Baby, it’s cold outside – as the old song has it. At least, it is for those of us in the North. And as winter starts to bite, here’s a selection of stories to remind us how much nicer it is to stay indoors by the fire.
Helliconia Winter by Brian Aldiss
As we’re looking out at a snowy landscape, at least we have the reassurance of knowing that in a few months it will be spring again. But what if it wasn’t a few months but a few years, or even centuries? What if winter lasted long enough for entire civilizations to decline? That’s the premise in the final volume of Brian Aldiss’s epic Helliconia Trilogy. The approach of winter on Helliconia is marked by ever more oppressive governments, by wars and disease, and by the rise of the phagors who see the return of winter as their opportunity to regain their mastery over humans.
Winter’s Children by Michael Coney
And while we’re looking out at the snow, imagine if it was much deeper, deeper than your house, deep enough that the only place you can survive above the snow is in the tower of a church. That’s the situation we find at the start of Michael Coney’s novel. Tunnels under the snow allow you to scavenge for what remains in ancient shops. But leaving the safety of the tower is dangerous, because ferocious, bear-like animals known as Pals have appeared in the white landscape. This is a shiver-inducing account of the daily struggle for survival in the snow.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Here’s a clue: the planet Gethen, where this classic novel is set, is also known as Winter. And a long trek through the harsh conditions of an ice sheet is at the heart of the novel. The protagonist, Genly Ai, is an ambassador trying to persuade Gethen to join the Ekumen, but he really doesn’t understand the curious sexual characteristics of the people of Gethen, or their antagonistic politics. It is only after Ai has been imprisoned in a harsh labour camp, and has escaped with the help of someone he didn’t previously trust, beginning that freezing trek, that he finally comes to understand Gethen, and is able to succeed in his mission.
Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson
This is the middle volume of Robinson’s Science in the Capital Trilogy about climate change. In the first volume, Forty Signs of Rain, he had introduced catastrophic storms and flooding. In this second volume, even worse is to come. Melting polar icecaps has changed the Gulf Stream, and another Ice Age could be on the way. In among the drama and politics of the novel, Robinson paints a chilling picture of a winter that Washington DC and its inhabitants are just not equipped to face.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
Okay, it’s more fantasy than science fiction, but if you’re doing a list of wintery fiction how could you possibly leave this out? And besides, isn’t the picture of New York under snow one of the most glorious things you have ever read? Set during the course of an extraordinary winter, it’s the story of a love affair between a poor Irish burglar and a rich girl dying of consumption, and by the end of the novel our hero is stopping time and bringing back the dead. Whether it is fantasy or historical fiction or something else entirely, there is nothing quite like Winter’s Tale.
From Nebula and Hugo Award–nominated Carolyn Ives Gilman comes Dark Orbit, a compelling novel featuring alien contact, mystery, and murder.
Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate.