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Author Topic: EP114: Cloud Dragon Skies  (Read 13802 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: July 12, 2007, 01:28:20 PM »

EP114: Cloud Dragon Skies

By N.K. Jemisin.
Read by Máia Whitaker (of Knitwitch’s Scifi/Fantasy Zone).
First appeared in Strange Horizons, August 2005..
Closing music: “The Fall,” by Red Hunter.

I was a child when the sky changed. I can still remember days when it was endlessly blue, the clouds passive and gentle. The change occurred without warning: one morning we awoke and the sky was a pale, blushing rose. We began to see intention in the slow, ceaseless movements of the clouds. Instead of floating, they swam spirals in the sky. They gathered in knots, trailing wisps like feet and tails. We felt them watching us.

We adapted. We had never taken more than we needed from the land, and we always kept our animals far from water. Now we moistened wild cotton and stretched this across our smoke holes as filters. Sometimes the clouds would gather over fires that were out in the open. A tendril would stretch down, weaving like a snake’s head, opening delicate mist jaws to nip the plume of smoke. Even the bravest warriors would quickly put such fires out.


Rated PG. Contains passing nudity and apocalyptic themes.


Referenced Sites:
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« Last Edit: October 13, 2010, 09:44:33 AM by eytanz » Logged
Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2007, 11:18:22 AM »

Did anybody else imagine this as an animé?  The themes and overall plot a extremely similar to "Princess Mononoke" and "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind," and the general ideas are touched on in most of the animé I've seen.  1.) People damage and abuse Nature, for which offense Nature retaliates in violent fashion, usually employing some large scary creature.  2.) Arrogant people experiment with powers they don't really understand and bring doom on themselves.  These themes are combined with a good dose of animistic mysticism and portrayed with some dramatic scenes of destruction.  It's also got a young, headstrong protagonists who intuitively understands what her closed-minded "betters" don't get.

I also got an animé vibe from the way the various elements were tossed together.  Boy in a space suit falls for girl in grass skirt.  Mystic dragons thwart high-tech missile.  And the overall feel of the language seemed to create that sort of glimmering, kinetic, color-saturated look (at least in my mind).

I liked the story overall.  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.  I most enjoyed the descriptions of the sky dragons and their battle with the human technology.  Very picturesque.  The dragons themselves were both cool and scary and worked very well as a manifestation of Nature's anger.

Although the idea of Nature getting pissed always seemed a little cheesy and a bit too PC, I do like the theme of humans coming up against a natural order.  There are certain lines people should not cross and places they go at great peril.  These kinds of stories show the arrogance of humans thinking they can do and be anything without restriction being checked and punished, which is certainly an idea that merrits reflection.
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eytanz
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« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2007, 01:32:29 PM »

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.

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.

Less sarcastically, I just feel that the story utilizes the kind of simplistic approach to environmental issues that does far more harm than good - that the only way to live in harmony in nature is to stop trying to understand it, and that if there's a change in the environment the correct thing to do is to adapt to it, not question why it happened and what its consequences would be.

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BrandtPileggi
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« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2007, 10:56:11 AM »

I tell ya what... I cannot stop playing that damn song! Where did you get that version Steve? I've been looking for it incessently but I find a different version every time, and none of them are that one. I remember looking for it when you played it last time and coming to the same conclusion. The Fall by Red Hunter/Peter and the Wolf ftw.
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Lzygenius
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« Reply #4 on: July 15, 2007, 04:54:53 AM »

I completely agree with eytanz about this story.

On another note, I loved the reader's voice and I thought she was well suited for the main character.
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mrund
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« Reply #5 on: July 15, 2007, 05:53:27 AM »

Silly nudity. A romantic and muddled view of "nature good, tech bad, but nature made by tech also good, so don't question it". Luddite. Patriarchal.
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Dex
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« Reply #6 on: July 15, 2007, 11:29:25 AM »

I completely agree with eytanz about this story.

It was a disappointing story.

