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Scotia Archipelago
Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Pacifica on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge. Thumbnail photo of orbital shot of Atlantis on Abyssia, a model of Earth turned inside out. Click to enlarge.

by Chris Wayan, 2004

for William Beebe and Otis Barton, first voyagers into the abyss

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Introduction - Sandwichia - the Yaghans - the Orkneys - Shetland - the Natives

The Scotia Archipelago is part of a whole ring of islands and small continents around the Antarctic Sea--the coldest lands on Abyssia, though that's not saying much by our Earth's standards; though winter snows can admittedly linger in the far south from April to November, they're all habitable and ice-free--not a Greenland in the bunch.

The islands of Scotia exist in our world too, if not in exactly the same spots--impossible by Abyssia's premise. But our Scotia Sea between Patagonia and the Antarctic Peninsula is a small plate with vigorous tectonic action on three sides, guaranteeing great mountains and trenches side by side. South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, the South Orkneys, and South Shetlands (are you detecting a trend in names here?) all become deeps, of course, on Abyssia; but not to worry! Up come the neighboring trenches. So welcome to Shetland (not south Shetland; Scotland and environs is an abyss, trust me!), the Orkneys (ditto), and the long Yaghan Islands. They're a lot pleasanter than our near-Antarctic islands, let me tell you.

A map of Scotia, a southern archipelago on Abyssia, an alternate Earth in which up is down and down is up.
Why? Both Abyssia's poles are warmer than Earth's. CO2 levels are no higher than ours, but Abyssia lacks land at the poles to build up substantial icecaps. The height of our polar ice-domes, not just their latitude, cools their tops to near-Martian temperatures; winds off these icefields spread cold dry air, cooling the climate for thousands of km around them. Without these dubious gifts, the Abyssian poles are much milder. Though winter sea-ice is extensive, it's less than a meter thick and melts entirely each summer.

So the Scotia Archipelago is better-named on Abyssia than our world. The isles of our Scotia Sea are wretched, windy, barren, icy--but these Abyssian islands are densely forested and quite livable. Cool and rainy most of the year, snowy in winter, but with pleasant summers. Quite Scottish, really. Sketch of piny, rugged coast of Great Yaghan in the Scotia Is on Abyssia.

Livable for Terrans at least. But the fauna of Earth, with its broad subpolar lands and a history of ice ages, has a long familiarity with cold. In contrast, most Abyssian land, and life, is subtropical or tropical; only this Southern Ring has long snowy seasons. Many Abyssian lines may not have evolved to tolerate freezes; what we'd call "temperate" zones are a harsh, minor niche here.

So the Scotias may be a hinterland not just from isolation but simply because Abyssians can't easily exploit it. After all, even humans, long adapted to wearing stolen furs and playing with fire, still find little to eat in evergreen forests; hunting, herding or clearing the land laboriously for summer gardens aren't easy even for us, and may be even harder for Abyssians. Until we know what they evolved from, we can't be sure. Perhaps they have natural coats that limit their use of clothing, limiting them to warmer climates; perhaps they aren't carnivorous and expect to cultivate fruit trees and nest in them; perhaps they require meadows to graze in, or are too lightly built to easily clear natural groundcover to farm.

In any case, this strange and rare (for Abyssia) ecology will likely be sparsely populated; while the fishing's unquestionably rich, land-life here won't be easy.

Except seasonally. It's possible Abyssians will fly, though not as likely as on some other worlds postulated here in Planetocopia. If so, some Abyssians may be migratory; Scotia might be their summer garden and playground, even a nesting ground for the Argentians to the northeast. A fast-growing garden, with such long summer days! Not a midnight sun--we're only 50-60° south here--but short nights.

There's another possibility, though, if Abyssians fly. The Scotias are a vital link in the southern flyways--they not only complete the Southern Ring, they're a bridge between hemispheres: Pacifica and Agassiz (most of the world's land) and the Atlantis complex (the dozen small continents created by the Atlantic Rift Zone). The Asian Ocean separating them is as vast as our Pacific, and quite islandless. No migratory stepping stones at all. And the flyways to the east, over the American Ocean, are nearly as hard--a few more islands, but some long, exhausting flights. But here in the south, the hops between islands are mere hundreds of km, not thousands.

