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XANADU: Shangri-La Sea

by Chris Wayan, 2006


to Joan Vinge, for "Eyes of Amber", set on a living Titan

Xanadu: main page - map - regional tours - (don't click yet) peoples of Xanadu - (don't click yet) Xanadu's evolution - more worlds: Planetocopia

Orbital photo of Xanadu, a world model like a wetter Titan.


This page is still under construction; eventually it'll be a regional tour of the Shangri-La Sea. The name, like all on Xanadu, comes from Titan, where a dark but apparently dry basin with exactly the same name and appearance lies at the same latitude and longitude. Curious coincidence!

This introduction will be a brief overview of the region--right now, all I know is that the sea is equatorial and one of the three largest on Xanadu. Given the planet's atmospheric circulation patterns, I can project that it'll generate more rain than most of Xanadu gets--ethane rain, not water, but still, rain; if life on the planet is based on ethane instead of water, the shores should be as fertile as it gets on Xanadu.

But further details haven't been worked out yet; the text below is just a placeholder--nearly identical to the Fensal and Aztlan Seas page.

We do have a rough regional map, courtesy of NASA:

Sketchmap with names, of the Shangri-La region of Xanadu, a model of an alternate, wetter Titan.


Since Xanadu is a bigger, warmer, "wetter" version of Titan, we don't have to be as cautious about interpretation as scientists were (and rightly so) about Titan. Xanadu's dark lines and patches are true ethane rivers and seas; the faculae or light spots are islands. Given Xanadu's rotation and temperature, I expect the Shangri-La coasts and islands to be one of the garden spots of Xanadu--warm, rainy and lush on land, while the shallow sea should be full of flourishing coral reefs. Warm, of course, is a relative term; a Terran would freeze in seconds.

I've added the local names (where there are any, yet; Titan nomenclature is still very spotty) and colored the land to green to brown to suggest its climate and vegetation. Some very hasty assumptions there!

Oh, well--these ARE maps, not tweaked space photos, so the colors are arbitrary and designed for Earth eyes. They do at least point out the three main zones: deserts, land with ground cover, and lakes/seas.

A few patterns are already obvious. As on all worlds where sunlight reaches the ground, Xanadu's equatorial belt warms up more than higher latitudes. Hot air absorbs more moisture (though in this case it's a weird brew of hydrocarbons, not water). As it rises and cools, a rainy belt is created; you'll notice that the equatorial islands are quite green; but Dilmun and the northern plains and the uplands around the Perkunas and Kalseru Valleys are drier. Here ethane collects only in rivers and lakes, not large seas. Away from the equator, land life will concentrate in the locally wetter conditions along lakeshores and up the many long river valleys visible from space. Past 50 or 60 north and south, the polar regions appear to be wetter again; at least, more large lakes appear, if not a full-size sea. Photo of Titan altered to form a map of the Shangri-La Sea region of Xanadu, a model of an alternate, wetter Titan.


I've only talked of land life. What of sea life, dear human readers? Don't forget you're biased. Most of the big-brained species on Earth (as the naked apes parochially call it) are aquatic. Whales, dolphins and orcas, pinnipeds, dugongs and manatees, sea otters, octopi and squid... It's just hands and fire that are hard to come by in the sea--not brains or language. And on Xanadu the land may have few advantages over the sea for civilization. The atmosphere is mildly reducing, not strongly oxidizing; there may be no easy equivalent of fire to discover. Earth's oceans are huge and mostly barren--there's little to manipulate, and long distances to travel, so it's no wonder most species sacrifice dexterity for streamlining. But Xanadu's seas are shallow and nearly all coastal, where rivers can feed them nutrients; they'll be relatively rich, more like our coral reefs and kelp forests. Agile and dexterous creatures like our sea otters and octopi may have the advantage here, not marathon swimmers like whales.

While big-brained creatures in this ecozone might never get out of the stone age, are we sure anyone on Xanadu will? And do we care about their technology anyway? Any technology inferior to our own is of merely historic interest; technology beyond ours is nearly impossible to speculate on (if I could do so, I'd build and patent that instead of building planets--nobody really funds the arts these days. Ask Slartibartfast. Oh, they'll give you an award for a nice coastline now and then, but can you take that to the bank?). So technological speculation is pointless; isn't it really culture--alien viewpoints--that we're interested in?

Marine reef-cultures may be primarily oral, since on a coral reef written records (and absolutely everything else not swimming around, and even some things that do) tend to get encrusted and eventually covered up. So perhaps we may expect more historical depth from land cultures. But that's a minor advantage; think of the sophistication of oral societies around the world--the vibrant Incan theatre, Polynesian dance, the sculpture and masked drama of British Columbia, the music of Africa, the dream-techniques of Siberian shamans (let's skip the huge topic of food: ethane-based cuisine will NOT be the next restaurant craze. Mmm, exploding entrees!) Globe of Xanadu by Chris Wayan. A 5-inch/12 cm sphere on a candlestick held in my hand. Xanadu’s a slightly larger, wetter Titan sustaining life in ethane seas.

Readers (yeah, you, but not just you! I mean people who read) tend to underestimate the accuracy and longevity of oral history. Some Australian natives know their ancestry fifty generations back. Do you? And the tribes around Crater Lake have folk tales describing the catastrophe that created it in considerable detail... eight thousand years ago.

So let's not jump to conclusions about the center of gravity of Xanadu's civilization(s). At the very least, we should pay as much attention to coastal waters as to the lands adjoining them. Though the great river-valleys are a third legitimate place to watch...


Sorry the maps are so rough. I don't want to draw clear, definitive regional maps of Xanadu until Titan itself is reasonably well mapped and named--though at the rate that's happening, it may only take another year or two to get where it took three centuries with Mars.

This particular map is an altered Titan photo; but I'll try out different methods on different pages--painting, photos, freehand pencil, Photoshopped GIFS.

But not this year. Not while the Belet Ocean hemisphere is practically unknown, and the north is still blank. Anything could be hiding in the haze up there.

--Chris Wayan, 2006


Well, now it's early 2010, and the north pole is wet. Huge lakes if not true seas. Looks like I'll have to take Xanadu out of (ahem) cold storage...

Map of Xanadu, a model of an alternate, wetter Titan. Click a feature to go there.
TOURS: the following route snakes around Xanadu, covering all major features

UNDER CONSTRUCTION! Only boldfaced names work yet! Shangri-La Ocean -- Perkunas, Bacab and Hobal Valleys -- Lake Ontario -- Adiri and the Ching-Tu Sea -- Belet Ocean -- Senkyo Sea, Lake Aaru -- Tsegihi and Lake Mezzoramia -- the Fensal & Aztlan Seas -- Menrva Ring -- Xanadu Highland, Lake Eir and the Hotei Arcus -- Tui and Kalseru Valley --

Xanadu's homepage - (don't click yet) peoples of Xanadu - (don't click yet) Xanadu's evolution - (don't click yet) Gazetteer - More worlds: Planetocopia

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