With modifications it might work as a children's story
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2007, 02:14:37 AM »

For some odd reason, this story scared me more than all the other doomsday warnings about global warming.  I wouldn't call myself environmental blah blah, but I do care about it.  During the explanation of the exodus and whatnot, it just scared me of how real it could get.  I dont know about the rest of you guys, but it affected me (effected or affected?) (dont know the consequences of that effect/affect/whatever yet...)

as for the rest of the story, I enjoyed it!  and thats all i'll say about that.
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« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2007, 06:43:14 AM »

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.
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VBurn
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« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2007, 07:26:03 AM »

Great story.  I agree with Clintmemo, the POV is what sets the "theme" although I think of it as the tone of the story. 

I liked how the "Aliens" ended up being humans.  I did not see that coming (I might just be slow on the up take, but it really added something to the story!) 
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eytanz
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« Reply #10 on: July 16, 2007, 07:40:09 AM »

I liked how the "Aliens" ended up being humans.  I did not see that coming (I might just be slow on the up take, but it really added something to the story!) 

What gave you the impression that they might be aliens? I'm pretty sure that they were introduced as being human from the start.

« Last Edit: July 16, 2007, 07:47:19 AM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #11 on: July 16, 2007, 08:04:46 AM »

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'm not sure I see your point here. Obviously, the choice of narrator is part of the design of the story and therefore influences the theme. But I find it difficult to believe that this is in any way accidental. Besides, it's not just who is speaking that's important, it's how. I didn't feel like the story was playing with unreliable narration and that I was really supposed to sympathize with the boyfriend. I felt that the author's sympathies were with the narrator and that the story was designed to place my sympathies with her as well. I think it was poorly executed in that regard, but if it was supposed to make me sympathize with the boyfriend than it was even more poorly executed.

I can't see why the fact that it's possible to write a different story about the same events should make me like this story any better.
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Mr. Tweedy
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« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2007, 08:55:38 AM »

The more I reflect on this story, the more I realize what a totally conceited person the narrator is.  Really, if you go through it, she's the only person who she portrays as having any virtues and the only one who isn't the victim of heavy criticism.  Large portions of her narration are devoted to telling us all how great she is: She's sexy, she's smart, she's too willful for any man to control, she understands the sky dragons when no one else does, she's honorable, she has more conscience than anyone else, and she ends up traveling around the habitat ring "telling [her] tales," spreading her own fame, in other words.

Pretty much everyone in the story who's not her gets torn into.  Her father is too conservative.  The men of her village are too timid.  The space people are arrogant, and the village elders are too foolish to oppose them.  The space boy is putty in her hands, so smitten by her sexuality that he comes back to save her while the rest of the Earth is ruined.  The people of the habitat ring are "limited and tame."

Basically, she's perfect and everything she does is right and everyone else is stupid and everything they do is wrong.

If I were a ring inhabitant, listening to her tales, I think I would assume that she was making it all up, or at least hugely embellishing.  Can you really trust a narrator who portrays theirself in this sort of light?
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ClintMemo
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« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2007, 10:25:17 AM »

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'm not sure I see your point here. Obviously, the choice of narrator is part of the design of the story and therefore influences the theme. But I find it difficult to believe that this is in any way accidental. Besides, it's not just who is speaking that's important, it's how. I didn't feel like the story was playing with unreliable narration and that I was really supposed to sympathize with the boyfriend. I felt that the author's sympathies were with the narrator and that the story was designed to place my sympathies with her as well. I think it was poorly executed in that regard, but if it was supposed to make me sympathize with the boyfriend than it was even more poorly executed.

I can't see why the fact that it's possible to write a different story about the same events should make me like this story any better.
I'm not saying you should.  I'm just saying that the themes many people mentioned are in the story because it was told from her point of view.  If the story had been told from his point of view, it would have been very different, even though it would cover the same series of events.  I have no doubt the author intentionally chose to tell the story from her point of view. 
I think you could write the story from his point of view and make it sound like it was written in the 1940's - about a geeky nerd who came to save the planet with his friends, failed, but got the girl instead.
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Zathras
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« Reply #14 on: July 16, 2007, 10:44:04 AM »

For some odd reason, this story scared me more than all the other doomsday warnings about global warming.  I wouldn't call myself environmental blah blah, but I do care about it.  During the explanation of the exodus and whatnot, it just scared me of how real it could get.  I dont know about the rest of you guys, but it affected me (effected or affected?) (dont know the consequences of that effect/affect/whatever yet...)

as for the rest of the story, I enjoyed it!  and thats all i'll say about that.

