Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Weather and elemental magic in SF/F

Posted by: Angela Korra'ti

In the last couple years it’s been very difficult to miss events of extreme weather in the news: destructive wildfires, massive hurricanes, flooding, and more. And if you’re a fan of SF/F, it may have crossed your mind at least once to wonder how someone might deploy weather-based magic to ease the ravages of these events. If you’re an SF/F author, you may have even been asked if you’d ever write weather-based magic; I have!

So here’s a post about that.

First, I’d like to note that I certainly do like me some elemental-based magic in my fantasy. It’s a very common trope to have a world where users of magic are aligned with Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra is a recent big example, but it’s hardly the only one. If you google for “books with elemental magic”, you’ll find multiple Goodreads lists with titles spanning the epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance genres, and with publication dates over the last several decades. Jim Butcher, Mercedes Lackey, Rachel Caine, Tanya Huff, Sharon Shinn, and many other authors have all dipped their pens into that particular inkwell.

I’ve also seen that legendary weather events have in fact made their way into urban fantasy as part of authors’ worldbuilding choices. Hurricane Katrina in particular has shown up repeatedly in novels set in and around New Orleans, and with good reason. It was a massive, transformative event all on its own, entirely aside of any connection to settings that include magic. In a setting with magic, weather events of that caliber gain the power to wreak even more havoc. As backstory for a character or a city, it can be a critical developmental event. As an actual on-camera event, it can raise the stakes even higher in the climax of a story—or could even be the climax of the story.

As for me?

Given that I’m already writing an urban fantasy series with magic in it, it’s not out of the question that weather-based or elemental-based magic might eventually show up in the Warder universe. I grew up in Kentucky, an area of the United States prone to tornados and thunderstorms, as anyone from the Midwest knows. To this day, I have visceral memories of a tornado that hit Louisville in 1974 when I was five. And as an adult in the Pacific Northwest, I have a very healthy appreciation for the power of windstorms that hit the Puget Sound region every fall. (Just ask folks who follow me on social media how many times I’ve warned about power outages taking down my website!)

If you’ve read Bone Walker, you know that the climax of that novel does indeed deal with a weather event that strikes Seattle, fueled by the wrath of a spirit-possessed dragon. Seattle’s Warders, along with my heroine Kendis Thompson, must raise their powers in response to that event. Kendis, Christopher, and Millicent do not, themselves, have elemental or weather-based magic. But the Warders and the Sidhe are only two populations in that universe that use magic. A story has not yet presented itself to me for that world where weather or elemental magic would be in play… but one may yet do so.

In the meantime, I’ll continue my affection for the trope in other people’s stories! I do have a strong affection for the two Avatar animated series, as well as Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden books and Tanya Huff’s Quarters series.

What about the rest of you? What are your favorite weather-based or elemental-magic-based stories? Talk to me in the comments!

Angela writes urban fantasy as Angela Korra'ti, and epic fantasy as Angela Highland. But no matter what name she's using, you can come geek out with her on, Facebook, or Twitter. Come say hi!

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