, I bring you a review of The City Below The Clouds by T.S. Galindo. Its a self published scifi/cyberpunk story with a lot of heart….and mushrooms! Following that, is an interview with T.S. that covers his book, as well as his own personal struggles, and his battle to make sense of my questions. It was a blast, and hope you enjoy!!

My Review:

Thank you to Mr. Galindo for reaching out to me, the book was provided in exchange for a fair review, and in no way was it dependant on a positive review.

The City Below the Clouds was a story I wanted to read immediately after the author sent me the official blurb. I’m a sucker for just about anything mushrooms, so when a science fiction or cyberpunk story is brought to my attention with a mushrooms element, why, my poor little heart just can resist taking a little peeksie. I’m pretty sure I freaked the writer out when I responded so quickly, and how excited I was to read it.

The book really surprised me in regards to the fungi aspect of the story. I assumed, or expected, magic mushrooms to be part of the story. Alas, they were not, but there is still a lot of magic in this book, in the form of imaginitive and absorbing storytelling.

I really loved this cyberpunk story set in a city that is below a perpetual layer of clouds. As a result, life is lived under a shadow of the sunlight, never seeing the sun, never knowing the sun. The people are kept ignorant of the wider world, as trying to survive, one day or one hour at a time is seriously exhausting stuff.

Its an acid rain soaked existence, surrounded by skyscrapers lit by neon signs, and mushrooms, fungi covering everything. That they have found some sort of equilibrium with the city is taken for granted, as they feed off the acid in the rain, which keeps the buildings from being eaten away. The world building was really top notch and one I would return too. But there’s a lot more to it.

“Our kind existed eons before the humans and their boned ilk  crawled out of the oceans, and we will exist long after they  have obliterated themselves into nothingness.”

Mushroom wisdom –

The story follows a young girl, Kalan, and her younger sister, or friend, as they try to make it through this perilous life on their own. I found the MC very likeable and I was fully invested in her thoughts and actions. She was carrying a heavy burden in caring for another person, but was doing it out of love, and that was the heart of this story, and Shining bright was that portrayed, amidst this dystopian, and strange scifi tale.

When she takes a job that brings her up above the clouds, we get heartbreak, twists, and wonder, as well as a fantastic ending to The City Below The Clouds.

The world building is so detailed and interesting. I loved the descriptions of “charge” which is the form of currency the people use to pay for a place to stay, to eat, what we would call the essentials. There are unique forms of technology that are snugly fitted, or woven into the bleak and desperate slice of life the people lead.

There is also the mines. The majority of people work outside the city’s edge in the mines. The same mines that result in the acid that is in the moisture and rain. Mines being what mines are, lives are lost, cut short, and extinguished much too soon. Limbs lost are replaced using more interesting, and unique ideas that really set this book apart, and give this book its scifi and cyberpunk dystopian frame.

Filled within the frame though is the experience of trying to survive, to find a meal, to find an enclosed private space with the luxury of a bed. Its heartbreaking, and an overwhelming feeling of sadness i felt for the two girls. For me, having personal experiences of that kind of despair and emptiness allowed me to more fully understand and respect what T.S. has created within the pages of a shorter story. Well done!

Art From mpuncekar.blogspot.com

There is also a narrated version on YouTube, read by the author. And also a soundtrack, or playlist put together by the writer, again easily accessible for one and all on YouTube. There is an interview to follow this where the author says a bit more about the music, and how it helped in getting him in the right cyberpunk mood. Don’t miss it!

The story does take off into some really twisty science fiction, and world shifting places while putting Kalan in an equally unimaginable position that is a memorable predicament. I would easily give 4 stars just for the uniqueness, but the heart in MC, along with the tech, scifi elements, and cyberpunk world make it a win. Can’t wait for T.S. Galindo’s next work.

The MC is forced to take a scrubbing job, (scrubbing, being the act of removing fungus from an area of the city that would create an inconvenience if left to grow.) The little machines that provide the job information and supplies needed indicates the job is in the 500 levels of one of the suffocating skyscrapers. To her it doesn’t seem real, the job might as well be on another planet, as beyond the clouds is a great unknown.

OllieSpot Interview with the author, T.S. Galindo.

I can’t thank the author enough for not only answering my sometimes random and possibly too personal questions, but also for answering them with such wisdom, openness, and honesty. I feel confident in saying that you will have as much fun reading this as I did, when it was done. Thank you for stopping by, and for your support.

I just finished The City Below The Clouds, and really enjoyed the uniqueness of the world, what was your inspiration? What was the initial spark for the book?


TS: I was in the mood to write something in the Cyberpunk genre. I thought about how the tone of the genre is best portrayed at night, so I started to think of ways that a city would always be in night. From there, I started living in the world in my head as I was world building and the pieces started coming together.


