by Chris Wayan, 2005-6
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Llana (just Lana with a very long initial L, not Liana or Yana, Lhana or Zhana--blame Edgar Rice Burroughs, not me!) is a plateau of light continental rock the size and shape of India, but with a Tibetan climate. No Terran animal could survive here, though native life does well enough in the valleys, where the air pressure rises to fully half that atop Everest.
Llana Upland rises just north of Barsoom, the largest and most fertile of Tharn's basaltic basins, analogous to our sea basins. Long, straight Himalayan ranges march along Llana's south rim, dropping into Shuka Trench to the southwest and Okar Trench to the southeast, both several km deep.
The Kwee River, 1200 km (750 mi) long, drains the southern third of Llana Upland. Most of its course is through alpine meadows: camaroo country, where these big-lunged, bipedal cameloids herd their "sheep", stocky little furballs nicknamed Woolly Anoxia. Along the river, camaroos can even farm, though yields aren't high. In the last third of its journey, the Kwee drops nearly 10 km down into Shuka Trench. It's a wild, roaring, white-water stair, quite unnavigable. But drinkable; trade caravans follow the river down to Lake Shuka. Even cloth-traders heading east to Okar Trench stick to the Kwee Canyon as long as they can: it's longer, but safer than climbing through the Okar Range and then traversing the desert slopes below.
The Dwaalip drains western Llana. It's slightly higher but much drier country than the Kwee Basin. Lakes, some of them saline, dot the red and gold Tibetan barrens--a near-Martian high desert. Alpine meadows are sparse, only growing lush in the braided, silty Dwaalip's riverbottom, and trees grow only on a few sheltered streambanks. The Dwaalip runs west into Barsoom Basin, turns sharply south, and pours down into Lake Shuka on the floor of Shuka Trench; all told, some 2000 km (1250 mi). Only the lower river is densely settled; the upland's too poor for even camaroos to make much of a living.
THE TWIN TRENCHES
The Shuka Trench floor, 4 km below datum, has dense air (for Tharn: fully half the sea-level pressure on Earth) and a mild warm climate. The shores of brackish Lake Shuka are a haven for trench wingbok, an unusually calm, confident subspecies of this nervous, (literally) flighty people. They're descendants of the equally calm wingboks of Okar Trench to the east.
The slopes of the Shuka Range snag storms from Barsoom Basin to the south; up and down this fertile wall half of Tharn's peoples rub flanks: mamooks and camaroos in the alpine meadows, mops in the "pine" forests below, then centahs, veltaurs and bos on the lower, warmer trench slopes, and wingbok on the trench floor.
Close contact between so many species with different viewpoints has enriched Shukan culture. On Earth, seaports are generally the most diverse, cosmopolitan, tolerant places; mountains are often cultural backwaters. But on Tharn, upland-edges with their diverse habitats are often nearly as rich as seashores and trench-lakes. The Shukan slope attracts nonconformists all over Llana and Barsoom.
Okar Tranch plunges deeper than Shuka, as deep as 6 km (20,000'). Two small lakes fill only the very lowest spots, for the region is dry. The climate's hot; the air is dense and easy to fly in; and trench wingbok settlers found it lacking in many large predators, for Okar's an oasis largely isolated by the Gwaa Desert, a triangular red plain nearly 1000 km on a side (about 600 mi). The slopes of the Okar Range have the same habitat-bands as the Shukas, but Okar is much drier; Yola Ridge cuts off most of the rain. The population's thin, except along streams; irrigation is the norm.
Okar Trench's isolation and climate have shaped its people's minds and bodies. The wingbok who migrated here 6000 years ago found their new home to be small and lonely--with few large predators. The wingbok, usually as high-strung as Terran antelope, slowly gained confidence over the generations. Not that Okarians are suicidally trusting (as island species without natural enemies often are, on Earth), but at least they're not wildly skittish like most of Tharn's wingbok.
They're physically different as well; the dense air let them grow much larger and still fly. Okarians (and Shukans) are tall, slender (for better heat dispersal) big-headed, and equally big-brained. It shows. Okar and Shuka's material culture is nearly as spartan as other wingbok societies, but their music, poetry, stories and philosophy show great sophistication.
When Okar wingbok lost the edge of their antelope nervousness, it had side effects. Okarians are relaxed, tactile, and as casually sexual as bonobos... or lions! Other wingbok, in greeting, normally tongue-shake or kiss, tasting each other to get a first impression. But an Okar wingbok of either sex will lean their head on a stranger's haunches and taste and fondle their genitals, sometimes to orgasm--and expect the same back! A friendly gesture to them--just a pleasant way to taste who you are.
Other wingbok tribes react to this much like a human would, flinching in shock. Well, not quite like a human: it's not moral shock, but sensory. Overload! Too intimate, overwhelming--and strong feelings, even pleasure, can make a wingbok bolt. Except an Okarian! For they've lost that panic circuit.
They don't seem to miss it much.
My point? Okar wingbok character is a direct result of geography--the latitude of their trench and the landforms around it. (You think your character is all your own doing? Your family's, your culture's, your species? Nope. It goes deeper than that).
