Worldbuilding: Giving You the Cold… Everything

One thing writers tend to do is read voraciously, and omnivorously. I stumbled on Brian Fagan’s various archaeology/history books a while back (The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850 being one of the more recent ones) and ever since I’ve gone after all the books I could get hold of on environmental history. After all, if you’re trying to worldbuild, cultures and politics may come and go, but the environment people have deal with is a constant factor. It shapes their choices, decides a lot of their options, gives various combat bonuses and penalties. Try a long-distance run with a heavy pack in a New England style autumn, you’re likely to be pleasantly warm; the same weight, run, and time of year on the Gulf Coast may have you prostrate of heat stroke. Festus Hagen of Gunsmoke is an expert with a rifle because that weapon had a distinct advantage in the forested Ozarks he grew up in, where you can often see a surprising distance. While Marshal Dillon is far better than him with a revolver, a weapon far more handy at close range; on the undulating ancient seabed that makes the Great Plains, someone can be thirty feet away and downright invisible.

Read enough books, and you start picking up common threads from a bunch of different sources – things that make you go hmm. Especially when you were reading up on what you thought was a different aspect of the world entirely, and something oddly familiar pops up and waves. (Some of the best story fodder, that.)

I’ve been reading up on Korean history for a potential fantasy story setting, specifically Joseon, and a lot of that revolves around their dealings with China; first the Ming Dynasty, then the Qing when the Manchus took over.

The timing of famines in Korea, the Ming Dynasty collapse, and the Manchus busting loose and making trouble all over the place seemed to ring a bell. So I checked dates.

“Oh. Bleep. 1620s-1650s… the height of the Little Ice Age.”

…If you’re not familiar with the Little Ice Age, I strongly suggest checking out the Wikipedia article, and maybe reading through some of the sources. (I’m currently going through the Kindle sample of Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. It’s a lot.)

This info makes a lot of the crazy going on during that period of history make a lot more sense. If your town’s been farming the same way for a hundred years, and suddenly there’s storms all over the place, frosts weeks earlier than they ever have been and weeks later, crop failures everywhere, people dying or getting run over by the latest marauding army because some noble smelled weakness across the border….

Yeah. People went nuts. Not everyone, but more than enough. And royals saw things as divine disfavor to their enemies, meaning perfect times to attack, meaning they needed ever more taxes to support armies and navies at the exact time there were years there were no crops

You can see why people might take a leap of faith and move across an entire ocean just for the chance to get clear of some of the madness.

…And now I can’t help but wonder how many of the people poking Eric Flint’s 1632 shared ‘verse understand what the weather was like at the time. Or what it led to people doing, and trying to do.

Circling back to why I was originally reading up on this… First, I have concluded I need to get a copy to read the rest of Global Crisis; it has far more info on what was happening in Asia than the Fagan book. (Which is fair, it’s a much bigger book.) Second-

Second, I suspect the poor isekai’d character I have in mind, once he learns about what time period this world is in, has a justifiable freakout. Because monsters? The least of your problems….

31 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Giving You the Cold… Everything

  1. Aren’t monsters *always* the least of one’s problems, after a point? It’s one thing to be chased by a predator on four, six, or eight legs, even a malicious one. Quite another to be pursued by a human enemy who has decided to take your life *just because* you’re there. Particularly if he wants to do it *slowly*….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. No, worse is a human parent, who decided “you have food, and no matter what I have to do, my children are not going to stave to death.” Maybe not cannibalism, but at least kill you for your stuff to help their kids survive. It’s the Pratchett quote about being at the mercy of an evil man. Someone who wants to kill you slowly wants to savor the act.

      Where as someone who wants their children to live through the winter and there isn’t enough food for you and them? Will kill you with hardly a word.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your mentions of your Joseon story and climate/weather made me remember that I was on an airplane not too long ago; and I saw a thunderstorm at a bit of a distance— from above. Which looked wildly different, but beautiful from that perspective. So your flying mountain residents might have a literally different perspective of the weather and the climate changes. Up is already cold, up during a little ice age might mean that you have less farmable land than you thought you did. Spices and or dye crops for sale or trade might be the way to go.

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    1. Lightweight, shelf-stable (mostly? Both dyes and spices lose strength over time) and typically small-crops. Like woad, the plant that is now mostly considered a garden weed but was once used to make the bright blue dye the Celts used.

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    1. That means disease spreads easier, which means that travelers go from Cautiously Awesome to Possibly Deadly Threat, especially if they’re in trouble– and there isn’t much to trade, anyways.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. All this, yes. Our isekai’d guy is going to end up extremely lucky – the group that rescues him is 1) already considered “weird if acceptable” and 2) was rescuing flat-out everybody that’d been taken, and not in the mood to lose anyone still human to monsters.

        (There are friendly and civilized merfolk. This bunch definitely qualifies as monsters.)

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Is he isekai’d as is, or de-aged? Cause if it’s the latter, how worried is he that memories went as well? It would also affect his physical concerns, I’d think.

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  4. First, I have concluded I need to get a copy to read the rest of Global Crisis; it has far more info on what was happening in Asia than the Fagan book


    It sounds like the kind of book that would be good to have in hardcopy…. But as the Kindle version is showing on sale for $2.99, I think I might hop on that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for the book rec! I will have to grab it and give it a read myself. I’ve been trying to build my own fantasy setting in an entirely new world, but I really want to make as geologically and geographically correct as I can, and as someone with training in weather patterns I know both of those things will affect how weather behaves. And how animals evolve to cope with changing conditions. I’m still debating whether I should stick with the animals I know, start from scratch, or mix the two. And it really sucks that the only one I feel comfortable talking to and exchanging ideas with isn’t all that interested in the nitty-gritty details of world building. He does have his own story he’s working on, about a zombie apoc brought about by tech that can download skills and information directly into your brain. Bad people then inserted a virus into the latest update to the program and 80% or so of everyone who uses the tech goes absolutely apeshit. Think … Hmmm. Kind of like the Reavers from Firefly.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Are you on FF? If so I’d be willing to kick around hard worldbuilding ideas. 🙂 I’ve got a few of my own for an original story that I’ve wanted to soundboard on someone interested in some fantastical realism.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Eh, I once described a book my family tore apart. My father objected to the lack of concern about running out of ammo, my older sister to the idea that the women would like modern fashion as opposed to thinking too immodest for a prostitute, my younger sister and I to the overly easy conversion to democracy and religious tolerance.

    Someone correctly picked it out as 1632.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Random thought, wondered what else is high in C– I vaguely remembered cabbage, which lead to envisioning sour kraut sailors (about a cup a day would cover you, less if you use red cabbage)– and ran into something that’s a bit less horrific– rose hips.

        Gathering enough to do two tablespoons of dried, ground rosehips per person per day would be a heck of a thing, but workable for fantasy. ‘
        (note, can’t be heat-dried, that hurts the C)

        Liked by 1 person

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