Can you introduce us to who you are, interests, and maybe pass along a lesson you’ve learned in life that could help someone else out there?


TS: I’m a mechanical engineer by day and an amateur science fiction writer by night. I grew up all along the East Coast of the US, where I still live with my Wife and two cats. I’m interested in all the usual stuff; movies, television, books, the true fundamental nature of the universe, watching vine compilations, and making memes for a Dune themed meme page on facebook. My favorite genre to read or watch is science fiction, and I also enjoy a good horror story. I’ve had depression and anxiety my whole life and am constantly learning how to live while viewing the world through those lenses. It’s a struggle, but I think it has made me more empathetic and observant, and definitely more introspective.
I think the best lesson I’ve learned is that everything is paradoxically both infinitely complex and infinitely simple at the same time. You need to try to approach everything, every object, every interaction, every problem, from both a micro and macro point of view. The micro will help you understand the immediate situation but the macro will help you see the larger motivations and how far something can practically affect the world around it. This will help you to not get lost in the details and show you which details will ultimately matter for the outcome you want.


Can you tell us about your journey as a self published author?


TS: I originally started writing The City Below the Cloud as a short story, but as it started to expand beyond my control into novella lengths, I started researching publishing options. I read a bunch of articles on the subject and came to the conclusion that my best option was self-publishing. One article put it pretty well by saying something like, “Unless it’s between 50,000 to 80,000 words it’s not going to get published through traditional publishing.” Basically, from a marketability and return on investment, stand point, outside of that length range doesn’t really fit how the traditional publishers do business, so they probably wouldn’t want it. I also read that genre fiction was getting harder to publish, and I felt that the genre that my book falls into was a bit of a niche. So, I decided to look into self-publishing; my wife helped me edit it three or four times, I created a cover, and formatted everything for both print and ebook and released it to the world via Amazon. Then I bought a microphone and recorded the audio version and put it on YouTube for free as a way to have people be able to try it out to see if it’s something they’d like. I’m pretty happy with the result so far.


I read that you’ve worked in engineering, how has that knowledge influenced your writing? And what do your coworkers think about your writing?


TS: I definitely feel that my experience as an engineer has kept my writing somewhat grounded in what could be possible, helping me to know which rules to bend and which to break. I’ve actually gotten pretty good feedback from my coworkers on the book, they seem to enjoy it. They are usually surprised to hear about it since I tend to keep to myself. I’m not exactly a social person.


I found the world so interesting, below, and above the clouds. Do you have any other stories set in the same world, lined up in the future?


TS: I wasn’t originally planning to write a sequel, but I do have some ideas of where other stories could go; both short stories and longer length ones.


What is the next step for you as a writer?


TS: I’d really love to have one of my short stories published by one of the speculative fiction podcasts I listen to, like Escape Pod, The Drabblecast, or Podcastle. Listening to them and others really got me back into writing and I’d love to hear one of my stories on their shows.


Your favorite science fiction books that inspired you, and your favorite scifi you’ve read in the last year or two?


TS: I’ve always loved the original Dune books by Frank Herbert and Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke; I love their blend of science fiction and philosophy, which I think all good scifi should do. My favorite science fiction that I’ve read this year was The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin. I wish I’d been exposed to her writing sooner, it’s fantastic.


Is there a book that you wish you could have written, or even a book you’ve loved that you’d like to change?

TS: I wish I’d been able to write some of the Alien novels, I feel that there were a lot of missteps in where the stories and characters went in those and I think I could have brought some interesting ideas to them.

That is perfect, who knows, maybe someday you will get a similar opportunity!


If you could steal the life of any writer, actor, musician, whos life would you assume?


TS: I think I’d like to be Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. He created something incredible that everyone loves while managing to keep his life private and retiring early and he never sold out.


What would you like to learn more about?


TS: I’d love to learn more about programming. I’ve done a little bit in college, but it was all in Excel. I’d love to be able to create a point-and-click adventure game based on The City Below the Cloud. I enjoyed games like “Flashback” and “Out of this World” when I was a kid, so I’d give it that kind of aesthetic. Fortunately, you can learn anything on YouTube these days, so as long as I’ve got the time, I can probably learn it.


What was the last time you had to “Ask to speak to your supervisor.” If possible,, please Explain:


TS: Due to my anxiety, I am extremely non-confrontational, so I don’t really have a good example of this, but recently I have been wanting to speak to the manager of everywhere I go because no one seems to want to wear their masks properly or follow any sensible pandemic reducing guidelines and it’s driving me nuts. Wear a mask! Over your nose! Flush to your face! 


