Bruce Sterling is an award-winning American SF author who rose to prominence with the seminal Cyberpunk genre-defining anthology Mirrorshades. He has meanwhile 12 novels and 7 Collections (plus other publications) to his name, including the proto-steampunk novel The Difference Engine, written with William Gibson. He also writes non-fiction.
Heavy Weather is a (maybe overly?) prophetic book, set in a near future where the human impact on the biosphere has had major consequences. Essentially humanity messed up - the biosphere, and especially the atmosphere is shot. And it feels like a straight extrapolation from where we are now (never mind pre-95, when this was written…). There are whole swathes of land which are now simply uninhabitable where they used to be fruitful, and the weather is messed up, badly. Heavy Weather, they call it. It’s violent, unpredictable, and highly damaging.
The story starts with Alejandro ‘Alex’ Unger, prodigal son of a moneyed family, in an illegal/black market Mexican clinica, in a fug of self-administered medication, and about to undergo a lung enema (no, really). He is broken out of the establishment (where he meant to spend his remaining time) by his sister, Juanita ‘Jane’ Unger.
She takes him to the camp of the Storm Troupers, a gang of scientific Tornado/Heavy Weather chasers led by the charismatic Jerry Mulcahey. Jerry is a Mathematician, one of the best. And he specialises in extreme weather events, modelling them, forecasting them, measuring and documenting them, and comparing the actual data with his models, to make them better. You see, his troupe are not the usual tornado chasers and thrill seekers. Well, not solely thrill seekers. But his is a scientific approach, and so he employs Media Artists like Jane, and Scientists, and Lawyers, too.
Jerry has modeled and forecast an entirely new event, an F6 tornado, with never-before seen destructive force and impact. His simulations suggest that this monster might, under the right circumstances, become permanent, like the red spot on Jupiter.
I won’t spoil more of the story - we see how the troupe works, we see how the humans rub along, while the book moves towards its inevitable conclusion. No, that’s not a spoiler, even the blurb on the back of the book gives that away…
The book, albeit set in 2031, feels almost contemporary in its technology, and the state of the world. It’s actually acutely uncomfortable when you realise how realistic, how close to what’s happening this actually is. And no, I really don’t hope that he is right all the way, it does not sound appealing.
If some of the description above, with scientists measuring tornados, reminded you if the film Twister then the answer is yes, there seem to be several parallels. And whilst some of the tropes clearly are standard storm chaser lore I was surprised to find the flying cow motif here, sounding like it was describing the film scene (and yes, I checked. Heavy Weather was published in 95, Twister was in 96. And no, Sterling does not have any scriptwriting credits, so this must have been parallel evolution. er.)
For all its prescience and entertainment, not all is great with the book. My main objection is the final quarter, which had an additional element added which I didn’t think it needed, and didn’t appreciate. And neither did I need the soppy epilogue…
But the rest makes a good, and consistent story, with a rather simple and linear plot. Nothing wrong with that, per se...
Title: Heavy Weather
Author: Bruce Sterling
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publication Date: 1995
Review Date: 141221
Topic: Global Warming