We can trace the chain of causes even further back. Why is Gwaa Desert so dry? Most of northern Barsoom Basin is savanna, not desert. A plate boundary, Yola Ridge, is to blame. Most storms in Okar blow in from the south, from the huge Waroon Sea; but they run straight into Yola Ridge. This straight ridge averages 2 km high (6600'), running northeast from the southern tip of Llana Upland some 1900 km (1200 mi) to Otz Trench. Like the Ninety East Ridge in our Indian Ocean, it's a line marking the slippage between two plates: the fast-spreading Barsoom Plate and the smaller, slower-moving Gwaa Desert plate to the north, in the lee of Llana Upland. With no summer rains from the south, most of the precipitation falls in winter blizzards; when the snow melts, a brief spring paints the plain green, but the red dust soon returns.
Gwaa's only inhabitants are a few bands of dwarf flyotes and stunted plains wingbok, neither species able to think abstractly. To the trench wingbok, these brain-damaged nomads scrabbling in the dust are a perfect vision of hell, as troubling to them as their own sex customs are to others. No wonder they turn away, deny their origins! Few Okarians will readily admit Gwaa wingbok are their ancestors, though privately, they all know it.
Before you condemn these deer for their denial, consider your local Creationists.
Northern Llana breaks up into three ranges dividing two large lake-basins, before flattening and fading into tundra plains toward the pole. The Gahan Sea, 800 km long and 1-200 wide (500 by 100 mi), lies in the eastern basin. This wide sheet of water humidifies the cold dry winds from the north, so low arctic forest lines its south shore, supporting a mixed society of mops, thotters, and camaroos.
To the west, over the snowy Haja Range, lies Lake Haja, a much narrower sea 700 km long but averaging less than 100 wide (450 by 50 mi)--like a fjord without its ocean. Only a few degrees further north than Gahan, Haja's noticeably poorer--the treeless shores are marshes where thotters fish (it's too cold for aquaculture); camaroos herd flocks of anoxia in the surrounding steppes, retreating in winter to huddle in sheltered mountain valleys south of the lake. The woods here are too thin to support mop villages.
This high-orbital photo catches both lakes, though the orientation's odd, since it was shot from above the north pole; Gahan's on the left, Haja on the right, with Llana Upland above them both, on the horizon.
To the north is harsh country, reminiscent of Siberia. Treeless, unbroken pseudo-tundra (lacking permafrost, for Tharn's not emerging from an Ice Age like Earth; but frozen most of the year anyway) thins out slowly to polar desert near the ice cap. This vast waste is unispecific: only a mamook would want it. It takes four tons of fat to survive here.
Due west of Llana lies the Shental Valley, a semi-arid basin below the huge Orovar Range; the streams flowing southeast out of the mountains collect into the Shental River and flow 1000 km southwest to Lake Thimret, then on through greener prairies to the Rippagong Sea. Above Thimret, the valley looks like Nevada: piny heights, scrub and dry grass on the valley floor, green veins of broadleaf trees along the rivers. Lake Thimret is the only surface water of any size in the basin--250 km long and half as wide (150 by 80 mi). Thotter fishing villages line the shores, and veltaurs farm the fertile bottomlands. It's the only part of the region they find warm enough; to the north, most of the people are centah ranchers, with thicker natural coats... and their willingness to wear camaroo blankets in winter; veltaurs are too fidgety to bear having their movement restricted like that. The price is high: half the planet! Veltaurs never leave the subtropics, while centahs range ten degrees further and a kilometer higher.)
Beyond the Shental Basin rises the Orovar Range--a chain of huge shield volcanoes, like the Hawaiian chain without their cloaking sea...or, better, the volcanoes of Mars, for the southern Orovars rise 12-16 km (40-50,000'). Even the lower northern Orovars are heavily glaciated. The summits, being above most of the atmosphere, are nearly bare rock; monstrous calderas yawn fifty miles wide. Even the Orovars' shoulders above 8 km are virtually dead. But mamooks browse lichens and grass on their middle slopes, followed by camaroos a bit lower, in the alpine meadows, then a ring of mops in the cool forests.
Many of Tharn's high ranges are centers of cultural innovation, since so many species with different habitat-needs live close together; the Orovars are an exception. Instead of rising steeply from a hot, dense-aired trench oasis, like the Shuka Range or Okar Mts, the Orovar shield volcanoes rise gradually, from a sparsely populated valley at bedlevel. In Shuka, a wingbok and a veltaur and a mop from villages 20 km apart can swap stories in an inn; here in Orovar, their ranges are hundreds of km apart (and the wingbok can't tell stories; the air's too thin, their brains too small).
Speaking of habitat... remember, even down on the Barsoom plains, you'd faint in two minutes; the air's as thin as Everest's summit. Yet even ten miles up, on the summit of massive Mt Gholit, the air's still thicker than the best Mars can offer! Tharn, for all its harshness, is still far more Terran than Martian.
In contrast to the stark Orovar chain, southwest of Llana lies a fertile region: the Kantol Sea. It's the biggest on Tharn, fully 2500 km long and 1600 wide (1600 by 1000 mi). I admit that Kantol's shallow and broken by endless islands--except for its heart, it's more of a marshy maze like much of Lake Victoria than a sea in the Terran sense. Still, it's wet--that's all Tharnian life needs.
Kantol's fertile shores and islands support a diverse society. Thotters live on the islands and fish the waters, even building raft-houses where natural islands are lacking. Scaly bos, elegant centahs, playful veltaurs, childlike plains wingbok and the occasional flyote tribe all share these shores. Never a dull moment!
Plus, it's a lot warmer than Orovar. How'd e.e. cummings put it?
Listen:there's a hell
of a good universe next door;let's go
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