My Favorite Stories of Weather/Climate Control-Modification

Bottom Line: Science fiction and fantasy (SFF) has included stories with weather or climate control or modification for a long time. Without overthinking it, my favorites include: a) “The Weather Man”, a novella by Theodore L. Thomas from the February 1962 issue of Analog, and b) “The Ministry for the Future”, a 2020 novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit Books). What are your favorites?

Background and the Full Story: Among other things, I’m reading for my “Not the Retro Hugo Awards” project for Chicon 8.

Chicon 8 is the World Science Fiction Convention this year, who decided not award Retro Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy (SFF) issued in 1946. While I enjoy the Retro Hugo Awards, I really get the issues with them and understand the decision.

However, Chicon 8 is instead doing a program of panels for the “1946 Project”, many of which look very interesting. Among those are panels on “The Likely Hugo Nominees from 1946” and “Undiscovered and Forgotten Gems of 1946”.

I have applied to be on those panels. I have no idea if I will be selected, but it will be a load of fun regardless of what happens. Accordingly, I am doing the reading for what I am calling the “Not the Retro Hugo Awards” of 1946. This involves reading a lot of SFF from 1946, very much like the reading I did for prior Retro Hugo Awards (1944 for the 1945 Retro Hugo Awards and 1943 for the 1944 Retro Hugo Awards).

My strategy for this kind of reading is four fold:

  1. First, I look at sources of stories from 1946 that make them potentially worth reading (or rereading). This includes things like showing up at the Classics of SF site, being on the Recommended Reading List for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Fiction reading group, inclusion in the “The Great Science Fiction Stories Volume 8, 1946” (Asimov/Greenberg, 1982, DAW), showing up at Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database (SFADB), inclusion in one of the classic Groff Conklin anthologies such as “A Treasury of Science Fiction” (1948) or “Omnibus of Science Fiction” (1952), etc.
  2. I looked for stories by authors I like published in 1946. I typically used the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB) for this. This is no guarantee that I’ll like the story, but it’s worth a try.
  3. Next, I asked friends online for recommendations from 1946.
  4. Finally, I am somewhat randomly reading through some of my favorite magazines from this era, such as Astounding, perhaps due to a title or juxtaposition to a story I wanted to read.

This is the part of the reading where you are slogging through potential dross to find pearls from 1946. You find, discover or revisit some amazing stories, but there is a lot of good but not great, ordinary, poor, wretched or execrable stories, especially from back in this era or before.

For this effort, I recently read two rather underwhelming 1946 stories about or involving weather/climate control. These were not pearls. I’ll talk more about them below with my discussion of my favorite stories about weather/climate control.

However, reading these stories almost back to back got me to thinking about the subject of weather and climate control in SFF. I know these are not the same thing, even remotely, but I’m lumping them here.

Today, facing global climate change caused by humans with some of the effects already evident, and no clear sign that we’ll be able to change our behavior enough to change the outcome, the subject of purposeful climate engineering/modification to ameliorate the effects of global climate change is quite controversial.

Purposeful weather control/modification, never you mind climate modification, has not been shown to be especially feasible so far to my knowledge. For example, Cloud seeding was actually used by the water agency I worked for. I believe it has fallen out of favor today. I suspect this involved both poor bang for the buck and also perhaps unwanted liability issues.

Especially in today’s context, the historical and even recent stories on this subject can be interesting and yet astonishingly naïve. While some of this are more cautionary tales, many are these are sometimes markedly and unbelievably optimistic and also simplistic from today’s perspective.

This has been an SFF idea for a long time. According to the well written SF-Encyclopedia entry, humans have been thinking and writing about this since at least 1759.

There is a whole area of climate-fiction (AKA cli-fi), fiction that deals with global climate change and global warming. That could overlap with this subject, but it’s not the same thing, and not what I am discussing.

On to 1946: I was researching and organizing the reading I was going to do for 1946. Needless to say, there is a spreadsheet. With input from others, I developed a list of 75 short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels I might want to read for this project. (I’m still open to more suggestions)

A few days ago, I read “Cold Front” a novelette by Hal Clement (Harry Stubbs), Astounding Science Fiction July 1946. I recognized this story from a project I completed last year on ISFDB, but I had never read the story. It was the cover story, which sometimes indicates that the editor thought it was either good or that it would be attractive to potential readers.

I like Hal Clement, and I had read more than a few really good or great stories by him. He is not a great writer in terms of style and technique, but he was one of the best writers of science fiction based upon actual science with not nearly as much hand waving. Unfortunately, this story was poor enough that I skimmed through a good deal of it to get to the end. That gives it a “Did Not Finish” or DNF, and a rating of 2/5 for me.

Several days later, I read another story in Astounding that I recognized but had not read before, “Forecast”, a novelette by Raymond F. Jones in the June 1946 issue. I don’t remember much about Raymond F. Jones, but he has not impressed me so far. This was a cover story, so I was hopeful. I did finish the story, but I can’t rate it higher than 2.8/5.

These two stories were not stellar at all, and I would not recommend them to anyone. However, reading these two stories within a few days about or involving weather modification or control did make me think about the subject of SFF stories that involve weather/climate modification/control.

Following is a list of SFF stories that I have read that include or involve weather and climate change or control. I’m ranking them from the best to the worst. These include my favorites, and those that are not my favorites.

I would love to hear of your favorites in this area of SFF.

Dave’s Favorite and other SFF weather/climate control and modification stories: SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Here are my short SFF favorites:

  1. “The Weather Man”, a novella by Theodore L. Thomas in Analog February 1962. I have read this before, probably in my back issues of Analog. A great story of weather control involving manipulation of the sun. A Weather Councilman makes a political gamble by sponsoring a request to honor the dying wish of the possible inventor of weather control for snow before he dies in sunny California. Thomas does a great job of showing the parts of the 3 branches of the Weather Council working together to make this happen. I rated this 3.8/5.
  2. “All the Colors of the Rainbow”, a novelette by Leigh Brackett in Venture Science Fiction Magazine, November 1957. A very good, rather late career work in Leigh Brackett’s oeuvre; I first read this in “The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, From Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin”, a great anthology edited by Lisa Yaszek (2018, The Library of America). The Galactic Federation has found the Earth, and help and assistance is starting to come. A journeyman weather technician and his new wife come to Earth. Encouraged by their chief contact, they are driving around and find out they have stopped in a “no-black” town (Grand Falls) that considers them “green niggers”. During a heated exchange, he tells the locals that there are whites out among the stars, but they are just one minor hue present among many. They barely survive the experience, but are traumatized. Before leaving Earth for advanced psychiatric treatment, the weather worker sets equipment in place to wipe Grand Falls off the face of the Earth with unprecedented local rainfall. The only weakness in the story is Brackett starting at the end and only flash backing most of the story, which telegraphs the ending. I rated this 3.7/5. (after reading this story and another in close proximity with related issues, I do plan to write about racism in science fiction and fantasy)
  3. “A Catalog of Storms”, a short story by Fran Wilde, in Uncanny Magazine, January/February 2019. I first read this as a finalist for the 2020 Hugo Awards (it was also a Nebula nominee). My review notes say that is is a “Interesting, fun fantasy about people that become weather and their conflict with smart weather.” I rated this 3.6/5.
  4. “On The Storm Planet” (a Casher O’Neill story, in the Instrumentality of Mankind universe), a novella by Cordwainer Smith, Galaxy February 1965. I have read this a number of times in “Quest of Three Worlds”, but not recently. In essence, Casher O’Neill goes to the Storm Planet and other places on a quest to find aid to overthrow his home planet’s tyrant. He has surprising experiences on the Storm Planet, where a very rich landowner can afford weather control but the planet is otherwise mostly uninhabitable by humans we would recognize. This was a Nebula nominee in the first year of the Nebulas, when there was no real limit on the number of finalists. Based upon my respect and love for the writing and work of Cordwainer Smith and my memories of the story, I am giving it a placeholder rating of 3.6/5. A reread might change that. It was reprinted in a number of anthologies, including the “Arbor House Treasury of Great Science Fiction Short Novels”.
  5. “Forecast”, a novelette by Raymond F. Jones, Astounding June 1946. A rather earnest and somewhat lagging story of a young man, an orphan, who desperately wants to be a weather man for Weather Central. He turns out to be central to the plot and drives the whole resistance to the unholy, evil Hydroponics corporation which is fighting better living through weather control. Not a great, or even good, story. I rated this 2.8/5. This was reprinted in one Raymond F. Jones collection, which I am not looking to read.
  6. “Cold Front” a novelette by Hal Clement (Harry Stubbs), Astounding July 1946. A rather interminable story of a salesman trying to sell equipment to aliens, with meteorology and climate change involved. This could have been a good story. I like Hal Clement a lot, but this is not one of his best. I skimmed quite a bit, so functionally a DNF. I rated this 2/5. It was reprinted by Martin H. Greenberg in “Men Against The Stars” (1950, Gnome Press) and “9 Stories from Men Against the Stars” (1963, Pyramid). It was reprinted by NESFA in “Music of Many Spheres: The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 2”, 2000. Clearly, some people liked this story, but it did nothing for me.

At novel length, I strongly recommend:

  1. “The Ministry for the Future”, Kim Stanley Robinson, 2020. A great book about a near future response to climate change. I had it as “Great” in my book database, so that translates to a rating of 3.8 or higher.

2 responses to “My Favorite Stories of Weather/Climate Control-Modification”

  1. You may want to look at William E. Cochrane’s “Weather War” in the September ‘76 Analog. Middling Analog fare iirc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul, thanks. I believe I own that issue and have a vague recollection of reading the story, but nothing else.

      Like

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