Amen to that.What major publisher would you like to see your books published under?


TS: I suppose Tor, the publishers of Dune, or Penguin. I’m not too familiar with the big publishers. 


I really appreciated the uniqueness of The City Below The Clouds, as it portrays a dystopian cyberpunk type future, with a utopian life existing simultaneously. Do you see our future as going down a utopian, or more in a dystopian direction?


TS: I think we’re living in a pretty dystopian scenario right now, even if you exclude the global pandemic. In Hinduism, there’s something called a Yuga Cycle, or a Great Year. It’s a 24,000 year cycle that seems to correspond to human civilization patterns with the highest point being a Golden Age, where civilization is more in tune with spirituality and the lowest point  where civilization is more in tune with technology. Supposedly 2012 was the bottom of that lowest point, so we have about 12,000 years to go before we’re back to the highest point. I’m not sure if those Golden Ages are really any closer to a Utopia, but I don’t see things getting significantly better in the blip of time that is a single lifespan. I have a feeling things will teeter between better and worse without really going to either extreme


The “Toe” scene in the elevator was something else, I had some fungi growing experience a long time ago and it made me remember some of the smells and textures of the mushrooms, what kind of research did you do in regards to mushrooms.


TS: I mostly relied on online resources like Wikipedia and other more in-depth websites. There wasn’t too much practical research there. I have always liked mushrooms, though, so I guess that deepened the writing a little.


Don’t want to give any spoilers, but, I used to read a lot of psychedelic non-fiction types of books, mainly Terence McKenna, and he claimed that there resided some sort of aware intelligence that’s able to communicate with humans that have ingested a hefty amount of mushrooms containing psilocybin. In your book, the mushrooms have gained awareness as well, what are your thoughts on all that?


TS: I can believe that. Fungi have been around for a lot longer than animals and there’s a theory that even plant life can’t really thrive without the fungi that grow and connects all the roots together. I’ve heard that the idea is that plants “talk” to each other through a sort of fungal internet in the root structure. They also redistribute nutrients through the network to benefit the weaker and younger plants of a forest. I’ve also heard about theories that the reason we developed intelligence is that our ancestors were eating psychoactive mushrooms, opening up our awareness. Over generations and enough mushrooms, I guess it started to stimulate brain growth to the point that we didn’t need the mushrooms for our current base-level awareness. Also, I have a bit of a theory that any sufficiently complex network of individuals emerges into what we would recognize as consciousness or sentience. I base this on how studies have shown that each individual cell in our bodies actually has its own will, we aren’t a singular entity but a massive collection of highly specialized individuals working together with a unique ecosystem of gut bacteria to accomplish the goal of survival, yet somehow we have sentience. So if our complex system has emerged, then maybe other complex systems have as well, like fungi. If that’s the case then ingesting enough of the right kind of fungus that again expands our awareness enough, could allow us to actually communicate with the emerged consciousness of the fungi that we simply don’t normally have the tools to communicate with.


Last text message?


TS: Cool


What have you been listening to?


TS: My music listening changes from day to day. Sometimes I’m listening to folk-rock like Laura Marling and sometimes it’s Norwegian pop like Aurora and other times it’s classic goth music like Bauhaus. While writing The City Below the Cloud, though, I listened to cyberpunk synthwave music. I find that listening to the right music helps get me into the tone of what I’m writing, and that kind of music was perfect. Here’s the playlist I made if anyone wants to use it as a soundtrack while reading the book: The City Below the Cloud Soundtrack


Life on other planets?


TS: Absolutely. I think it would be the most egotistical thing to think that we are the center of the universe in any way. Purely from a probability standpoint, there has to be life on other planets. I don’t know that we’ll ever really have any meaningful contact with any intelligent life, though. I think what stands in our way the most is time dilation. The incredible distances would make traveling and communication difficult, but time is affected by gravity as well, so time moves slower or faster depending on the local gravity, so even if we found another planet with life on it, going there might mean being cut off from Earth. As soon as you’re on that other planet, time on Earth might be moving faster relative to you, so if you went back it could be centuries later. The best example of this I’ve seen in cinema was in Interstellar.


Finally, what’s next for you in the world of writing?


TS: Right now I’m working on a collection of short stories that all take place in the same universe (not the same one as The City Below the Cloud). They all relate to a scientific think tank called “The Institute” in Antarctica that runs a lot of dangerous experiments.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by for the review and interview. It was a lot of fun to do!

T S Galindo grew up on the East Coast of the United States. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and works as a Mechanical Designer while pondering the absurdity of existence. He suffers from curiosity, creativity, anxiety, and depression. He lives with his wife, Sam, and their two cats, DeLorean and Taco.

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