It was a dark and stormy night… Trite words yet they bring a sense of expectation – of a horror to come, with wild deeds afoot. Climate is so variable that it can almost be another character in a book. A zephyr wind carrying the warmth of a remote tropical island, the torment of the ice and snow biting into your skin, the dark foreboding of storm clouds, the rumble of thunder or the relief of summer rain after a day of heat. The emotions of our characters can be intensified or relieved by the climate. A scene of great power can be crafted by using the climate as an enhancement or opposite of the emotions of a scene.
Climate is the prevailing weather conditions over a long period of time. It has a controlling influence on agriculture and the types of plant life – which affects animals, industry and civilization. If you are interested in the development of agriculture over time and the effects of crop types and domestic animals, Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” is a fascinating read. He makes some observations on the growth of culture, civilization and agriculture based on the climate- and its control on the types of plants and animals available to domesticate. In a nutshell, agriculture is difficult to impossible if you don’t have access to the main food crops such as wheat, barley and corn. In a similar fashion, some animals lend themselves to domestication more easily than others – horses over zebras, cattle over bison. With the advantages of these starter kit lifeforms, any society has a head start, and a good foundation to developing into a powerful nation, while others languish.
So with reasonably fertile soil, the right climate, crops and animals – a civilisation can be built. For a fantasy novel, this can help you develop trade routes- sea faring or over land, as well as regional specialities. Ancient cultures often traded items over extraordinary distances, with for instance things of the Roman Empire finding their way to pre invasion Britain. Ideas are also traded – a way of living can be wiped out or established with a good idea on how to divide a field or domesticate a sheep. Everything from hand axes to religion can travel with people.
So from a broader perspective of climate, we can delve into the details of seasons. Wet or dry winters? Monsoons? Long dry Summers? Extremes – what happens to the village when a wet year strikes down the wheat crop with rust? Infects the rye with ergot? Migrations, deaths, starvation, sacrifice – all powerful human motivators. Many smaller issues can be built into the story – sunburn – sunstroke, frostbite -gangrene, insect life and disease for instance.
While this may seem to be a fantasy- historical novel issue, think of early colonization efforts and then translate them to a new planet. Heinlein’s “Farmer in the Sky” is one such example of off planet agriculture. Micro climate control of hydroponics systems on board a space ship require in depth knowledge of how the plants grow. The horror or fascination of importing an alien plant – with both aspects done superbly in Sharon Saskaki’s “Grace and Bud” series (https://www.amazon.com/S.E.-Sasaki/e/B01775X0UW/). There is also the affect of climate on human colonists- will they be genetically engineered to cope like in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” or will they mutate gradually to adapt to the new conditions, with Alan Dean Fosters “Midworld” an interesting example of evolution of both the body and culture. What animals and plants should you bring with you?
But climate can also vary over long periods of time. This can turn a thriving city into one covered by desert sands, drown a coastal city under the sea, cover a continent with glaciers, or destroy connections between land masses. Or it can reduce the crop yields over time, reducing population, profits and trade, while increasing child mortality, disease and migration.
So climate is something to give some thought to in your world. An idyllic paradise or the edge of survival? A tourist destination, or a place only bold adventurers seeking gems dare to brave? An unseasonably hot summer may be the smoking gun that foreshadows the tornado that wipes out the farm and transports you to another world. Worsening weather may drive invaders to another land, one that is ill equipped to defend itself. Climate – a background factor that can drive the plot in some new directions.
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One thought on “World Building : Climate”
Oddly enough, I’ve been reading about climate in the dawn of the dinosaur era. The mega-monsoons and extreme equatorial heat experienced in Pangaea were quite thought-provoking. One single landmass, pole to pole, gives very different conditions from those we’re used to. So the main landmass on Gethen, for instance, would have a great influence on seasonality. I’ve also been guilty of looking at Middle-earth and thinking, “hmm, that doesn’t quite add up.”
Eons ago, my climatology lecturer suggested that us students read “Dune” for its depiction of climate engineering. Whatever else one might think of that series and the direction it’s taken, it’s pretty good on environmental stuff.
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