WELCOME TO INVERSIA
the world turned inside out
by Chris Wayan, 2006
more planets: Planetocopia -
(under construction--don't click yet) Inversian geography and climate - Evolution on Inversia - Creatures and peoples - Regional tours - Gazetteer -
We've all seen Inversia now and then. You look at a map and mistake land for sea, sea for land. It happens most often with those crisp, simplified news maps ("just the facts, ma'am!") showing a place you don't know well. As Orwell said, ignorance is strength! But it can sneak up on you, too. I once saw a whole antique globe inverted--for the oceans' ink had aged over the years from blue to a strange sepia. I saw it as dirt; so those pale continental holes, where the original brown had faded away, must be seas.
What if they were? The Sahara Sea, the American Ocean, the Himalayan Trench...
Inversia isn't a simple swap of water and land. That isn't possible--paradoxes rise. Picture a deepsea atoll that barely breaks the surface; inverted, it becomes a deep pit in a highland. Obviously it'll fill and become a lake--but how deep, how big? What are the odds it'll fill to exactly match its shoreline on Earth? In rainy regions its shoreline will grow way beyond that, until it spills over; in a dry zone the lake will be smaller (and salty).
In general, I've stuck to the familiar shorelines of continents and large islands--New Zealand, New Guinea. You need some signposts! But I've let smaller islands-become-lakes, like the Hawaiian chain, fill to whatever size and shape seems right for the local rainfall (which of course these inland seas affect! Which came first, the chicken or the egg?)
What of the reverse--Earth lakes? Should they be islands? My conclusion: not all of them. Only where a lake bed dipped below sealevel (not easy to determine in most atlases, but I've done my best) did I build islands: see Lakes Superior, Baikal, Tanganyika, etc. This makes the shores of the new Baikal Islands consistent with the offshore terrain; if I honored the Earth shoreline above sea level, we'd get huge, geologically senseless cliffs right at the waterline.
What of lakes or seas BELOW sea level? Caspia, the island that once was the Caspian Sea, larger than our sea, for the Caspian Basin is well below sea level, the largest such region on Earth; my Isle of Caspia's coast follows sea level. The dying Aral Sea makes an equally shrunken Inversian island, but not due to its current drought problems: its bed is shallow, so only the deepest part dips below sea level--making a small island on Inversia.
There also a few Inversian islands where Earth has no water--just a dry valley below sea level, as in Egypt, California, Tunisia, Israel/Jordan, Ethiopia, and Sinkiang. All deserts, of course--elsewhere they'd be lakes.
So, Inversia's a reversal of altitude not water. But even that wasn't so simple. I quickly found that supposedly authoritative sources disagreed on even basic seafloor topography! The southeast Pacific was especially hard, for it has not one speck of land; most globes and atlases use it as a place to put their legends and logos; even if they don't, undersea features are sloppily shown. There are plenty of errors on Inversia, but even if your atlas shows me to be wrong... don't trust your atlas too much. Even the detailed maps I finally used (thanks to San Francisco State's map collection) firmly disagreed about names, depths, topography, even reefs--as close to land as the region gets. It was a real cartography lesson: wherever they figure no one will look closely or care, even modern maps get sloppy.
I've generally gone with the principle that where there's smoke there's fire: if even one reputable map recorded a reef or trench others lacked, I included it. Where they disagreed (i.e., everywhere!) I made judgment calls. I can't claim great accuracy or even consistency--but then, the whole project is insane, of course.
For comparison, I'm working on a variant Inversia: remove all water, invert, ending with the exact same "dry" topography as Inversia... but then pouring all our Earth's water back onto it, creating utterly unfamiliar coastlines. Call it Abyssia! It'll be harder to calculate the volume of those inverted sea basins--deep and dangerous water! My first run shocked me, it looked so alien: everything flooded but a few island chains where our trenches lie. Unbelievable how much water Earth has--a miracle it has dry land at all. I felt like doing this shallower, more recognizable Inversia first--paddling in the baby pool until I learn to swim.
Once we're sure what's land and water, the next step is climate. This gets complicated, for the new, radically different topography changes the air pressure. Nearly all of Earth is near sea level; Tibets are rare and there are no big holes. But Inversia has small, deep lowlands and huge highlands. Now, you humanities majors will just have to trust me, but this odd topography means air pools and grows dense down in the new basins: air pressure at the new "sea level" is 1.7 times ours!
