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Literature / Cold Snap

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"Cold Snap" is a novella in the Diogenes Club series by Kim Newman.

In the middle of the hottest summer of the 1970s, a patch of English countryside in Somerset becomes a mysterious cold spot, with freezing temperatures and a thick layer of snow on the ground, four miles in diameter and growing. At the centre of the cold spot is a weather research station owned by the Diabolical Mastermind Derek Leech — who insists that for once he has nothing to do with it.

While Diogenes agent Richard Jeperson reluctantly joins Leech to visit the site and get to the bottom of things, his colleagues gather an eclectic group of people as a second line of defence.

Written as the finale to the short story collection Secret Files of the Diogenes Club, "Cold Snap" unites characters from many different Diogenes Club stories, as well as featuring appearances by characters from Newman's other non-series works.

This work contains examples of:

  • Big Blackout: When Cleaver talks about how the power demands of his device drained the national grid, Richard remembers a nation-wide blackout a few days earlier that at the time was attributed to too many people using electric devices to beat the heat.
  • Call-Forward:
    • Sewell Head returns as a major character in "Swellhead", published earlier but set decades later. "Cold Snap" makes sure he and Richard don't cross paths, because they meet for the first time in the later-set story. In "Swellhead", his immense knowledge of trivial facts has a significant gap when it comes to any pop music after the 1970s, which gets a nod in his introductory scene here when he demonstrates his immense knowledge of trivial facts by summarising the career of an obscure contemporary (that is, 1970s) rock band. There's also a moment where he takes an interest in Keith's talk about alternate timelines, which foreshadows the events of "Swellhead".
    • When Anthony Jago attends the council of war in Alder, it's mentioned that he's "taken a covetous liking to the Manor House". In Jago, set a few decades later, Jago has bought the Manor House from its previous owner and made it his home.
  • Canon Welding: "Cold Snap" ties in all of Newman's non-series novels up to the time it was written, and at least one short story, though in some cases with the implication that the events of the novels are alternate timelines from the Diogenes Club series. There's an explicit reference to the events of "Time and Relative" having happened in "a continuum several path-forks away from our own", and the ending hints that the events of Jago will go differently in the Diogenes timeline.
  • Casting a Shadow: Jamie's Shade powers.
  • Character Overlap: Most of the Canon Welding is done through guest appearances by characters (or versions of characters) from Newman's other works.
    • Diogenes agent Geneviève Dieudonne is an AU version of the heroine of Anno Dracula, who is herself an AU version of the heroine of Drachenfels.
    • The Cold originated in the Doctor Who tie-in novella "Time and Relative".
    • Derek Leech himself is a featured character in The Quorum and Life's Lottery, as well as several short stories including "The Original Dr. Shade", all of which it's unclear whether they're set in the Diogenes timeline.
    • Keith Marion is the protagonist of Life's Lottery.
    • Ariadne is a supporting character in Bad Dreams.
    • Susan Rodway is the heroine of Jago, and Dr Cross is one of her colleagues in the same novel. (They've also previously cameoed in Life's Lottery.)
    • Anthony Jago is the villain of Jago. ("Cold Snap" keeps Susan and Jago in separate scenes, so they never meet.)
    • Nigel Karabatsos and his wife are from the short story "Mother Hen".
    • Leech's associate Constant Drache has previously appeared with him in The Quorum and several short stories; he's also an AU version of the Big Bad of Newman's tie-in novels for Games Workshop.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Derek Leech is the Greater-Scope Villain behind several earlier Diogenes Club adventures, including "You Don't Have to Be Mad..."
    • Dr. Myra Lark, one of Leech's employees in "You Don't Have to Be Mad...", is mentioned as still working for him in a similar capacity.
    • A list of '70s celebrities Leech counts as friends includes Lord Leaves of Leng, a fictional celebrity who features in "Soho Golem".
    • Richard Cleaver previously featured in "Clubland Heroes", and recaps the events of that story.
    • Jamie Chambers is the son of the costumed crimefighters Dr Shade and Kentish Glory, who have been often mentioned in various stories of the series but at the time "Cold Snap" was written had not appeared in anything more than a cameo. (Kentish Glory has since starred in a couple of novels, but Dr Shade continues to avoid the limelight.)
    • Geneviève mentions having met Jamie's mother and aunt, which happened in "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch". Jamie has a cloak which belonged to the Great Edmondo, the conjurer from the same story.
    • When Leech is mocking Cleaver by pointing out how many times the world has almost ended in the past century, he mentions the events of "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch", "The Gypsies in the Wood", "Angel Down, Sussex", "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", "The End of the Pier Show", "Another Fish Story", and "Seven Stars".
    • There are several references to the events of the 1970s chapter of "Seven Stars".
    • Among the people gathered in Alder are Harry Cutley, a former Diogenes agent who featured in "The Man Who Got Off the Ghost Train", Paulette Michaelsmith, the psychic from "The End of the Pier Show", and Rose, the changeling from "Angel Down, Sussex".
