MARS: XANTHE, LUNAE, KASEI VALLEY
by Chris Wayan, 2003
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East and West Xanthe, and the Lunae Plateau further west, are mystery plains. They're equatorial and fairly low, except at their south ends, so they'll undoubtedly be warm--the question is, how wet? Kim Stanley Robinson colors them green, but I'm not so sure. The only nearby sea is Chryse Gulf, and at this latitude, storms usually come from the equator, not from higher latitudes like Chryse. I'm willing to buy a modest monsoon on these plateaus, enough to fill the many small craters and dot the land with lakes, but the most I'll concede is irrigable prairie, with some trees near the coast and open conifer woods near the rim of Mariner Canyon and Noctis Labyrinthus, whose cliffs force air miles up, causing thunderstorms.
In the middle, dividing Xanthe from the Lunae Planum, is Juventa Chasma, below a fair-sized volcano. This cliffwalled valley drains into Maja Canyon, which also should have a reliable river. To the east, Shalbatana Canyon divides West and East Xanthe. Its shallow river drains only off the plateau, not the chasm to the south--Ganges Chasma is so deep it's flooded with seawater and linked to the Mariner complex.
The Kasei Valley, west of Lunae, is a classic mesopotamia--a floodplain between two rivers--former outflow channels, presumably from the same catastrophic thaw that created Mariner Canyon and the Noctis Labyrinthus to the south. The southeastern river, the Kasei proper, is famous, in Robinson's books--the site of the infamous prison symbolizing all that's wrong with corporate Earth, and later, the holiday mecca of Echus, whose windy two-mile cliffs lure fliers from around the world to wheel and congregate like gulls--and as innocent of history.
The northwestern channel is broader, curving, less spectacular a canyon, but probably has the greater flow--it's fed not just by groundwater from the plains, but snowmelt from the mountains of east Tharsis--the walls of Fesenkov Crater, Ceraunius and Tharsis (two super-Andean volcanoes), and broad Uranius Patera, a giant lake-filled caldera. Below their alpine heights, the long slopes of the Tharsis Bulge are sparse, windy evergreen forest, until at last you drop into the relative warmth of Kasei.
Kasei is neo-elephant country, and the herds of Prezebras are even more interesting. Crosses between Przewalski's Horse, the cunning, big-brained, cold-tolerant wild species from Central Asia, and zebras, with their intense individualism, feistiness, and altruism, prezebra herds resemble, socially, bands of elephants or anthropoids more than domestic horses, and similar pressures seem to be pushing them swiftly toward even higher social intelligence--equines were always fast to change to match new environments. True, prezebras aren't going to manage tools, or fire. Even opposable thumbs would be useless--nothing to oppose! Still, anyone who thinks a purely oral prezebra culture has no potential, that "tools make the man," hasn't met a dolphin.
And if you must have physical culture, you can always visit the elephants, sit around their campfires, watch them paint, and listen to their epic poetry, though of course you won't get the subsonic subtext.
Try not to get squashed.
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