Ecologically, too, it's a riddle. The deep basins are unlike any ecology on Earth today--hotter and wetter than our densest rainforests. That dense air traps heat and transports more moisture. But how much rain from these steamy, alien basins climbs up the huge new continental shelves? Our nearest analogy, the altiplano above the Amazon basin, is dry; but Inversia's air is much denser. This question of rain-transport is vital, for it decides how much of the vast uplands will be desert. How much Carboniferous, how much prairie, how much Mars?
The point is, I'm undoubtedly wrong--every climatologist is. But how much, where, in what directions? Cool uplands, hot wet basins, these I'm sure about--but beyond that?
Is Inversia more or less fertile than Earth? Smaller seas means less rain. Wide inland deserts! But then, much of our deep sea is desert now, judging by its biomass. Sediment and upwelling currents, the two greatest sources of nutrients, are rare in the open sea. Inversia's biological deserts may just be more visible.
And even if Inversia's dry, there's a lot of it. The huge new swiss-cheese world-continent has relatively fertile coasts, and they're far longer than ours: where our oceans have mid-sea ridges and seamount chains, Inversia has inland seas bigger than the Mediterranean. Even a modest island in our world is just the tip of a much broader platform; on Inversia, this often translates into a huge, deep high-altitude lake. Millions of square kilometers of surface water from these inland seas generate rains that moderate the climate of these wide Inversian uplands. This isn't Pangea, our ancient supercontinent, with a green coast and a super-Sahara at its heart. This is something new. Land and water mingle bewilderingly--deserts exist, but they're patchy.
One reason deserts still exist is that many of the new coasts have tall mountains--wherever offshore trenches lay in our world. Such ranges cut off rain to the interior plateaus. Expect wide steppes at best, deserts at worst.
Shallow waters are generally more fertile than deep ones; minerals are more accessible, and most of the biological action's in the sunlit part. Inversia's seas are warm and shallow; they average just 600 m (2000') deep, and vast stretches are 100 m or less, and the water's warm--ideal for coral reefs. Even in deeper regions, former river valleys have inverted into sinuous ridges, forcing currents to wash over them--and as they do, great rolling plumes of sludge approach the surface, feeding plankton. Such ridges are more seedbeds for coral reefs. Even the deeps mostly aren't THAT deep, and are largely coastal--often, on Earth, more fertile than mid-sea deeps. Inversia's land may be heaven or hell, but the seas are unambiguously rich.
Will intelligent life evolve? If so, where, and what kind? Even in our world, with its extinctions and migration barriers, big-brained primates are scattered over a hemisphere--orangutans live in Indonesia. On Inversia, where you can walk around the world, primate niches may actually expand. And not only primates. It's worth remembering that (even restricting ourselves to land animals) elephant brains are as complex as ours, while Arctic wolves have chimp-sized brains, and bears aren't far behind. Parrots and ravens have recently proven to rival apes in intelligence. Inversia, like our present world, will have a rich pool of intelligent creatures, the right environment to shape them, and plenty of time.
But if we broaden our outlook from primates alone, are there any generalizations we can make? Just that they won't be us. And not just superficially so: not just physically and genetically different, but in basic temperament. Aggression, territoriality, sociability, gender differentiation? And subtler traits: the social finesse of bonobos, or the political cunning of chimps, or the shy but tool-handiness of orangutans? And these are just differences in our immediate family! Go further afield and the dominant sense may be not be sight, but smell, touch or hearing. Is the sense of self different in sonar-using species, where soundfields sweep through you all the time, where the state of your stomach is a public affair? Or in smell-centered species where everyone knows whether you're in estrus? Such species differences will shape nonhuman cultures profoundly. Look how we take our tool-dexterity, our intraspecies aggression, our constant sexuality, and our smell-blindness for granted!
My picture of Inversian culture is still hazy. One certainty: the low coasts around the ex-lands will be very different from the raised seafloors. The high air pressure in these low basins (nearly twice what we're used to; four times as much, if you're Bolivian) will let much larger animals fly. Indeed I'd expect most life in these basins to be winged one way or another--including intelligent life.