    • When Richard is facing imminent death, he thinks of Barbara, his girlfriend from "The Serial Murders".
  • Cool Car: The Rolls Royce ShadowShark. Dr. Shade has one, Richard has one, and Leech has one, which he's added tacky customisations to.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Derek Leech. At one point he attempts to claim that since he funded Cleaver's research he owns the Cold. Richard snarks that he'd like to see Leech explain that to the Cold, and then regrets giving Leech the idea because he's enough of a smooth talker that he might just pull it off.
  • Costume Porn: As usual for the Richard Jeperson stories, we get detailed descriptions of what Richard and Vanessa are wearing. Leech and Geneviève get in on the act, too.
  • Didn't See That Coming: More like should have seen that coming. Derek Leech hired Cleaver and assigned him to the weather-research facility on the basis of Cleaver's extremely dull book about the extinction-level threat of imminent Global Cooling. Having only bothered to read a summary of said book, Leech hadn't realized that his new minion heartily approves of such an outcome, so has unwittingly funded Clever Dick's scheme to bring it about.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Among all the returning characters, there's one who has not previously appeared, though she's described as an old friend of the Acting Chair of the Diogenes Club. Louise Magellan Teazle, a children's author who lives on the Somerset moor in a house called the Hollow, is a character in An English Ghost Story, Newman's next novel to be published after "Cold Snap". Vron, Jamie Shade's mentioned, but not depicted, girlfriend, is implied to be Veronica Gorse, the villain of An English Ghost Story.
  • Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Richard "Clever Dick" Cleaver suffers severely from this problem. As Richard Jeperson thinks to himself: "How cruel was it to give a speech impediment a technical name sufferers couldn't properly pronounce?" When he first appears in the story, his speech seems almost normal, because he's taking care to avoid words with R sounds in them; as he gets more worked up, his attention slips and his speech impediment becomes increasingly apparent.
  • Enemy Mine: The Diogenes Club join forces with the Great Enchanter, their traditional enemy, and his coterie, to save the human race from being frozen into extinction. Leech is working towards The End of the World as We Know It, but he strongly objects to anyone who wants the end of the world, full stop. (He's also, it turns out, hoping that once they find out what's going on he'll be able to turn it to his own purposes.)
  • Evil Gloating: After being unmasked as the architect of the cold spot, Cleaver goes into a motive rant that lasts for over an hour. The story cuts away to another scene for most of it, and only comes back at the end when he starts getting into useful details about what he's actually done. Richard notes that this is the sign of a second-class villain, as compared to a consummate professional like Leech who will never give you advance warning of his evil plan — as Leech demonstrates shortly afterward.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: Leech forms an Enemy Mine alliance with the Diogenes Club because his evil schemes all depend on the continued existence of the human race. Among the hangers-on he brings to the table are a pair of cultists who are preparing for the rise of Eldritch Abominations and Anthony Jago, who wants a Biblical apocalypse. Catriona is rather uncertain about getting help from people whose main problem with the end of the world is that it's the wrong kind.
  • First-Contact Math: Richard considers it as a way to communicate with the Cold, before concluding that it's too alien even for numbers to be common ground. Before it became dormant, it was the only living thing on earth, so it's never had much use for any number except "one".
  • Former Child Star: Richard makes some of the familiar "child star" criticisms about Kid Detectives like Clever Dick, who, to be fair, grew into an embittered weatherman who rants insanely about his lost career.
  • Garage Band: Jamie's band Transhumance, which he figures has a shot at success if they can get a PA system that works properly, a better drummer, any bass player, and enough songs to play a full set without repeating themselves.
  • The Hat Makes the Man: The Snowlems are created by an ancient entity with no understanding of humanity, and were essentially without personality. However, her human acolyte gave them faces and hats and, in doing so, imbued them with a very basic personality based largely on the hat they wore. For example, the one wearing a top hat became the one in charge.
  • Historical In-Joke: The 1971 bombing of the London GPO Tower was actually Dr. Shade dealing with a criminal gang who planned to hijack the Tower and turn it into a transmitter of mind-control rays, in his last hurrah before he hung up the night-vision goggles.
  • Innate Night Vision: Part of Jamie's share of the Shade Legacy. He actually sees better once he takes the night-vision goggles off than he did when he had them on.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • After Susan directs Jamie's driving by reciting a set of instructions from memory in a machine-like monotone, Keith says that one day all cars will have a device that can do the same thing. Jamie doesn't believe it.
    • Leech takes a portable communication device with him that takes an entire large hiking backpack to carry. Richard says that he can't imagine anybody wanting a telephone they have to carry around, which gets a knowing response from Leech.
  • Landmarking the Hidden Base: The obligatory mention of Dr. Shade's secret base in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. Jamie says that it still exists and he still has the the key somewhere, but he stopped using it because he can't stand the incessant sound of the clockwork.
