Thursday, September 10, 2015

Distant Future Earth

I've been reading a lavishly illustrated book called THE FUTURE IS WILD: A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE FUTURE, by Dougal Dixon and John Adams. (It's a companion to a TV series I haven't seen.) It speculates about the climate, geography, and plant and animal life of our planet's vastly distant future, beginning five million years from now. The imaginary life-forms, wildly creative but based on sound evolutionary principles, could spark fantastic ideas for SF world-building. Sidebar quotes from scientists illustrate the real-world basis for the environments and creatures described in the text. Global maps illustrate the positions of the continents in the various eras being explored. The book also has a decent index and a helpful glossary.

After an introductory overview of continental drift, climate change, and the evolutionary process, the book visits Earth five million years from now, 100 million, and 200 million. Five million years hence, these authors assume humanity will have long since gone extinct. At the peak of a prolonged ice age, Earth has become cold and dry. The Mediterranean Sea is now the Mediterranean Basin. Most of Europe is covered with ice, and North America is mostly desert. At 100 million years, sea levels have risen, and a humid, hothouse climate has replaced the cold phase. The authors postulate a mass extinction of 95 percent of Earth's species at the end of this period. At 200 million years, the continent of Pangaea has re-formed, one single land mass in the midst of a global ocean.

I do have reservations about the extinction of the human species in only five million years. After all, our ancestors survived a previous ice age without the advantages of our technology. A graphic timeline from the Precambrian Era to the future 200 million years hence shows mammals vanishing by the end of the "Hothouse Earth" period. Many exotic creatures are imagined to replace them, though.

Some of the imagined future life-forms, which are often shown alongside contemporary animals with similar features: Scrofas, similar to wild boars, their omnivorous diet including fringed lizards called cryptiles. Babookaris, baboon-like inhabitants of the Amazon grasslands, clever enough to weave fish nets from grasses. The armor-plated rattleback. The ocean phantom of the Shallow Seas, a colony organism modeled on the Portuguese man-of-war, its upper surface covered by algae. Sea spiders called spindletroopers. The swampus, descended from the octopus but able to survive on land for brief periods. Toratons, vaguely tortoise-shaped giant reptiles, bigger than the largest dinosaurs. A four-winged bird, the Great Blue Windrunner. Mound-building insects evolved from termites and growing their own food in the form of green algae. The slickribbon, a three-foot-long, cave-dwelling millipede. The most incredible creature is the squibbon, a huge, land-dwelling, arboreal squid with intelligence equivalent to that of chimpanzees or maybe a bit higher. Many of these animals might as well be inhabitants of alien planets; indeed, the Earth envisioned in the second and third eras has become radically alien to the world we know.

This book is worth checking out for the pictures alone.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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