So the Scotias may be overrun each summer by trans-hemispheric travelers.

Intro - Sandwichia - the Yaghans - the Orkneys - Shetland - the Natives

Sandwichia, that curving, savagely mountainous island at the east end of the Scotia Sea, has its own page, as it rises on its own tectonic platelet and may be slowly forming its own continent. Simmering with volcanoes that build as high as anything in the hemisphere, dumping ash into the increasingly shallow sea to the east, Sandwichia's certainly trying hard, and may, in a few million years, succeed.

Intro - Sandwichia - The Yaghans - the Orkneys - Shetland - the Natives

The warmest. Also the largest: Great Yaghan is a good 250 km long (150 mi), if narrow. At 53-58° south, they're definitely Scottish, not Siberian. All the Yaghans are long east-west ridges--everyone will live on the pleasant north shore, facing the sun and sheltered from blizzards. These microclimates may even be more English than Scottish. In any case, nothing like the relentless, icy Antarctic winds of our Earth; these aren't the Falklands/Malvinas! Polar and gentle aren't words we often link, but that's due to our polar caps--those dying relics of our Ice Age. Abyssians never heard of such things, and would applaud our civilization for its heroic attempts to melt our caps and re-establish a sane climate--though of course the price may be a little flooding... Anyway, while the Yaghans are high-latitude by Abyssian standards, they're also gentle for that latitude. Not a bad place to live.

A map of Scotia, a southern archipelago on Abyssia, an alternate Earth in which up is down and down is up.

Intro - Sandwichia - the Yaghans - The Orkneys - Shetland - the Natives

The Orkneys are really two chains. The North Orkneys are deceptively named. They're all at or beyond 60° south. Still, they're close to the Yaghans and are a logical path for trade and travel between Weddellia and Morningtonia. With shallows to the north and a deep trench to the south, I project rich and varied fishing, too. As in the Yaghans, the north shores are the place to be; much warmer.

The South Orkneys are still forested and habitable, but smaller and colder. They're the last gasp of the continental platform of Weddellia. I'm afraid the smaller isles here won't see many outsiders. There's a reason for the word insular and the South Orkneys exemplify it. One exception: Fliers from Weddellia will use the largest of the South Orkneys, Barth, as a stopover on the way to the North Orkneys and Yaghans, and then, as the Scotian saying goes, "Second star on the left, and straight on to Morningtonia".

Intro - Sandwichia - the Yaghans - the Orkneys - Shetland - the Natives

Shetland's one of the larger Scotias, a good 160 km (100 mi) long and half as wide, and certainly the most scenic--its craggy backbone rises at least a kilometer, in a spiny crest like a dimetrodon. It's not just dramatic: that great rocky spine means the northern, sun-facing side will be warm and sheltered, despite the latitude (61-62° south). The population's almost entirely coastal and mostly northern, up against the Sunwall, as it's called. Some fishing villages on the south shore do just fine, but there's little between the two coasts but empty scenery: the Highlands are windy and soils are thin.

A sketch of the rugged isle of Shetland in the far-southern Scotia Archipelago on Abyssia, an alternate Earth in which up is down and down is up.
Shetland's the Scotian isle nearest to mainland Morningtonia, the small continent to the west. You'd think Shetland would thus be a major port, whether air- (if Abyssians fly), or ship- (if they don't). Unfortunately, it's isolated from the rest of the Scotias--well south of the Yaghans, far west of the Orkneys. So traffic will flow to the north, from Morningtonia to the Yaghans, then the North Orkneys, and on to either Sandwichia or Weddellia, bypassing Shetland. Insularity again!

So at this moment, I may have no idea yet how the locals will look--great auks, centauroid muskoxen, wooly mini-mammoths--but I'm sure how they'll sound--some insane Scots burr so thick and thornily local that no one else, even Orkneyans or Yaghans, can grasp a word.

