"The Ships Like Clouds, Risen By Their Rain" ("Ships" from this point forward) is a truly bizarre piece of speculative fiction. Science fiction meets fantasy meets weird. It takes place on a world ravaged by weather patterns driven by bizarre ships in the sky. Small settlements of people have slowly built their cities on top of older buildings, rising higher and higher as the storms constantly shift water and mud around, burying the markers of people long gone.
Without giving too much away, I can say I enjoyed "Ships." For such a short piece I think it did a remarkable job of presenting Sanford's ability at world building. World building is generally one of those things that is exceedingly difficult in short fiction, but somehow Sanford managed to give me a good idea what his world is about without giving everything away. I genuinely want to see more of this world. How did the world in "Ships" end up like this? How long has it been this way? What is the future of the people not mentioned? What is the future for the ships?
I think one thing I took away from it that had nothing to do with the actual story was a better sense of my own writing, particularly an alleviation of concerns I had regarding my experimentations with style, story, and plot. Sanford has created a fascinating piece that I think is a fine example of what speculative short fiction can be. I know, this sounds like I'm just plugging Mr. Sanford, which isn't my intention here (sort of). I simply think that this is a terrific story with a fantastic, if not unique, vision. It puts Sanford in a category of people I admire and perhaps hope to be like--not in the sense of imitation, but in the sense of rising to that level. And he's in good company (Tobias S. Buckell is on that list, along with John Scalzi, Paul Genesse, and a handful of other fine writers).
For those interested in reading "Ships," check out the August 2008 edition of Interzone. If Sanford's story is any indication of the quality of fiction in Interzone, I expect many more great things from this British magazine--they're going in the right direction for me.