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Climate change in fantasy novels?

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by R.A.P., Jul 2, 2019.

  1. R.A.P.

    R.A.P. New Member

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    With climate change being such a hot topic (literally) I was wondering if anyone had picked up on these themes in fantasy novels. A couple books come to mind, including N.K. Jemison's The Broken Earth trilogy, and in an offhand way, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. I like both series, and I'm interested to read more. I know climate change is super prevalent in science fiction, but what about the fantasy genre? I'm interested to hear others' input.
     
  2. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I think climate change lends itself more to sci-fi due to its connection to the science of climate and the science of politics. While i can certainly imagine a world where climate is changing rapidly and characters become involved, in my current story type i doubt my characters would know if the climate was changing. Maybe over a lifetime they would draw some suspicions but it would not be on their radar screen (so to speak) for them in any context. My story is in a cold clime. It starts off cold and stays cold.

    I will say i have had climate events in an rpg context, but then it was just magic changing things for the worse. Cataclysmic stuff cause things were getting bad.

    If i had a challenge to write a fantasy including climate change i am sure i could come up with something.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Is it something you're thinking of writing about?
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Climate change is the kind of topic that can be a little jarring to bring up if it's not an important element in the story. It's also a little out of place in fantasy because any climate change you could depict would be a strawman or a caricature of the real world issue. So the risks here are that you'd be taking readers out of the story, for something that is scarcely important to the novel, to make a point that won't be compelling.

    Those risks represent challenges that can be overcome, certainly, if you're willing to put in the thought work to develop the idea far enough. And of course, local pollution is kind of a low-hanging fruit, as everyone has faced it even if the effects aren't always portrayed as global - it could have more impact with fewer downsides.

    Actual climate change is a very modern issue as it's only since the last century or two that anywhere near a meaningful level of pollution has been kicked into the air. So if you're going to go for it, the first question, would you be using a form of heavy industry, or a magical substitute, or maybe something like volcanic eruptions, to simulate the effect?
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I agree with the others. Plenty of fantasy stories talk about changes in *magic* resulting in major physical side-effects, but that's not at all the same thing. Talking about greenhouse gases and ozone layers and such would certainly take me out of the story. Why, I would think, would a writer talk about these things in a fantasy tale when they'd be so much more powerful set in the real world?
     
  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Climate change does play a background role in the history of my primary world. A 'mini ice age' contributed to the collapse of the old Agban Empire, though the ice got nowhere near that realm (being locked up in glaciers, contributing to long term drought and desertification. The ice has receded over the past several centuries, easing access to the likes of Gotland and Permia. The melt water has also turned once minor streams into wide rivers and turned some lowlands into swamp - but this is a gradual process spread out over multiple generations.

    'Can't go that way. Swamp claimed the old road.'

    'You can see foundations of old buildings on the harbor bottom.'

    'Traders tell me the Five Sisters might need renamed because two of the peaks done melted. Can't hardly spot them anymore.'
     
  7. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    Most epic fantasy, at least, have plots with bigger and more immediate fish to fry... Who cares what the temperature might be in a hundred years if the Dark Lord is going to eat your soul tomorrow? heh heh. Climate plays a part in my world, but in no way, shape, or form like today’s politicized brouhaha. Although, the tower of fire would mess with some localized weather and perhaps limit the lifespan of passing icebergs.
     
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I do think climate change can play an important role in a fantasy tale, if you want it to. Allegories are not necessarily a bad thing. But as with so many things, execution would matter.

    I very much doubt how well you could directly reference a changing climate as the primary problem or even a primary problem needing to be solved by the characters. I could see it being used as an apparent symptom of a greater problem or as a general backdrop for the world. I'm having difficulty imagining any character in a fantasy novel saying or thinking something along the lines, "OMG it's getting hotter every year, sea levels are going to rise soon, we have to do something about this!" On the other hand, this might depend on the type of fantasy milieu and story you are using. The typical medieval European milieu probably wouldn't work, but that's only one tiny slice of the fantasy genre—in theory.

    As for what you could watch or read...? I can't think of any examples off hand. From what I recall, Princess Mononoke seemed to address the industry vs nature trope, but it wasn't really about climate change per se. It could be, were it rewritten with some tweaks, which is the sort of thing that comes to mind for a type of fantasy that might work as an allegory for climate change, if you wanted to write something.
     
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Since posting before, I thought a little more about the subject. There might be a better angle to approach the real world issue than climate change. I wrote an article on the Dark Lord trope for the home page a while ago, and I offered the idea that a country was being offered heating and power by underground demons. Take that idea, and move it a little further, and suggest that using too much power will result in the demons gradually awakening. That would give you a theme about cutting back and rationing energy-like resources even if it never mentioned climate change.
     
  10. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Minstrel

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    If you write contemporary fantasy or science fantasy, then I think it would be fairly easy to include global warming. I've never made it a central theme personally, although one of the planets in my story world solar system has a runaway greenhouse effect.
     
  11. R.A.P.

    R.A.P. New Member

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    Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies! You're right in assuming that I want to work some sort of environmental change into my story, but it won't be due to pollution or any factors that people on Earth would recognize. It'd less have to do with greenhouse gases and more with magic that's tied to the environment that get overused/disrupted, resulting in widespread destruction. I suppose I should've been more clear...but I for sure don't want to be preachy and have a 1x1 parallel to the modern world, but I am very much inspired by changing environments and people's reactions to them. I guess I want to do something different than a Dark Lord that is threatening the world or whatnot. i was curious to see if there had been any books released in recent years that have focused more on environmental threats than supernatural ones.
     
  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    The Dark Sun D&D setting involved Defilers who used the planet's life energies to cast their spells... making much of the setting into a vast desert ruled by the Sorcerer Kings. The typical campaign story might revolve around stopping their schemes to use even more magic and destroy more of the setting.
     
  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Yeah, climate change is really more of a science fiction thing. It's called "cli fi". Which is probably why The Broken Earth trilogy felt so fresh to many readers. It's really hard to think of climate change or environmental issues in a fantasy novel that isn't caused somehow by magic or just hand waved. It's usually only there as a byproduct to make things harder for the characters, but not to be an issue in itself. Like in that Tad Williams trilogy the name of which I can never remember.
     
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