|Hurricane and Sun by Alexis Rockman, 2006|
Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived the majority of my life in sunny, moderate climates without significant weather changes, but any kind of weather—particularly in the extremes—makes me cranky. I detest snow. It may look pretty, all white, fluffy and innocent on the ground, but I’m not fooled. Snow is cold, wet, icy, and like to make one utterly miserable once it crusts up and turns to ice and sludge. When it gets dirty, snow just looks tawdry and sad, like a hooker past her prime. And it sneaks up on you. I switched colleges simply because I could no longer tolerate the invisible black ice that coated the walkways and forced me to slide to my classes on my ass.
Don’t get me started on rain, either. A light mist frizzes my hair and makes me sticky; a downpour, as far as I’m concerned, is a fantastic reason to close schools and businesses and stay off the road, because nobody can drive in it anyway. High winds? Annoying, and there always seems to be one blowing on a rare good hair day. Excessive heat? Just fine, as long as I can stay indoors with the A/C. Bitter cold (in Southern California, what I call any temp below 60 degrees)? Give me a blanket, preferably heated, a fire, up the heater to at least 70, and pour me a hot chocolate. Earthquakes I can handle; weather, of all but the pleasant, sunny-with-a-slight-breeze sort, I can’t.
Given my general attitude weather as a necessary evil, it’s no wonder that I tend to notice the weather (or lack thereof) in both the books I read and what I write. And what I’ve found is that weather, in fantasy, seems to fall into one of three basic categories:
1) Weather is present to characterize a place.
2) Weather sets a mood.
3) Weather is there to make the characters
Most authors who incorporate weather usually touch on at least one of the three. On Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, dragons battle the thread that falls from the sky and burns like acid. In my books, I tend to throw a rain or snow storm at my characters whenever I either want to make them miserable or slow them down. George R. R. Martin probably makes the most effective use of weather, utilizing it for all three of the above purposes. From the outset of Game of Thrones, the Stark words winter is coming prove foreboding and foreshadowing in a myriad of ways. The winter is both an actual turning of the seasons and an indicator of trouble to come. In contrast, the sunny, humid south feels just as unpleasant as the constant snows of the north. I love how Eddard Stark is constantly changing his sweaty tunic for a fresh one. He can’t stand the heat any more than some of the other characters can withstand his frozen north. The weather impacts the characters emotionally and physically, and sets a tone for the series.
|Fishermen upon a Lee Shore, in Squally Weather|
by Joseph Mallord William
I have noticed, though, that Martin is singular in his use of weather. Many of the novels I have read in the past year don’t really seem to have weather at all, particularly the YA dystopian novels I tend to favor of late. Their characters must all live here in SoCal, where the occasional mild rain inspires the annual “StormWatch: 2012” and nobody seems able to drive the freeways safely. Even though I’m generally pro-sun, the absence of weather in fiction bothers me. It makes the worldbuilding less vivid, less realistic. Because let’s face it: love it or hate it, weather happens. And weather, as we have learned from the tragedies of the tsunami in Thailand and Hurricane Katrina, can be one of the most destructive forces on earth. The wind alone can shape canyons over time, crumble ships like bath toys, level cities and decimate populations.
So tell me: what’s the weather like in the books you’re reading or writing these days? How is weather used (or not)? Does it enhance or detract from the plot and worldbuilding of the novel? What are some of your favorite uses of weather in fiction?