Author Topic: EP114: Cloud Dragon Skies  (Read 29487 times)

Anarkey

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Reply #25 on: July 19, 2007, 07:05:57 PM
I love N.K. Jemisin.  I loved this story when I read it at Strange Horizons, and I loved it even more when it was read here.  You picked an excellent reader for it, Steve.

I must have had a completely different experience than most of the other listeners who commented, because nothing of what has been complained about so far bothered me in the least.  I also didn't see it as an anime in my head, but then I was predisposed by the Frank Wu illustration accompanying the story at Strange Horizons (which is awesome, by the way). 

I'm a Wolfe fan, so I like unreliable narrators, and I thought this one was particularly well done.  She's simultaneously knowledgeable and naive, vulnerable and strong, self-righteous and curious...a very delicate balance that seems incredibly hard to pull off and yet essentially true to the way people actually are.

I really liked what I saw as some of the stereotype unraveling in the story.  The "native" here has appropriated cultural traditions...they are not her own and she is well aware of it.  She doesn't believe in the dragons as literal beings but as metaphorical ones, and yet the metaphor has such strength that it speaks to her in an almost spiritual way.  She embarks on a very purposeful act of seduction that works at least in part by playing on Rousseau's ideal of the noble savage, which the sky guy totally buys into.  I, personally, got a giggle out of how she engineered the "National Geographic" moments. 

This story reminds me a bit of James Patrick Kelly's "Burn".  The people who stayed behind on Earth had to promise to live a simple life, just like the ones who lived on "Walden".  Extreme Voluntary Simplicity.  But nothing is ever that simple, in either story and I enjoyed the complexity of "Cloud Dragon Skies".

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Reply #26 on: July 19, 2007, 11:03:50 PM
She doesn't believe in the dragons as literal beings but as metaphorical ones, and yet the metaphor has such strength that it speaks to her in an almost spiritual way.

That's the way I read this, too -- that the "cloud dragons" were a metaphor.  I thought it worked extremely well and inspired some great imagery.

This story reminds me a bit of James Patrick Kelly's "Burn".  The people who stayed behind on Earth had to promise to live a simple life, just like the ones who lived on "Walden".  Extreme Voluntary Simplicity.  But nothing is ever that simple, in either story and I enjoyed the complexity of "Cloud Dragon Skies".

I also saw the correlation with Burn, which was also a fun read (or listen).  I'm glad it won the Nebula Award.  And then this week, I read another very similar story, but with an Amish male protagonist and a different type of ending.  The story is titled Rumspringa by Jason Sanford and can be found here in the InterGalactic Medicine Show online magazine.  (I believe you need a subscription to read it.)  These all have the same theme of a simplistic life amid interstellar technology.  The imagery of Cloud Dragon Skies, however, stands out in my mind.


« Last Edit: July 19, 2007, 11:34:37 PM by kmmrlatham »

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eytanz

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Reply #27 on: July 20, 2007, 10:12:38 AM
She doesn't believe in the dragons as literal beings but as metaphorical ones, and yet the metaphor has such strength that it speaks to her in an almost spiritual way.

That's the way I read this, too -- that the "cloud dragons" were a metaphor.  I thought it worked extremely well and inspired some great imagery.

Cool interpretation. But that's not at all how I understood it. It never occured to me that the clouds were not actually transformed into living beings. And I thought the scientist boyfriend said there were amino acids in the clouds, which indicated that they were at least partially organic.



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Reply #28 on: July 20, 2007, 09:52:32 PM
That's the way I read this, too -- that the "cloud dragons" were a metaphor.  I thought it worked extremely well and inspired some great imagery.
Cool interpretation. But that's not at all how I understood it. It never occured to me that the clouds were not actually transformed into living beings. And I thought the scientist boyfriend said there were amino acids in the clouds, which indicated that they were at least partially organic.

I was quite agnostic on this point.  There seemed to be indicators in both directions -- which I think applies to other aspects of the story as well.

I had expectations from the opening paragraphs... and they were low.  I was bracing myself for something quite preachy, strong on the "noble savage" idea (as mentioned by other posters) and/or hair-shirt environmentalism.  But the strong narrative voice, the narrator's conflicting desires (conscious and subconscious) and the frequent ambiguity made me sit up and pay attention.  I was still more interested in the background setting of the exodus, but I felt that it was an interesting story very well told.

I'm surprised at the strength of feeling behind some of the responses on the forum and how different they are to my perception of it.  I think it's a great testament to the subtlety of the writing that there are such differing interpretations (that are valid, consistent and supported by examples) of the same text.

I happened to listen to this story on a day when there were just a few, wispy (natural) clouds in the sky, nearly outnumbered by vapour trails (the obvious recent ones, and the older ones that might look like normal clouds if they weren't so straight, and not aligned with the weather fronts).  Living 30 miles south of London Gatwick airport on the busy route to holiday destinations in Spain, this is not an unusual sight, and it's one that doesn't usually make an impression.  But because of "Cloud Dragon Skies" it suddenly felt wrong for the man-made clouds to be competing with the natural weather.  I can honestly say that this EscapePod story altered my perceptions.  And that's what fiction (particularly science fiction) should be for.



ajames

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Reply #29 on: July 21, 2007, 12:47:58 PM
Great story, great discussion.

Is the narrator unreliable?

Is she playing loose with the truth as she tells her story to the people on the Ring?  I'm not so sure that the audience for this story is the people on the Ring, as I got the impression her audience was as naive about the Ring and the sky people as they were about her and her people.  Also, I would think her greater knowledge of the Ring and the sky people after living with them would inform her views of them, even if it only showed through phrases such as "At the time I thought sky people were...".  Finally, if knowing the intended audience of the narrator's story was critical to the story, the author could have easily made it more apparent who the intended audience was.  As it is, this story could as easily be an entry in her memoirs, intended for her great, great grandchildren, as a story told to people on the Ring.

She is an unreliabe narrator in the sense that she is telling what happened as she saw it, not as some sort of omniscient being or objective observer simply relating the facts of what happened.  Do her personality traits and cultural beliefs make her less reliable than most others?  That is, is her version of events further from 'the truth' than most other versions would be?  Or is she the most reliable narrator possible under the circumstances?  As others have already addressed these questions, I won't say more about them here, except to ask a question - does disliking the narrator lead to a greater belief that her narration is unreliable?    True, one could argue that the same traits which lead to a dislike of the narrator also diminish her reliability, but do they?  Her tendency to point out other's faults and her own strengths, as she sees them, does not mean that she is making up these faults, or her strengths.  While I take her characterizations of others and her suppositions about their motives with a grain of salt, I don't have cause to think that she is a pathological lair or has reconstructed events to fit her perception of herself or others.  [Then again, I didn't personally dislike her, either].

Is the message of this story that nature is good and science is bad?  I don't think so.  Certainly there is the message that science often has dire, unintended consequences, and we are arrogant if we think otherwise.  But it is science after all that has preserved some nature from earth on the Ring, and science that has preserved the human race, even if it was science that polluted the earth to start with [or our use of science, at least].  And I wonder if the real message here isn't that human beings simply can't accept things the way they are, without attempting to change them to suit our needs.  The complicity of at least some of the people of the earth, people who had sworn to change themselves rather than change the earth, in the sky people's plans speaks to this.  The people of the earth weren't even agreeing to change the environment in a way that would have significant effects on their ability to survive, only to change the sky back to the blue they were used to.  We are tinkerers at heart, and having discovered science we can't go back in time and live the idealized life of the noble savage, at one with nature.  And while we could learn some things from the wisdom of those who lived closer to nature, our future is with science, in the stars.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the the science/nature conflict is more of a setting for this story than a message, that the interaction between the peoples of different cultures is what really counts here.  If the author had a specific message she wanted to communicate, I think Etherius probably comes closest when s/he wrote:

"The "deeper message" of the story, I think, is not that science is bad or evil, but that acting and judging rashly and out of ignorance is bad. The narrator and her people pre-judged the sky people as being all cut from the same cloth, and by the end of the story she realizes her judgment was not entirely fair. The sky people presume that they understand what is going on down on the planet, and the "earth people" are too proud of their perceived moral superiority to explain their perspective to the sky people. If the two sides had been willing to open a dialogue about what was going on, the sky people might have seen the signs of intelligence in the cloud dragon phenomenon, and the "earth people" might have won allies instead of alienating the sky people to the point where they just did what they had planned to do anyway. It's a lack of mutual understanding and a sense of false pride that dooms both sides; the only people who survive the disaster are the two who made the effort to reach out and meet each other halfway, fumbling though their efforts were."

Whew!  Sorry for the long post.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2007, 03:56:51 PM by ajames »



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Reply #30 on: July 24, 2007, 02:31:57 AM
I am a bit ambivalent about this story. It had some great moments - the imagery was very well constructed, and I agree with Mr. Tweedy about the sky dragons working very well as both a picture in my mind and as a concept. It also played the "culture clash" card much better than Ishmael in Love did last week - but at the same time, I found myself forming a dislike to all the characters, especially the narrator, and I found the plot to be rather predictable.

Exactly. I found it trite, with pluggable imagery.

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Reply #31 on: July 24, 2007, 04:30:57 AM
I thought the story was excellent, with strong characters and vivid imagery.  I was surprised to see it get such a mixed reaction here, though reading the posts I certainly understand where the story's detractors are coming from.

Nahautu isn't the most likable narrator, is she -- she's arrogant and condescending.  I was able to get past it, but I see how that might be a barrier for many.  And she never really seems to fully own-up to the fact that she was partially responsible for the disaster herself.  She had the ear of one of the Sky People, and she saw that their fixation on details was causing them to overlook critical information.  But she decided she'd rather watch them fall on their faces than show them the extraordinary results of lighting a single untended campfire.  (Then again, I'm not surprised she only cops to her role in the most oblique off-hand way possible.  She helped kill everyone she knew and in essence destroyed her entire world; makes sense that she'd be hiding from it.)

I had some other lesser issues; I too wanted to know if the sky dragons' revenge was global or (as I suspected) local.  I was also very disappointed to learn that "The Ring" was apparently a literal Niven-style Ringworld.  Sorry, but I honestly doubt there's enough matter in the entire solar system (minus the sun) for a construction project of that magnitude; the asteroid belt would be a drop in the bucket.  (Seriously, my understanding is that if you took the entire asteroid belt and wadded it into an asteroid snowball, you'd wind up with a planet a fraction the size of Mars.)

But, those are nits.  The characters were imperfect but compelling and eventually won me over.  And I like Etherius's interpretation that the only two survivors were the ones trying to bridge the gap between the two cultures.  It's an excellent story; my sincere thanks to Ms. Jemisin for writing it, to Ms. Whitaker for reading it, and to Mr. Eley for publishing it.



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Reply #32 on: July 24, 2007, 11:26:04 AM
I liked the story, although Nahautu did grate on me a bit. Probably because she sounded the way I did at 19 (except for the breast pride thing) and I really wouldn´t want to meet that me again (wow did I think I was smart and strong and SOOOO DEEP-- you old people *sniff* have no chance at understanding the world and it´s youth, we´re the future you know!-- I´m surprised I wasn´t bitchslapped into tomorrow by half the people around me).

I understood that the cloud dragons were real, and not imagination/metaphor. The brief reference to amino acids in the atmosphere indicated so, and I was disappointed that wasn´t followed up on. Also that the cloud dragons interacted with the campfires. Lots of room in this premise for many different expansions/stories and I´d be interested in seeing some more.