A winged civilization will be very different from a ground-based one. Politically and culturally unified, with fast communication but limited trade (because who wants to poke along with cargo on the ground or on the water at one-tenth speed?). Production will tend to be local, but news, ideas, culture and inventions anywhere in the world's basins will spread with lightning speed--indeed this single factor may guarantee the sea-basins world cultural and technological dominance.
The uplands... I'm not so sure. They're more Earthlike, just colder--though their sheer size guarantees that a lot of land will be warm enough for life (just as Tibet is warmer than isolated peaks of the same height). Wingless life may dominate, as on Earth--at least it's hard to see intelligent life flying here. Perhaps new seas like the Hawaiian and Rapa Nui Oceans will become giant Mediterraneans where sea-trade fosters local civilizations ("local" as in Europe-sized).
THE RANDOMIAN FACTOR
Does Inversia look too damn nice? Unrealistic? Beware--there's a hidden factor making well-informed readers expect the worst from any radically altered world--not just Inversia.
"The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence." That old proverb isn't about jealousy, as most people think. It's subtler than that. You see, it's literally true. When you look at grass you stand on, you're looking down--you see the leaves end-on, so a lot of bare earth is visible too. When you look over the fence at your neighbor's grass, you see it full-length, at a low angle, so the grass-blades overlap and hide the ground. Even if your lawns are identical, your neighbor's grass really does look greener.
And this effect crops up in other places. Ever notice, on a large busy road, how you always get stuck in the slowest lane? Lady Luck isn't out to get you--by definition the most crowded lane will have the most people in it! Clear, fast-moving lanes have fewer drivers. More often than not, you really ARE in a worse-than-average lane. The grass is greener in the other lanes--till you move over, and slow them up!
This principle applies to alternate earths--but in reverse.
Let's contemplate Randomia, an Earth no better or worse than ours, with roughly the same biomass, same amount of arable land, about the same population... just re-distributed. Now, what regions will you notice the most? First, your home, of course, and then, other well-known regions--and well-known means inhabited.
Randomia will always look inferior! For, by definition, most readers will be from our world's high-population zones. Random changes will, on average, degrade them. And the lands that improve, that become the heartlands of Randomia's civilizations, are likely to be barren obscure lands in our world, mere names (if that) to non-Randomian readers. The great European cities are all flooded on Inversia (millions of European readers groan), while the green Sahara nurtures great civilizations (a handful of Saharan readers cheer). If you love civilization, Randomia will probably kill or cripple the ones you love, and plant its greatest civilizations in places you associate with backwardness.
So the grass always looks browner in a parallel world--because what you value most, what you KNOW to value, is generally lost. This principle makes it hard to see alternate worlds fairly.
So, if I seem foolishly optimistic about the alternate Earths I build, postulating island leagues and tropical civilizations and oases in Martian deserts and islands in the Great Flood and seal-holes in the Global Icecube, if I postulate intelligent lemurs or elephants or mega-ravens... just remember I'm fighting the Randomian factor. Your view is colored by the degradation of what you know and love; so my predictions of new growth in unlikely regions and species, will seem fatuous. Yet they grow from the same changes as the doom and gloom--your perceptions are naturally tilted toward seeing the losses.
Factor Randomia in, before you mock.
I'm building a companion to Inversia: Siphonia. Its premise is equally simple and drastic: drop a hose 5 km down (16,000') in the northern Pacific, and suck the oceans up til the hose runs dry. The new sea level varies around the world--the Sea of Japan, being nearly landlocked, dropped very little, while the Mediterranean and Caribbean dropped 1-2 km (3-7000'), the Atlantic and Indian Oceans are now a chain of seas 4 km (13,000') down, and the North and South Pacific (now two separate seas) are 5 km down (16,000'). The old continents are generally alpine or Tibetan; most of the livable land is now in the abyss. And those lands are rugged, spectacular, and bizarre--the secret face of Earth.
TOUR INVERSIA! The following route snakes around Inversia, covering all major features (under construction--don't click yet)
Arctica -- Atlantis -- Caribbea -- High Brasil -- Antarctic Coast -- Crozetia -- India -- Eurasian Archipelago -- Western Pacific -- Hawaiian Ocean -- Mendocino -- Clarion Uplands -- Galapagos, Atacama, Chilea -- Rapa Nui Ocean -- Mu -- Nesian Seas -- Anzac --
More worlds: see Planetocopia
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