I love nature. When my head is swirling around there is nothing better than going for a walk. One of the nice things about Brisbane is that its quite green, with plenty of trees and flowering plants and larger sections of forest accessible to most suburbs. I live near Toohey Forest, a large area of native open eucalypt forest on Brisbane's south side. Being in contact with living things and seeing that beauty is a welcome tonic.
That expression of nature is something that I also love in fiction. Its probably no accident that many of my favourite fantasy books feature characters that live in remote locations, with plenty of treks through the forests and anxious chases between hunter and quarry through the mountains. David Gemmell's books often featured a loner hero, living in the cabin in the woods. The wild country was a real part of the setting with most of his books, and the Rigante series is a good example.
A lot of the books that I have read depict European or northern hemisphere ecology - oaks, elms and holly, deer and rabbits etc. I have always enjoyed this setting in fiction, but when it comes to writing I am often torn about what to portray.
In contemporary fantasy, I describe what I see around me - the Australian forests and animals - and their magical equivalents. However, when the setting is a completely constructed fantasy world, the choices become less clear cut. Describing the typical Australian natives in this sort of imagined world would probably lead to bafflement on the part of non-Oz readers and perhaps even a feeling of discomfort for some of the Oz readers as well. Fantasy readers love familiar settings (yes, different enough to get published, yet familiar all the same). Sometimes I have taken the middle road and tried to create my own plants and animals, but this soon gets exhausting, and if the background setting is not going to be a feature of the books (e.g. Michael Swanwick, Neal Asher etc), then it is annoying and distracting for the reader.
So how do you handle natural settings in your fiction? Do you think it is essential or just backdrop? Who do you think has done it well?