« Last Edit: July 24, 2007, 01:50:15 PM by wherethewild »

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Reply #33 on: July 25, 2007, 12:23:31 AM
Fantastic story!

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Reply #34 on: July 25, 2007, 12:00:20 PM
ClintMemo said:
Quote
I liked this story overall, and I'll echo the "descriptions of the clouds as dragons was well done" opinion.

AS far as the "nature strikes back" theme - that's just the way the protagonist saw it.  The story is told through her eyes.  If it were told from the POV of her boyfriend, it could be a hard SF story about how the people who messed up the atmosphere thought they figured out the problem, tried to fix it and screwed it up worse.

I kind of saw this coming when the father threw the sky people off the farm.

***

The thing about a narrator is: you don't have to like her.  You don't have to respect her.  You just have to listen to her, and form your own opinions.  Think about sitting in a college poli-sci class -- an advanced symposium or something.  You know enough to have your own opinions.  You discuss a text with the professor and the class.  You disagree.  You say why you disagree.  Unless the text is factually-inaccurate, the writer of the text has just as valid an opinion as you.  I remember vehemently defending Alexis de Tocqueville on several occasions -- specifically, how Americans prefer to be equal in slavery rather than unequal in freedom, or something to that effect -- and the other 11 people in my symposium thinking I was crazy for that opinion.

So, to all the people who hated the narrator: that's your prerogative.  I don't think I would've liked her as a person, but she's all we had.

I actually believed the clouds were some form of dragon.  Not a traditional dragon -- not like a Hungarian Horntail or Squonk or any of the others -- but more like living beings that exist in a way different from us (I believe I remember the sky people saying something about amino acids, and it's been a long time since 10th grade bio, but I believe those are the building blocks of DNA or something similar).  Given the ephemeral nature of clouds, it wouldn't surprise me if the cloud dragons lived short lives (like the Mayfly of a previous story) and evolved quickly once the sky turned red. 

I believe the dragons saw the sky people's attempt to turn the sky blue as the equivalent of a country hearing someone was going to drop a nuke on them and retaliating in advance.  The sky people were going to destroy the dragons' habitat; they had every right to fight back against the only people they could see.  Since the rocket came from the ground, not from space, they thought the humans on Earth fired it and acted accordingly.

The message of the story was a little overused -- if you're going to leave because it'll make the planet better, don't come back and use the same technology that ruined it to turn it into what it used to be -- and yeah, I felt the nudity was a little gratuitious, but overall I enjoyed the story.

Auditorily, the reader was satisfactory, though I could've lived without the effects being put on the narrator's unspoken thoughts.  Or was that just an audio artifact?

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Anarkey

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Reply #35 on: July 25, 2007, 03:52:03 PM
First of all, ajames, I was fascinated by your post. Very thoughtful analysis, and I'm glad you took the time to type it up for us.  I wish I had something more intelligent to say in response but I wanted to acknowledge my enjoyment of your post.

I understood that the cloud dragons were real, and not imagination/metaphor. The brief reference to amino acids in the atmosphere indicated so, and I was disappointed that wasn´t followed up on. Also that the cloud dragons interacted with the campfires. Lots of room in this premise for many different expansions/stories and I´d be interested in seeing some more.

I believe I'm being misinterpreted.  The cloud beings are metaphorically dragons.  Obviously the artifacts she names dragons (and personally, I thought they may have been animate, but not living, if you know what I mean, and that's where I thought the amino acid statement was implying) are really there, she's not making them up.  Metaphor does not mean made up.  Also pretty obviously they aren't actual dragons.  I wasn't trying to say she was making them up, just that her naming them dragons was attaching a legendary meaning to them.

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Reply #36 on: July 25, 2007, 03:54:12 PM
(I believe I remember the sky people saying something about amino acids, and it's been a long time since 10th grade bio, but I believe those are the building blocks of DNA or something similar).