And Shetlanders are proud of it.

Intro - Sandwichia - the Yaghans - the Orkneys - Shetland - The Natives

Who are the Shetlanders? Why, Shetland ponies, of course! Well... sort of. Scotians are a mix of two wildly different species, and one does, vaguely, resemble a Shetland pony--at least, they're smallish equines I'm dubbing "the equi" (since we can't go calling them, as they do themselves, the "Houynhm". I'm not trying to spell that. Or even say it.)

Anyway, these equi are smallish (deer- not horse-size) centauroids--small forearms but dexterous hands. Paws not hooves--these aren't horses. But the general build, manes, ears and tails all look quite equine, so let's not be fussy. The equi.

They don't even have the decency to look consistent. They vary tremendously from island to island--not THAT many travel and marry off-island. Those seas are cold, deep and often stormy. So, depending on the island, equi range from gracile to massive and from long horselike faces to much shorter-faced individuals, almost feline (or human) in proportion. Even on a single island, Shetland, there's a wide range.

Here's a paint-sketch of an eq couple on their farm on Shetland in the fall, in a clearing amid aspens.

An eq under aspens, Scotia Is. on Abyssia, an alternate Earth; acrylic sketch by Chris Wayan. Click to enlarge Equi couple under aspens; Scotia Is. on Abyssia, an alternate Earth; acrylic sketch by Chris Wayan. Click to enlarge Equa under aspens; Scotia Is. on Abyssia, an alternate Earth; detail of acrylic sketch by Chris Wayan.
Photoshop sketch by Stanton Fink of a large flightless extinct bird, Brontornis burmeisteri. From Wikipedia; creative commons copyright, so please do not use commercially.

Aside from very general coloration, they look like different species--at least as different as bonobos and chimps.

Well, part of that is my painting style. Cartoony. Sorry! Even in paint, I'm a caricaturist at heart. I may have physicalized my emotional impressions--he was a quiet outdoorsy type, so I painted him as a long-jawed wild creature, while she was a sociable, purring housecat, so I painted her as more feline than she undoubtedly was.

Such symbolic, characterological symbolism is hard for me to escape--plenty of readers have commented on it--but this really is how I see even the people of Earth--as strange dreamlike caricatures that nonetheless encapsulate their moods, characters, souls. A legacy of Asperger's I suppose; the same syndrome that lets me code at the speed of English also means I live in a floating world of spooks, signs and symbols. I don't find it creepy, it's home to me. More Krazy Kat than Basquiat! But certainly not what most of you (by all reports) see. I do try here.

As I fingerpaint...

The other species present in the Scotias, the Bronts, aren't cute by any standard, not even mine. Huge, fierce, flightless birds from Sandwichia. They make poor sailors--having evolved for hunting they have massive unbirdlike solid bones that drag them down in seawater like anchors.

Just don't fall overboard, right? Except... these are rough seas to navigate, remember. Bronts get seasick. A whole crew of hulking velociraptors puking roast porktaur onto your head is not a pleasant thing. And worse if they lean too far, and...

So the Bronts have settled only the isles nearest to Sandwichia--the South and East Orkneys. No more than 50 km (30 mi) from island to island. An hour or three of torture. But the North Orkneys and the Yaghans require passages of 100 km or more, and Shetland, 200 (up to 125 mi).

So far, very few bronts have ever taken passage in ships with equi crews to reach the outer Scotias, and none have founded families.

Map of Abyssia, a world-building experiment. Click a feature to go there.
TOURS: this route snakes around Abyssia's major lands - Lena Is. (brr!) - Greek Is. - Atlantis - Azorea - Cayman and Albatrosia - Andean Is. - Scotia Is. - Morningtonia - Agassiz - South Pacifica - East Pacifica - Hawaiian Sea - Pacifica Desert - Filipinia - Banda Is. - Vityaz Archipelago - Tasman Is. - The Bight - Whartonia - Chagosia - Somalia - Mascarenia and Crozetia - Weddellia - Argentia - Pernambuco - Angolia - Tristania - Agulhas group

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