Cloud Atlas takes the form of what Lawrence Buell calls an observer-hero narrative, in which an observer has difficulty representing and interpreting a hero’s actions. While Cloud Atlas structurally magnifies this problem over its multiple stories, its subversion of genre and convention suggests a reading strategy through which one might believe in another’s effective action, despite the accepted knowledge and limiting rules of the systems in which action might occur. The novel’s principle of symmetry, that an observer’s belief in a hero’s action bolsters the action’s effects, suggests the significance of what I call proximate observation – observation founded in an appropriate degree of connection. Proximate observation allows for the belief in another’s story, belief that is necessary for change. The implications for a text, the world, or world literature are the same: proximate reading strategies foreground the need for belief in possibilities one does not already know.