Just in case you wanted to know: they´re building blocks of proteins. (DNA is made of a string of nucleic acids; 3 nucleic acids form a codon; one codon codes for an amino acid; a string of amino acids forms a protein; kneebone´s connected to the thigh bone...).

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Reply #37 on: July 25, 2007, 04:55:54 PM
(I believe I remember the sky people saying something about amino acids, and it's been a long time since 10th grade bio, but I believe those are the building blocks of DNA or something similar).

Just in case you wanted to know: they´re building blocks of proteins. (DNA is made of a string of nucleic acids; 3 nucleic acids form a codon; one codon codes for an amino acid; a string of amino acids forms a protein; kneebone´s connected to the thigh bone...).

Ah, so I had it backward.

Still, though, I think the dragons were real.

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Reply #38 on: July 25, 2007, 07:02:44 PM
The dragons are obviously real entities, although, as Anarkey points out, they are obviously not literal dragons.

What I wonder (and maybe listening again would answer my question) is where, exactly, they came from.  There seem to be two possibilities:

1.) They are some kind of Frankenstein creation.  People chucked a bunch of chemicals into the atmosphere and *ZAP* the chemistry came to life.  The creation conquers the creator.

2.) The dragons are a natural defense mechanism of the living earth.  I.e. Mother Earth is pissed at people for messing up the place and sends the dragons to punish them.  The creator re-conquers the creation.

The essential moral is the same either way, but it gives the story a very different feel depending on which explanation you go with.  The first makes for an ironic tale of man destroying himself.  I go for the second, which makes for a mystical story about man butting heads with the gods.

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Reply #39 on: July 28, 2007, 10:37:24 AM
I was re-reading this thread, and I want to clarify something - in my post early on, I said:

Quote
nature only extends as far as the atmosphere, and if we're sexy enough and get lovers who live in outer space, we'll be fine.

Upon re-reading, I realized it may look that I'm one of the people complaining about the attitudes towards sex/nudity in the story - I want to make it perfectly clear that I'm not. The narrator's attitudes towards sex are actually one of the few things I found likable about her. And I found the nudity neither silly nor gratuitous, but natural, and I felt it fit in well with the story's wonderful imagery.

What I object is the fact that the message of the story end up being "the beautiful will be saved". In the end, it was neither action, nor inaction, scientific understanding, or tradition, that survives. Rather, the young and the beautiful - both male and female - get to live, and for no other reason than the fact that they are young and beautiful.



ajames

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Reply #40 on: July 28, 2007, 02:50:04 PM
In response to eytanz's last post, I don't agree that the young and beautiful survived in this story for no other reason than that they were both young and beautiful, though I will concede this is a viable interpretation.

For me, I think it was more than just being beautiful and young that saved these characters.  These two people from very different cultures with very different ideas were willing to cross those boundaries and at least give one another a chance, which is more than the other prominent characters in the story were willing to do.  And this is what saved them.

I'll admit that this isn't necessarily the case.  You certainly could reduce their "love" to ephemeral physical attraction, enhanced a bit by being forbidden [by her father for one] and various other factors easily associated with youth or beauty.  But I'm sticking with my interpretation.

I do agree with eytanz that the nudity in this story came across to me as natural, and I wasn't bothered by it at all.



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Reply #41 on: July 28, 2007, 03:27:58 PM
In the end, it was neither action, nor inaction, scientific understanding, or tradition, that survives. Rather, the young and the beautiful - both male and female - get to live, and for no other reason than the fact that they are young and beautiful.

Heh.  And I thought it was just because they could run fast.  >8->

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Reply #42 on: July 31, 2007, 08:04:58 AM
The discussion and analysis of the story here has been very lively and thoughtful - alot of fun to read through.  I want to invite all of you to take advantage of an opportunity to ask questions and talk the author about her work directly later this week.

