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 and Noctis Labyrinthus.
Things will be different, of course, down in the great canyons--Hebes Chasma in the southwest, draining (it if does, rather than forming lakes and draining subterraneanly) into famous Echus Chasma, where the canyon wall is a sheer drop two miles high (unlike Mariner's tilted slopes), with strong winds making for spectacular flying.... Downstream is Kasei Valley, which undoubtedly does get some rain.
In the middle, dividing Xanthe from the Lunae Planum, is Juventa Chasma, below a fair-sized volcano. The chasm 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, north of the Noctis Labyrinthus and west of Lunae, is a classic mesopotamia--a floodplain between two rivers--former outflow channels. The southern one, the Kasei proper, is famous, in Robinson's books--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 shorter and less known, but probably has the greater flow. The wide, dry-grass plains between are savannah quite African in looks and nature--though swept by the cold dry winds off Tharsis. But in winter, storms off Chryse Bay drop enough rain to fill waterholes and replenish the grass. It's 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, elephant or anthropoid troops more than domestic horses, and similar pressures seem to be pushing them swiftly toward even higher social intelligence--horses 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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