EP114: Cloud Dragon Skies

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

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:
Superior Audio Works
Serve It Cold

Comments (13)

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  1. Bazooka Joe says:

    I liked Cloud of Dragons well enough but it was M√°ia’s reading that really grabbed me.

    There have been other stories that have appeared on Escape Pod that I have found more compelling but it was M√°ia’s pacing and delivery and portrayal of character’s that really made Cloud of Dragons come alive for me. A great voice actor can’t make a dismal story better but a great voice actor can take a good story and make it shine.

    I’m looking forward to more tales on Escape Pod being read from Ms. Whitaker!

  2. Irv says:

    This was a great story for me. I agree with the concept that we need to adapt to the Earth and not just flatten an obstacles in our way. Sometimes the obstacles are the most beautiful things in our lives. Last but not least, The reading itself was great Ms. Whitaker’s voice was perfect for this story.

    Escape Pod continues to be my Favorite PodCast. Keep up the Great work.

  3. Waparius says:

    The first half of this story bothered me because I was thinking it would be another in a long chorus line singing

    Lo! The Noble Primitives are more Noble
    Than the Evil Scientists!

    but as it went on, it got ambiguous enough to be interesting. On the whole I liked this.

  4. Baus says:

    I wonder did the reader come up with the Slavic-esque and British-esque accents for the two scientist speaking parts on her own, or were there author notes to that effect? Well done!

    Per usual, I appreciated Eley’s reflections on sci-fi in the intro. It got me thinking how two prominent socio-political ideas/theories (Huntington’s “Clash” and Fukuyama’s “End”) are both themes in the genre.

  5. Janni says:

    This was one that seeped in slowly for me–I liked it while it was being read, but I liked it more as I kept thinking about it after the reading was through. Well done.

  6. […] Pod (”The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine”), which includes readings of short stories. Escape Pod #114 included the short story Cloud Dragon Skies by N.K. […]

  7. […] Escape Pod: Episode 119¬† […]

  8. Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) says:

    As others have remarked, Ms. Whitaker’s reading was superb. This story, for me, went right along with The Giving Plague as another powerful tale about the inevitability of change and the futility of man’s effort to divide himself from Nature. Man can never be “apart” from nature, because nature is everything that is- including, for better or ill, man and all his works. Cloud Dragon Skies approaches from a completely different angle, but shares that theme. It also shares a theme with Ishmael in Love, in that love makes people act against their better judgement, but it was less intrusive in this one, perhaps because it came in something of a rush at the end. The main character seemed pretty blase about the destruction of everything she knew, but her people had long cultivated an acceptance of life’s vagaries, so that wasn’t too hard to swallow. All in all, I enjoyed this one.

    Please get Ms. Whitaker back to read more stories, she’s fantastic, and her accents are marvelous!

  9. Mike says:

    This story really grabbed me. I didn’t expect it to, but it did. Really beautiful. Like one of the previous posters, I was pleasantly surprised by the complex reaction of the “noble savage” protagonist to the ring-dweller and his culture.

  10. Elias Gan says:

    We have all the elements:
    * Noble savages and naïve scientists? Check.
    * A strong, intelligent woman who will not be tamed by the men in her village? Check.
    * Main character (a woman) who is wiser than the two conflicting elements (her father and the scientists) who are both men? Check.
    * Love story of two people from two worlds? Check.
    * We are stupidly killing planet Earth? Check.
    * Savvy woman easily manipulating a naïve man with her sexuality? Check.

    And were the “dragons” alive? I have no problem with them being some kind of supernatural manifestation or even new life form, but the scientists treated them like they were quantifiable phenomenon. If the scientists were like ‚ÄúWe have no idea what the f**k is going on‚Äù then I could buy that they were alive. But the hard SF treatment of them did not jibe with their supernatural behavior.

    Now, I liked the combination of two elements of post-apocalyptic life: leave Earth or be reduced to primitive society. Here we have both. I think it would have been really interesting to have some dissention in both parties: a person on the ring wishing he/she had been born on Earth; and Earth people who were eager to live on the Ring. But we have seen these clichés before and it made it hard to get into the story.

  11. […] Jemisin, author of the short story “Cloud Dragon Skies” which was recently featured on Escape Pod, episode #114. Her short story “L’Alchimista” was published in Scattered, Covered, Smothered – […]

  12. […] was catching up on Escapepod episodes that I hadn’t listened to yet (lots) and at the end of EP114 there was a song called “The Fall” you gotta listen to it. I want his CD but it might […]

  13. George says:

    I love it when a writer can imbue a story with so much of herself, as is clear from the natural flow of the author’s prose. Mellifluous is the word that springs to mind.

    Top drawer delivery also! It was just what I think I would have imagined if I’d been reading this story in print.