I agree with Bdoomed on this.  Well put. I loved the imagery and though the narration was good.  When I saw the title I cringed a bit, thinking the story would be a fantasy ditty with dragons in it.  I was pleasantly surprised.   Not that I hate all stories featuring dragons, how can you dislike the Squokster? 
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Benticore
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« Reply #15 on: July 16, 2007, 01:32:51 PM »

Personally, I liked the aggressive and sexually aware nature of the protag.  It seemed to me that someone in her position, at the vibrant cusp of youth and virility, would naturally view things the way she does.  It didn't seem to me that she was perfect, and she seemed to pay heavily for her independence with a loneliness that  followed her right off the damn planet.

Why is there an assumption of her being gorgeous simply because she is nude, and aware of how her nudity would affect men.  Most average looking women probably figure that cleavage will get the average male to look, no matter how briefly or intently.

I kinda wish there was more of an elaboration of the tension between the protag and her father, the struggle of not being a warrior, and not being a proper marrying woman either, but something different, something more.  But that wasn't really what the story was about.

I think the story really pushed towards the conclusion that some things are too fragile to tamper with without breaking the thing.  I really liked the fact that the 'Sky people' were trying to recreate the nature they had abandoned, but what they had were pale imitations of what they lost.

All in all, I very much liked the story.

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VBurn
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« Reply #16 on: July 17, 2007, 07:36:09 AM »

Quote
What gave you the impression that they might be aliens?

I think at first they were refered to as strangers and then sky people.  Part of it was the way the narrator treated the strangers.  I know if you hear hoof falls you should first think "horse", but in sci-fi it not always wise to make assumtions.  I don't think the author made a point of creating a delusion, which is probably why I enjoyed it. 

Of course I may be the only one out there who did not instantly think the strangers were humans from a space station.
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eytanz
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« Reply #17 on: July 17, 2007, 08:33:47 AM »

Fair enough, though I think that one of the first sentences was something like "they were wearing white baggy suits because they didn't know what diseases they developed since they left", which immediately made me think of - well, I didn't actually think of space-station people but more people living in floating cities or something like that. I guess the word "cloud" in the title helped with that since it made me think "cloud cities".
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Etherius
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« Reply #18 on: July 17, 2007, 02:10:47 PM »

I liked this one a lot, both for the imagery and for the reading. I definitely agree with Mr Tweedy that this has an anime feeling to it, though I didn't think of it until he mentioned it. I wondered what the cloud dragons might be -- some sort of colonial life-form that was inadvertently seeded in the upper atmosphere by human tampering, perhaps? -- but IMO things don't always have to be explicable to be enjoyable. (I enjoyed "Frankie the Spook", too, even though I have no idea how Francis Bacon could exist as a simulacron.)

The ending struck me as bittersweet -- making the best of an imperfect situation. The protagonist recognizes that all cultures have their strong and weak points, and she comes to the understanding that her preconceived ideas of the sky people were not all correct. As for the destruction of the villages by the cloud dragons, I took it to be a regional disaster rather than a worldwide one; maybe I missed something, but the impression I got was that the dragons would wipe out the local area around the disturbance but that humanity as a whole would not be exterminated on planet Earth.

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.

Oh, and hi everybody. Smiley Long time subscriber, first time poster.
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doctorclark
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« Reply #19 on: July 17, 2007, 10:16:08 PM »

I agree with the above comments on the strong imagery in this story.  Apparently so does the journal Science; I was shocked to pull this out of my mailbox just minutes after finishing Cloud:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/vol317/issue5835/cover.dtl
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