Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Weather in Books

It might sound like a funny topic, but I'm in Brisbane and right now we're under a flood warning. It looks like it will be higher than the 1974 floods, which were supposed to be a one in 100 year event.

I remember the '74 floods. I was visiting my cousin in Dalby (which is currently cut in half by the river) and I was isolated there for a week or so. Being a young teenager I thought it was all very exciting.

My grandmother's mother remembered the flood of 1893, which were apparently higher than the '74 floods. She said the graveyards were washed away and coffins floated down the Brisbane river.

Fast forward to this morning. My son works in the city and his office sent everyone home because they expect the Brisbane River to burst its banks. We've downloaded the maps of the '74 floods and it looks like the end of our road will go under but we'll be OK.

There's been flash flooding in the catchment area for the Brisbane River. One town had an 'inland tsunami' right through the middle of the main street. There are 9 dead and around 60 people missing (figures vary). The Prime Minister has been on the news offering her condolences and promising to send in the army.

Being a writer, it occurred to me that we rarely see extreme weather events in books. You do get storms at sea (I have one in The Outcast Chronicles which I'm working on now), and you'll get the occasional blizzard. I have a fantasy novella doing the rounds at the moment based on research I did of the '54 flood of the Murray river, where the water came up to people's roofs. The flood is integral to the plot. Don't know how the novella will go. They are hard to sell but sometimes a story will be the length it wants to be and there's nothing you can do about it. In King Rolen's Kin, I used snow to shape how the people lived.

Can you think of any books where the weather was used to shape events and characters' actions?


Dave Freer said...

Please be careful there, Rowena! Barbara and I were just sitting at supper worrying about you and Chris.

The obvious answer to your question is Wyatt's Hurricane, by Desmond Bagley :-)

Chris L said...

Hi Rowena,

I'm supposed to be coming up to Brisbane for a double 40th birthday next week. My friends are okay but it looks wild up there.

There are plenty of examples but many of them are due to different planetary conditions.

On Arrakis, life was pretty much controlled by the weather.

Tolkein used magic and harsh weather conditions to thwart the fellowship's passage over the Misty Mountains.

Books set on the sea, like Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders often refer to weather conditions.

I saw a great movie the other day. When I say great, I mean it in the 'other' sense of the word. It was called Arctic Blast and was set in Hobart. It starred one of the guys from Stargate and a few terrible Ozzie actors.

I laughed so hard when people were snap frozen on a southern Tassie beach. Obviously the producers didn't know that's what always happens when you go to the beach in Tasmania!

While I'm on movies (which I know is off topic but as you appreciate them), there's a great scene at the beginning of Flash Gordon, where Ming is bombarding Earth with terrible weather, including 'Hot Hail' and Hurricanes. He turns to Klytus and asks what the planet is called.

"Earth," Klytus answers.

Ming laughs and presses the 'Earthquate button'


Hope things clear up there soon.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I remember Ming the Merciless and Flash Gordon.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Dave,

Yes, I've read books with hurricanes in them.

How about mud and stinking hot weather that drives characters tropo?

MataPam said...

David Weber's fantasy Oath of Swords had the main character and his party making a forced winter trip, with deep mud on the roads interspersed with freezing snaps.

MataPam said...

Roweena, be careful. Rule of thumb, here in Houston where we get fairly frequent road flooding - never drive into water too deep to see the lines on the road.

Lesson from New Orleans floods - if the rising water chases you upstairs, and then into your attic, better have some tools with you in case you have to break through your roof.

Anonymous said...

And don't forget Rachel Caine who has the whole Weather Warden series. They're just what you would expect, chock full of weather :). I love the series.

While not a book, my story, Winds of Change, which appeared in Sarah's anthology Something Magic This Way Comes, features a girl who can control the wind and her brother, who is a rainmaker.

I've always thought I'd like to edit sff anthologies. One of the titles would be Future Forecasts, and it would contain both sf and fantasy stories about the weather.

Some people don't appreciate the effect that weather has on our lives and human events. I forget what the show is called, but the Weather Channel has a show on how the weather has affected human history.

All in all, the weather is a great mine of possibilities for plots in all genres of fiction.


Allen Edwards said...

7 comments and no one has mentioned John Barnes' Mother of All Storms.

Kate Paulk said...

Rowena (and Chris M and any other Queenslanders in range of the flooding),

Stay safe. I just spent the day at work with the ABC Brisbane emergency radio running, with 24/7 updates and call-ins giving conditions in wherever the caller happened to be. Scary stuff, like the Brisbane River rising 2 meters in 2 hours near the Regatta Hotel. (That's a bit over 6 feet, for those not familiar with the metric system).

As for books... It's a fine line. Indifferent books have a tendency to only mention weather when it matches the POV character's mood - you know, character is sad, it's raining.

Where it's done best is when weather shapes what the characters do and the options they've got. Of course, as authors, we've got to be careful to foreshadow really bad weather early and often, or it just looks far too convenient.

Stephen Simmons said...

As a guy who lives a stone's throw from the coast in a place where hurricanes go regularly, let me fervently echo the cautions others have already voiced here. "Run from the water, hide from the wind." The time to leave is BEFORE the road washes away ...

I included incidental weather in my first novel, but it didn't really "shape" things, for the characters on Earth. On the other planet, a planetary cataclysm produced seismic and atmospheric conditions that dramatically shaped the lives and action there, but I actually wrote less about specific weather-events there.

Other books ... The severe winter caused by Belgarion mucking about with weather without knowing what he's doing shapes the story-line in the later volumes of Eddings' Belgariad. The endless winter in Narnia, of course. The whole story of "Holes". The storms that bring out the worst in the boy in John Saul's "Cry for the Strangers". And the whole plot of the "Golden Compass" trilogy is deeply interwoven with the weather events.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, Webber's mud and freezing snaps sounds horrible.

I've been digging trenches in the rain and the soil has been so water logged I've sunk to mid calf in mud.

But the weather ranges from pleasant to steaming hot.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


We downloaded the maps from the 1974 floods and checked where we lived, where our son is and where my parents are. In all cases we should be up the road about 300 yards from the highest point of the flood.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


That's what I thought. How often does the general fantasy book mention the weather? In real life it makes such a difference to how we cope with difficulties.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Just went and had a look at a review of Mother of all Storms, Allen. Very interesting.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate said:

'we've got to be careful to foreshadow really bad weather early and often, or it just looks far too convenient.'

Good point!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Stephen,

Good list of books that use weather. I should have remembered Narnia.

Always winter, never Christmas!

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, your post made me start thinking of the books I've read that have effectively used weather to help further the plot. Most of the ones I thought of have already been named, and I second Kate's warning about using it too often or it becomes a convenient crutch.

Hope you guys are weathering the awful weather okay.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Thanks, Amanda.

Mike Smith said...

"Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather" is completely about weather events.

Here is the Amazon listing: http://www.amazon.com/Warnings-Story-Science-Tamed-Weather/dp/1608320340/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270000055&sr=1-1