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Weather Control

Entry updated 20 June 2022. Tagged: Theme.


The human dream of controlling the weather is an old one. It appears in Proto SF in Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759), in the unreliable words of a Mad Scientist astronomer: "I have possessed, for five years, the regulation of weather, and the distribution of seasons: the sun has listened to my dictates, and passed, from tropick to tropick, by my direction; the clouds, at my call have poured their waters...."

Jane Loudon's anonymously published The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827 3vols; rev 1828) envisages weather control as something to be taken for granted in the indicated century; she may yet prove to have been right, although in real life, weather control is in its infancy. A Genre SF habit of thinking weather control might be obtainable by Technological fiat (see Clichés; Hard SF) dodges a fairly obvious condition: that before weather can be controlled, it must be predicted, which is to say understood. Models for predicting weather seem to have been first seriously generated by the physicist Vilhelm Bjerknes (1862-1959), whose equations, though sound, could not be solved without computer power. Only in the twenty-first century has weather prediction begun to augur practical detailed understanding of how weather works: control may come later, in the world. Earlier attempts to influence real weather are in fact attempts to induce weather events, which is a far cry from control in an sf sense. Cloud-seeding with silver iodide sometimes works, and such control of rainfall was practised by the US army for strategic reasons during the Vietnam War (as "Project Popeye") in attempts to damage enemy crops and supply routes. Reverting to the nineteenth century, John Jacob Astor's A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future (1894) features a proposal to eliminate seasonal weather variations by straightening the Earth's tilted axis. An established European weather control system is disrupted in Albert Robida's Le vingtième siècle: La vie électrique ["The Twentieth Century: The Electric Life"] (1891; trans Brian Stableford as Electric Life 2013). Weather control is a moderately common feature of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Utopias boasting advanced technologies.

A great deal of sf simply assumes that weather will be controlled in the future, without going into too much detail, although Ivan Yefremov's Utopia Tumannost' Andromedy (1958; trans as Andromeda 1959), in which the Russian steppe has a far more equable climate than today, suggests some means of doing so. Many other Utopias assume permanent temperate weather as part of the package. Ward Kimball's animated Disney documentary Eyes in Outer Space (1959) includes some speculations on this subject. The commonest form of weather control in sf is the building of great domes over Cities, as in the film Logan's Run (1976), or in Norman Spinrad's "The Lost Continent" (in Science Against Man, anth 1970, ed Anthony Cheetham), in which a plastic dome encases a future and derelict Manhattan, having been built originally to create an oasis of clean air in the middle of the East Coast smog bank; a New York dome (and the fraught Politics of its erection) also appears in Frederik Pohl's The Years of the City (fixup 1984). But domed cities and Keeps are much older than this, and indeed were a Cliché of Pulp sf of the 1930s, in both stories and illustration. The best-remembered city in a dome may be Diaspar in Arthur C Clarke's The City and the Stars (1956).

Another area where weather control is commonplace in sf is in the modification of climatic conditions on other worlds (see Terraforming; Xenoforming), the most famous being Frank Herbert's Dune (fixup 1965), in which the Ecology of a water-poor planet is in the process of being painfully altered by various means of water-fixing, including the growth of vegetation. Weather-control satellites are mentioned as an available Technology whose use is here avoided. The process is likewise plausibly slow and difficult in Roger Zelazny's "The Keys to December" (August 1966 New Worlds).

Mistakes in weather control can bring Disaster or more slowly damaging Climate Change. The concept is deliberately weaponized by the Villain of Cyril Ranger Gull's When the World Reeled (1924). Francis Beeding's The One Sane Man (1934) features a Scientist who blackmails the whole world through his ability to control weather; John Boland's White August (1955), whose title refers to snow in midsummer, tells of an experiment in weather control going catastrophically wrong; another example is Richard Cort Holden's Snow Fury (1955). Hot Rain (1977) by Howard N Portnoy posits a plague of devastating lightning strikes in a US town, the result of inadvertent weather control – alpha-particles from secret underground nuclear tests many miles distant have supposedly (and ridiculously) attracted the lightning. In the animated film Spriggan (1998), Noah's Ark proves to be an ancient Spaceship carrying a weather-control device presumably responsible for the biblical Flood.

Weather control usually enters sf parenthetically, rather than as a central theme. A small number of stories, however, make it the focus. Peter Dickinson's The Weathermonger (1968) is an exciting novel for children, but the weather control here is exerted by mental power, so although the descriptions of the results are enthralling, the methods have nothing to do with real science. Such weather-controlling Psi Powers or Superpowers (likewise bordering on Magic) are possessed by various sf characters such as the hero of Roger Zelazny's Isle of the Dead (1969) and Storm of the X-Men.

It is quite otherwise with Rick Raphael's "The Thirst Quenchers" (September 1963 Analog) which is, characteristically for this author, a tale of competent technicians in action; it is one of several stories by him dealing with a future US Division of Agriculture, at a time when water conservation has become all-important; though it does not deal with weather control directly, it is fascinating about meteorological forecasting generally, and about controlling the results of the weather, as by placing reservoirs underground and covering snow with a black monomolecular film, in both cases to minimize evaporation. In Gordon R Dickson's Necromancer (1962; vt No Room for Man 1963), violent disturbances of previously controlled weather signal the partial collapse of an overprotective technological world-system. Ben Bova's The Weathermakers (1967) is a Near-Future thriller about the political implications of weather control, and is at its most interesting in its accounts of how such control might be achieved. But the classic weather-control story remains Theodore L Thomas's novelette "The Weather Man" (June 1962 Analog), which has been much anthologized. In a well-written version of Analog-style sf at its best, he describes the three phases of weather control: the Politics (Earth is ruled by a Weather Congress), the Mathematics, and the Technology (the Sun's emission of radiation is controlled by sessile sun-boats which, skimming across the Sun's surface and even entering its outer sphere, have various means of damping or increasing its output). The object of this exercise, typically for the magazine, is to make an old man in Southern California happy by giving him a snowfall before he dies; but this sentimental plot gimmick hardly affects the high drama of the controlling processes themselves.

Paul Posnick's Weather War (1978), written with Leonard Leokum, explores some possibilities of weather control in Near Future warfare. There are many extravagant variations on the theme, including the notion of harnessing Gaia to discourage invading Aliens with apocalyptic weather as in Philip E High's Butterfly Planet (1971), a ploy echoed in a colony-world setting in Peter F Hamilton's Judas Unchained (2005). Bizarrely deadly weather patterns on the planet in Marjorie Bradley Kellogg's and William B Rossow's Lear's Daughters diptych – The Wave and the Flame (1986) and Reign of Fire (1986) – prove to result from the conflict of two rival weather-control AIs. Another such weather-controlling AI turns on humanity in the film Storm Watch (2002). J G Ballard unusually extrapolates an artform (see Arts) from limited weather control in "The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D" (December 1967 F&SF). A particularly silly variation appears in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), where it rains food to order. [PN/DRL]

see also: Command & Conquer.

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