Join us for the first live interview and call-in show of KnitWitch's Scifi/Fantasy Zone Season Two with Nora K. Jemisin on Thursday, August 2nd at 9:00pm Eastern Daylight Time (8:00pm CDT/ 7:00pm MDT/ 6:00 PDT) hosted by TalkShoe.com

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Reply #43 on: August 06, 2007, 07:54:25 AM
In the end, it was neither action, nor inaction, scientific understanding, or tradition, that survives. Rather, the young and the beautiful - both male and female - get to live, and for no other reason than the fact that they are young and beautiful.

Heh.  And I thought it was just because they could run fast.  >8->

Young and Beautiful = Athletic = fast

So, yeah, they were saved because they were young and beautiful.  The fat, ugly, sit at home on saturday without a date crowd didn't hook up with a sky person or couldn't run  fast enough to get to the Escape Pod.


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Reply #44 on: August 06, 2007, 06:47:51 PM
I find it very surprising that someone would find nakedness in this story gratious or irritating. It didn't even occur to my mind as it seemed quite natural. Maybe that's an American trait. 99,9% of Europeans (maybe Brits excluded) are scratching their head about an average american's reaction to naked people. It is totally okay to shoot people graphically on primetime TV, but a fleeting glimpse of a partially covered breast will cause a national outcry (eq. Janet Jackson and "Wardrobe malfunction")


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Reply #45 on: August 06, 2007, 11:11:41 PM
I find it very surprising that someone would find nakedness in this story gratious or irritating. It didn't even occur to my mind as it seemed quite natural. Maybe that's an American trait. 99,9% of Europeans (maybe Brits excluded) are scratching their head about an average american's reaction to naked people. It is totally okay to shoot people graphically on primetime TV, but a fleeting glimpse of a partially covered breast will cause a national outcry (eq. Janet Jackson and "Wardrobe malfunction")
Don't want to get too off topic, but most Americans didn't give a crap about Janet Jackson's boob, either.  The minority that did was very vocal, however, and the media loves a scandal.    But I agree that it's weird that there would be a vocal minority that would care more about breasts on TV than people shooting each other. 

And for what it's worth, I thought the nudity in the story was appropriate and natural. 



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Reply #46 on: August 18, 2007, 11:45:53 AM
I was annoyed by the pointless descriptions of nudity.  It just seems like narcissism that this girl needs to drop descriptions of how totally hot she is into a story about civilization being destroyed.
Nah. It reinforced the difference between her and the boy, who's appearance pretty much got equal time. Not only was he completely covered and insulated in what sounds like a haz-mat suit, but the suit was quite formless, concealing his own shape that much more. She was very "be here now", and he was just on a field trip.

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Reply #47 on: August 18, 2007, 12:07:49 PM
Why is there an assumption of her being gorgeous simply because she is nude, and aware of how her nudity would affect men.
Umm... Mr Tweedy mentioned the word "hot" (albeit in a negative context). There's a difference between that and "gorgeous", with "gorgeous" meaning merely superficially decorative, and "hot" being an attitude as much as anything else.

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Reply #48 on: September 06, 2007, 03:52:21 PM
Interesting setting, interesting characters...murky premise.



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Reply #49 on: October 12, 2010, 04:26:52 PM
Too much of a message story for me.  And the particular message of "Don't play God", while worthwhile, has just been too many times since I saw Jurassic Park.  I expect I could've looked past this if either of the characters were interesting to me, but they mostly just annoyed me.  And even the message's form of delivery seemed rather muddled, put well by eytanz in an earlier post:

The main problem I had with the story, though is its muddled message and muddled way of getting the message across. Ok, so science is bad and technology is worse. And eventually nature will rebel, and punish us like the bad little boys and girls that we are. But that's ok, because nature only extends as far as the atmosphere, and if we're sexy enough and get lovers who live in outer space, we'll be fine.