Landscape and Science Fiction

Weird and wonderful landscapes are an important part of science fiction and fantasy stories.  As a geologist, I sometimes wonder, is that landscape even possible within the laws of nature as we know them?

Please comment on your favorite landscape and whether it makes sense taking into account the concepts of base level, erosion, and deposition and various river, shoreline, glacial, karst, wind, and other processes on landscape formation.

For my online class students, the specific story we’re looking at is ‘Boneyards’ by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and the landscape on the planet Treffet.

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14 thoughts on “Landscape and Science Fiction

  1. In the text from “Boneyards,” DeVries discusses the unusual valleys he sees on the topographic map of the region the characters are exploring. They are hunting for a lost city and spaceport among some mountain valleys. He notes that there are dozens of closed off valleys on the map. Valleys tend to be formed by rivers as they move toward base level. If the valleys had large lakes or seas at the end and were formed by youthful rivers, that may make some sense that they are closed off in the mountains. They have reached their ending point, the sea or lake, and have eroded all the way down to base level along the river, but are not mature enough to have become meandering and smooth down the surrounding valleys. But it did not sound like the valleys had any sort of water structure at the end for the river to drain into. It seems like they just stop. That does not make a lot of sense, but could possibly mean there were once youthful rivers still creating their paths through the mountains that suddenly dried up. Or it may mean that all these rivers are still there, very youthful, and still carving their way through the mountains as they work toward whatever their base level is. Regardless, neither scenario seems likely (unless perhaps a major drought is part of the plot line?), and is probably just the result of an author who is not a professional geologist creating what seems like a reasonable landscape on the surface (pun intended).

  2. The first clue in the reading is that someone tells us there is “no way out”. How did these people get in if there is no way out? A valley is formed where water was or is flowing and eroding through two peaks or cliff sides. Also, it seems that the land there are investigating was once a city but the land is said to be caving in on top of that landscape. I do not see how this type of landscape is feasible. A valley set inside surrounding peaks with no way out and a “sunken” city could not exist. If we are talking about science fiction, maybe a lost city built into surrounding mountains could exist. Maybe they had explosives and many tools to carve out a space for a community in order to hide. This community has long since died off and the original landscape is eroding back to it’s original position in the mountainside.

  3. Typically, valleys are formed by rivers eroding towards base level. The slope of the valley depends on the gradient of the river. For example, rivers with steep gradients (i.e. younger rivers), produce a steep valley. Rivers with less steep gradients (i.e. older rivers) would produce shallower valleys. In this text, the walls of the valleys are described as “steep” and “rugged”, indicating that a river with a steep gradient (a younger river) would have had to form these valleys. In the landscape described, there were dozens of the same steep, closed off valleys. But how did so many of these valleys form? Was it the same young river? Were there multiple rivers producing similar valleys? If so, where did these rivers go? It seems unlikely that there would be multiple valleys all formed by very young rivers with no rivers in sight.

  4. In the portion of “Boneyards” that was shared with us one of the characters talks about a ton of valleys. The think is; its just not valleys he says its closed of valleys. If the valleys were open they would probably been connected at one time by river, but since these valleys are closed off we know that they probably are not real. They only way they could be real is if they were open and not totally closed off (the character might have meant almost all closed off) However he could refer to something like a sinkhole but they probably would not be large enough to hide a city from being seen.

  5. In the story, the valleys are steep and rugged which indicates that a river will a steep gradient would have had to form the valley. It also says that cities where once their, it is hard for me to see that a huge city would be somehow within the steep valley especially since the person said he doesn’t think there is a way in. Reminds me of the air people in Avatar. Then the people say there is tons of closed off valleys all over the map… this is weird and doesn’t really make sense. They would have to be some openings for the rivers to flow carving the landscape.

  6. I don’t see how this type of city would exist within this landscape. with the no way in, and the rivers and valleys. with this landscape to wipe out a city, it would either take years and years for erosion and deposition to occur to wipe it out completely, but like we learned it takes a very long time for that to happen. There would also have to be a way.

  7. We know that the valleys are steep so the river will be a steep gradient to form the valley. However the problem here is that based on the information we have, it is impossible for that many valley to be formed since we do not see any rivers around.

  8. I’m not sure I fully understand the landscape being described, but I think I have a good idea. It seems to me like there are a number of valleys within this rugged mountain range that have “closed off” and whatever had been there previously had gotten filled in. This does not make sense given what we know about valley formation. In this situation, it appears as though the valleys are glacial in origin because they are situated in a very rugged alpine region. Even if they were formed by running water, they would still be erosional in origin and nature. Since they are located within a steep mountain range and will have a downward slope, they will not be conducive to deposition. Instead, rainwater or meltwater in the mountains will rush down them and erode even more. The only way that these valleys could form as described in such a short period of time would potentially be a series of catastrophic landslides or earthquakes that deposited rubble within the valleys and slowed down water to allow deposit of sediment. This, obviously, seems quite unlikely.

  9. While the portion of the story we read was surely interesting, it does have some logical fallacies. The main one is the valleys. They could not be formed without some type of moving water source like a river cutting through them or by a body of water with various base level changes.

  10. From what the story tells as there seems to be a lot of valleys that are closed off. But the thing that’s striking is there is all these valleys but we don’t have any rivers around. The valleys need to be formed some how and it seems as though there isn’t anything showing us what formed it. We know that these valleys cant be real since they are all closed off. If they were open and had a clear river or body of water that formed then we could then say that it is more realistic for all of them to be there.

  11. The valleys would need some source of water for there to even be valleys. Second of all there has to be a way to get in and out. This author made it seem like it just randomly closed off and there was no way to get out. Lastly there has to be erosion of some sort.

  12. The river was a fast moving river because of the steep landscape. But there is no source of running water so the story doesn’t really make sense.

  13. The text really didn’t make sense as it says there were several valleys that were sorrounded by all the sides. This is impossible as a valley cannot be formed if there is no source of water cutting though it .

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