Five Chilly SF Stories to Help Beat the Summer Heat |

Five Chilly SF Stories to Help Beat the Summer Heat

There’s nothing quite like walking a kilometer and a half in 30° C—80° F—heat (almost 40°—104° F, allowing for humidity) while carrying a large sack of potatoes to make one think of winter. Which, don’t get me wrong, will be bitterly resented when it arrives—but at least it will be cooler than it was today.

Which set me to thinking about delightful stories set on cooler worlds.


Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke (2015)

Some might call building an amusement park in Antarctica visionary. Others might call the scheme deranged. While Hope City hardly grew into the Paris of the South, it did succeed in firmly establishing Argentina’s claim to Antarctic territory. Economic success can be a side-issue to nationalism.

Not that patriotism keeps Hope City’s unfortunate inhabitants any warmer. Although the community does have an export—atomic power—Hope City’s economy is threadbare. Its inhabitants remain because they cannot afford to leave.

Mr. Cabrera’s business model requires denying any alternatives to Hope City’s trapped population, the better to exploit them. Marianella Luna’s covert bid to displace imported food with local produce endangers Cabrera’s income. Luna’s ambition to free Hope City is intolerable, and Luna has a secret which if exposed will ruin her. Unfortunately for Cabrera, Luna also has allies with their own goals for Hope City.



Dendera by Yuya Sato (2009)

The Village condemns its inhabitants to decades of back-breaking labour, lethal pestilence, food shortages, and all the other concomitants of isolated rural poverty. But there is a reward waiting for those who somehow survive the Village’s never-ending challenges. At age seventy, villagers are sent off on a mid-winter trek up the mountain that dominates the local landscape, where paradise awaits.

Kayu Saito doesn’t find paradise at the end of her trek. Only a mountain retreat, Dendera. It was founded thirty years earlier by Mei Mitsuya, Dendera was intended to be a refuge for the Village’s elderly women. In actuality, it offers only life of yet more hard labour.

Dendera’s reality falls far short of Kayu’s expectations, a disappointment about which Kayu is quite vocal. Mei does not care. Mei dreams of an army of elderly women who will slaughter everyone in the Village as retribution for their treatment of elders. If she can convince enough people, perhaps she can make her bloody dream real…



Threads (1984), script by Barry Hines, directed by Mick Jackson

In Thatcher-era Sheffield, Ruth Beckett’s unplanned pregnancy prompts sudden plans for a marriage between Ruth and beau Jimmy Kemp. The unexpected marriage places great strain on the couple. While Ruth plans a wedding, Jimmy cheats on her. The odds that the marriage will prosper appear quite dim.

Happily, the Warsaw Pact steps in to prevent the ill-fated union by dropping 210 megatons of nuclear explosives on the United Kingdom. Jimmy vanishes in the attack, presumably crushed, burned, or evaporated during the bombing. Ruth need never worry that Jimmy will someday abandon her.

Ruth navigates single motherhood alone in a United Kingdom quite unlike the one in which she grew up. The complex technological network on which she and other British people depended is gone. The new Britain is seared by UV-enhanced sunlight and chilled by nuclear winter. Ruth lives a full, rich life as a post-technological peasant before dying as an old woman of perhaps thirty.



Icerigger by Alan Dean Foster (1974)

Interstellar salesman Ethan Frome Fortune made one small mistake when he traveled to the desolate ice-world of Tran-ky-ky. He boarded the same starship as the fantastically wealthy and eminently kidnappable Hellespont du Kane, and du Kane’s daughter Colette. An attempted kidnapping ensues.

The kidnapping fails. A single kidnapper survives. He and his prospective kidnappee and several innocent bystanders (including Fortune) end up marooned on Tran-ky-ky.

The castaways are a diverse lot; at least one of them, adventurer Skua September, is suited to survival on a backward, frozen world. Other off-worlders could save them…if the stolen shuttle had not crashed on the other side of the world from the trading post.

Providentially, a nearby community of indigenes are willing to assist the odd-looking off-worlders. There is just one minor complication. Even now, a nomad horde is bearing down upon the town. Perhaps the off-worlders can help the desperate townsfolk repel the attack. If not, the humans will die alongside the townsfolk.



The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke

Cast into a planetary deep-freeze while traversing a dense cloud of cosmic dust, Earth cooled off rapidly. Realists fled Britain for now temperate equatorial regions. Professor Millward remained in London. Life in arctic London is hard but at least the professor has his beloved books.

Twenty years after his self-imposed isolation began, Millward witnesses animals fleeing south. Surely only humans could terrify wildlife so. Millward hears a great, seemingly unnaturally sustained thunder. Perhaps humanity is unleashing atomic fury to defrost the north. Or perhaps Millward is an optimist who gravely underestimates nature’s potential.



No doubt many of you have your own favourites, perhaps even books that are not Fallen Angels. Feel free to chill out in the comments with your own suggestions of books that might distract from the late summer heat. (That might work if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere; if you’re not, sorry to make things worse.)

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and the Aurora finalist Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.



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