Thursday, January 02, 2020

SF Seasons

Happy New Year! The days begin to lengthen, even if imperceptibly at first, but nevertheless I have to brace myself for over two months more of early darkness and damp cold. We temperate-zone residents are used to a year divided into the conventional four seasons, recurring in a predictable annual rhythm. My family had a funny encounter many years ago at King's Dominion (an amusement park) in northern Virginia, while standing in line to check out of the hotel adjacent to the park. This happened on a day at the height of summer, and the weather was as expected in a Virginia summer, high humidity with temperatures in the eighties or low nineties. An apparently British couple in line with us asked whether "it was always this hot" all year around. Mentally (not aloud, of course) I collapsed with laughter. In this area we have four seasons just like most other locations in North America, with pleasant springs and falls and miserably cold winters. If our family's experience of living in Hawaii in the 1970s was typical, tropical regions have two basic seasons, rainy and dry, with little variation in temperature or length of daylight.

Science fiction and fantasy often feature imaginary worlds with seasons different from those familiar to us Earth dwellers, but the stories don't always take full advantage of the possibilities. The setting of the Game of Thrones saga famously suffers winters that last for years, whose timing and duration vary. Yet I don't remember noticing in either the novels or the TV series an explanation of how human civilization in Westeros survives those ordeals. How could enough food possibly be stored to sustain entire nations over a multi-year winter, especially with no way of knowing when the cold season will descend upon them? Maybe the southern regions of the inhabited world escape mainly unscathed and supply provisions for the affected areas? The economic effects would be calamitous, though, even if most people managed to scrape by. Isaac Asimov's classic story "Nightfall" takes place on a planet in the middle of a cluster of stars, so that it experiences full darkness only once in several centuries. Although a short story can't cover every aspect of worldbuilding, admittedly, even in the story's later novel-length expansion I don't recall any consideration of how different a culture that develops in perpetual light would be from ours. Agriculture alone would evolve in ways strange to us, wouldn't it? Recently I read SHADOW AND LIGHT and SHADOW RISING, the first two books in an excellent fantasy series by Peter Sartucci. They're set on a planet that revolves around a double star. No results of having two suns, in terms of either circadian rhythms or climate, are developed. As in "Nightfall" with its planet of multiple suns, not only weather but seismic phenomena would surely be affected. With more books to come, however, maybe this aspect of the setting will be elaborated later.

One novel I've read within the past year takes full advantage of its setting's weird seasons, as the title indicates: THE FIFTH SEASON, first book in the Broken Earth series by N. K. Jemisin, offers a devastating, in-depth portrayal of a world periodically ravaged by geological disasters of apocalyptic scope. Fifth Seasons appear at unpredictable intervals and can last from a few months or years to an entire century. At those times, worldwide tectonic cataclysms cause earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis, with side effects such as climate change, crop failures, poisonous fungal growths, etc. Appropriately, this world's cultures are crucially shaped by the Fifth Season phenomenon, which includes the ambiguous role of the few people with the gift of controlling seismic events.

Here's a page that lists eight SF novels about climate change:

Sci-Fi Books That Highlight Climate Change

And here's a different list of fourteen novels focusing on climate catastrophes (including some overlap with the previous one, naturally):

Sci-Fi Books for Earth Day

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment