Seattle has been caught in winter’s icy grasp. Yesterday afternoon, it began snowing. Last night, the temperature dropped below freezing, and it has stayed there. When I woke up to go to the gym, it was still snowing. I walked the two blocks through bursts of wind, snowflakes whipping all about me. When I’d finished my workout, the snow and wind were still going, strong as ever; my footprints from the trek to the gym had been erased in billowing drifts.
My city does not handle snow and ice (especially ice) well. My husband and I live at the top of a very large and steep hill. Snow is rare. So is the temperature dropping below the freezing point. The two combine so infrequently, that it makes no economic sense for the city to deck itself out with snowplows and the like. A confluence of events such as this effectively shuts Seattle down.
I sit at home, reading, writing, reflecting, pondering. I’ve found myself ruminating on the SF I’ve read that has cold and winter as central themes.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin takes place on the planet Gethen, one which, at the time of the novel, is in the midst of an ice age. Only the areas around the equator are habitable, and even there, it can become quite cold. In other regions, winter weather can be extreme.
In The Last Man by Mary Shelley, a plague spreads across all of Europe, and presumably the rest of the world. The novel spans many decades, and winter each years is a respite, as the plague goes dormant during those months. These are times of sober reflection and morning, since each summer the disease returns anew, and the work of tending to the ill consumes all human energy.
C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet is an adventure across the surface of Mars. An unwilling astronaut searches for a way to get back to Earth. Lewis populated Mars with fantastical creatures and a surreal, tundra-esque biome. In the next book in the series, he would go on to create a verdant, tropical biosphere for Venus.
Snow and winter are an intimate part of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Set in a fourteenth century Russia where the gods of old Russian folklore are real, the story details the events of a young woman named Vasilisa whose village struggles to survive the winters when the power of the natural gods begins to wane. Vasilisa’s struggle to save her village from the cold forms a direct parallel to the Russian folktale of Father Frost.
It strikes me that there is not a lot of speculative fiction that utilizes cold and winter as major thematic elements. But then, perhaps that is just a limitation of my particular library. If you can think of a science fiction or fantasy book that I missed, drop it in the comments.