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Daily Helping for January 27th, 2021 – NK Jemisin – Cloud Dragon Skies

A photo of author NK Jemisin accepting an award.

I’m going to be honest here. I chose this short story entirely based on its title. “Cloud Dragon Skies“. I mean, come on. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by that title? But I also chose it because every single person whose opinion on writing I respect has raved about NK Jemisin. I’ve been meaning to read her work for years, and I finally decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, all those raves were absolutely warranted.

“Cloud Dragon Skies” is one of the shorter stories in the collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month, which makes its narrative achievements all the more spectacular. In just a handful of pages, Jemisin creates an entire history of two worlds. They both feel fully realized, and we only really spend half a page on one of them. It’s a masterclass in world building, and I’d give anything to be able to pick Jemisin’s brain and ask her just exactly how she pulls off this feat.

I also love how she blends both science fiction and fantasy in order to examine universal human experiences. The protagonist, Nahautu, struggles with gender roles and societal expectations, as well as familial and community loyalty. The story touches on themes of environmentalism, colonialism, and scientific hubris. And despite the presence of sentient clouds that go to war when humans push too far, it all somehow feels incredibly real and relatable. Again, I feel I need to repeat the fact that all of this was accomplished in just over 4,000 words.

It’s been a while since I featured a work of literature, because I tend to go through cycles when it comes to what medium of art I crave. As I’ve said before, I’m currently on a dance kick, but this story has definitely reawakened my love of reading. I think it may be time to dive back into the wonderful world of fiction.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!