Years ago I read a short SF story in which scientists have realised the weather is sentient (or perhaps it was just the clouds that were sentient).

I think I read it in one of the Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies, but I've read loads of them, and have no idea which one.

I read it in 2008, I think, so an anthology before that year most likely, but I read six or seven of them in a row, so can't put my finger on which one, or which stories I read around the same time. I'm not even totally sure it was in one of those anthologies, maybe 80% sure.

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    Off to a great start, but how many years ago is years ago? Maybe you could detail some of the other stories you read at the same time, from the same anthology? Some more details might help with answering the question, take a look at this guide
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 17:52
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    I read it in 2008, I think, so an anthology before that year most likely, but I read six or seven of them in a row, so can't put my finger on which one, or which stories I read around the same time. I'm not even totally sure it was in one of those anthologies, maybe 80% sure. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 18:04

3 Answers 3


It could be "Nimbus" by Peter Watts (which he has made available free on his website).

A distant flicker of sheet lightning strobes on the horizon. From Jessica's receiver, a dozen voices wail a discordant crescendo. "Or you could even talk to it," I continue. "I saw the other day, they've got two-ways now. Like yours, only you can send as well as receive."

Jess fingers the volume control. "It's just a gimmick, Dad. These things couldn't put out enough power to get heard over all the other stuff in the air. TV, and radio, and..." She cocks her head at the sounds coming from the speaker. "Besides, nobody understands what they're saying anyway."

"Ah, but they could understand us," I say, trying for a touch of mock drama.

"Think so?" Her voice is expressionless, indifferent.

I push on anyway. Talking at least helps paper over my fear a bit. "Sure. The big ones could understand, anyway. A storm this size must have an IQ in the six digits, easy." "I suppose," Jess says.

Inside, something tears a little. "Doesn't it matter to you?"

She just looks at me.

"Don't you want to know?" I say. "We're sitting here underneath this huge thing that nobody understands, we don't know what it's doing or why, and you sit there listening while it shouts at itself and you don't seem to care that it changed everything overnight--"

But of course, she doesn't remember that. Her memory doesn't go back to when we thought that clouds were just...clouds. She never knew what it was like to rule the world, and she never expects to.

However it wasn't published in a "Best of" anthology that I can detect, just a magazine in 1994, his website and some collections of his own short fiction (published in either 2001 or 2013, depending on collection).

  • I'm leaving my answer in case it ever helps someone, but yours looks way closer.
    – LSerni
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 18:38
  • That's it! Thanks a lot. Peter Watts is one of my favourite writers, so I can't believe I didn't it was one of his stories. I must have read this before I knew who he was. Thank you! Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 19:22
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    Yeah, I'm a big Watts fan myself so although I'm sure other authors have written sentient-weather stories, it was the first one to jump to mind. Anyway, if you get a chance, mark the checkmark symbol (under the up/down votes) which means the answer is accepted as correct. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 19:36
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    Powerful story, I'm glad a comment on my wrong answer brought me here to read it.
    – arp
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 17:13

The likeliest story that comes to mind is Luminous by Greg Egan, in which sentient entities are hypothesized to exist in the atmosphere

"Then... where are they?"

At lightspeed, our attack on the far side could not have been felt any further away than Mars - and the strategy used to block the corrosion of the spike would have been impossible with even a few seconds' time lag.

"The atmosphere?"

"You mean-Earth's?"

"Where else? Or maybe the oceans."

I sat down heavily. Maybe it was no stranger than any conceivable alternative, but I still balked at the implications. Yuen said, "To us, their structure wouldn't look like 'structure' at all. The simplest unit might involve a group of thousands of atoms-representing a trans-astronomical number-not necessarily even bonded together in any conventional way, but breaking the normal consequences of the laws of physics, obeying a different set of high-level rules that arise frorn the alternative mathematics. People have often mused about the chances of intelligence being coded into long-lived vortices on distant gas giants . . . but these creatures won't be in hurricanes or tornadoes. They'll be drifting in the most innocuous puffs of air-invisible as neutrinos.

I remember another half-science-fiction, half-detective story I read many years ago featuring a living, playful dust devil in a urban setting, but that's unlikely to be be it.

  • Thanks a lot. This sounds interesting, but I don't think it's the story I'm after. The one I'm thinking of is set solely on Earth. I'll check this out though too Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 19:19

While some of the details are off, this strongly reminds me of Our Fair City by Heinlein, where a newspaper reporter enlists the help of a sentient whirlwind to take down a corrupt mayor.

Story is from the 1949 (Weird Tales) and was apparently most recently reprinted in "The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein" in 1999.

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    Sorry, forgot to reply to this. It was Nimbus by Peter Watts I was looking for, but Our Fair City sounds interesting and I've added it to me reading queue Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 15:38

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