  • Last of His Kind: The Undertaking, the organisation of The Men in Black who have appeared in several earlier stories, is in decline and has only one active member left. Fittingly, he's Mr. Zed.
  • Legacy Character: Jamie Chambers, son of 1930s vigilante Jonathan "Dr. Shade" Chambers. At the beginning of the story, he's trying to take his own path as a musician, using the mystic powers he inherited from his father only to enhance the performances of his rock band. By the end of the story, he's considering going into the family business.
  • Lives in a Van: Jamie Chambers is living the back of his van when Vanessa tracks him down. This is contrasted with his famous ancestor, Jonathan Chambers aka Dr Shade, who was a successful vigilante with a secret base in a major London landmark.
  • More Expendable Than You: When Leech gives Richard the slip and goes to communicate with the Cold alone, he claims that he did it because the procedure is risky but he's willing to give up his life to save humanity. Richard immediately and accurately calls this out as a lie.
  • Motive Rant: After being unmasked as the architect of the cold spot, Cleaver goes into a motive rant that lasts for over an hour. The story cuts away to another scene for most of it, and only comes back at the end when he starts getting into useful details about what he's actually done.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The version of Keith Marion who appears in this story has a psychic ability to see into alternate timelines in which his life took a different path. Keith is originally from Newman's novel Life's Lottery, which is structured as a gamebook in which the reader can explore the various paths Keith's life might take.
    • In one of the alternate timelines Keith can see into, he's a badass resistance fighter in a world overrun by arachnoid aliens; Geneviève says that the experts studying him are divided on whether it's a real branch of history or some kind of elaborate wish-fulfilment delusion. The world overrun by arachnoid aliens is actually in Life's Lottery — on a page that can't be reached by following any of the plot branches, only by turning to that page arbitrarily. And that world's Keith has an elaborate wish-fulfilment delusion about living in a world that isn't overrun by arachnoid aliens.
    • Geneviève says that Keith has seen "two other entirely different lives" for her, referring to the Anno Dracula series and the Drachenfels series.
    • Leech telling Jamie about how he was a big fan of Jamie's father when he was young is a reference to "The Original Dr. Shade".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The anecdote about Leech getting a window cameo on Batman is based on the real-life window cameo of British entrepreneur Cyril Lord.
  • Not Me This Time: Leech genuinely had no idea what was being cooked up at the weather research station.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with Richard Jeperson and Richard Cleaver. Leech takes a childish pleasure in saying that they're both Dicks. Cleaver is always referred to by his last name to avoid confusion (and because, unlike Jeperson, there's nobody in the story Cleaver's on first-name terms with). Jeperson also spends a moment thinking of his namesake, Richard Riddle, arguably a better Kid Detective and certainly a better human being than Cleaver.
  • Photographic Memory: Susan has an eidetic memory, and can recite back a long list of instructions from memory after hearing it once.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Each of the guest characters have at least one moment where their particular capabilities become useful.
  • Psychic Powers: Susan has a grab-bag including eidetic memory, psychometry, telekinesis, and pyrokinesis.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Jamie Chambers seriously resents that he's a Legacy Character, and that his dad's weird friends want him to save the world.
  • Put Them All Out of My Misery: Cleaver has become so warped and bitter that he's convinced the human race is a failed experiment that needs to be wiped out. When asked if he expects the Cold to spare him, he says that he fully expects to be wiped out too and doesn't care.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The hood ornament on Leech's Rolls Royce has two rubies added to give it sinister red eyes.
  • Secret War: The Diogenes Club has been involved in a series of covert magical wars against previous Great Enchanters and various eldritch abominations.
  • Snowlems: The Cold reanimates the bodies of the humans Clever Dick Cleaver sacrificed to her and wraps them in snow, to use as attack dogs against anyone who invades her realm. Cleaver gives them hats and facial features which bestow them with rudimentary personalities. Very definitely the fearsome and hostile variety.
  • Take Our Word for It: When Richard finds a way to communicate with the Cold and ask it not to wipe out humanity, the story cuts away to another scene immediately after it asks, "Why not?" We're told that Richard had to be eloquent and convincing in his response, but his actual response is not depicted.
  • Waxing Lyrical: An early description of the conditions within the cold spot is a quote from the Christmas carol "In the Bleak Midwinter".
  • Wicked Cultured: Played with. Derek Leech, one of the world's foremost diabolical masterminds, is a prophet of tacky consumer culture and has the kind of mind that thinks it's cool for his sinister black luxury car to have a horn that plays the theme from Jaws.
  • The World Is Always Doomed: Richard and Leech undermine Cleaver's gloating about how he's bringing about the end of the world by pointing out just how many times the world has nearly been brought to an end in the century to date, and getting into a good-natured argument about the details ("...make that eight alien invasions...").