Alternate geological histories
July 14, 2008 4:06 AM   Subscribe

I was wondering if anyone has explored the notions of alternate geological history, i.e. different continents to the ones we know, and the mechanisms by which they might have arisen?

I know that alternate histories in a social/literary/historical sense have been pretty well covered by previous questions, but I'm just curious about the geological aspect of such thinking and whether anyone has explored it in either literary or scientific fashion (or both).

No Man from Atlantis stuff though please! I'm looking for something a bit more thoughtful if possible! BTW IANAG, just an interested layman so please go easy on the geological jargon too if you can... Thanks!
posted by Chairboy to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I remember that based on Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel someone set up a bunch of alternate earths with different continents and proposed different histories for them. Where you live is who you are, I guess. I can't find that link, but I hope someone else can.
posted by CrazyJoel at 6:05 AM on July 14, 2008

The problem is that when you start making big changes to geological time, it's hard to build a counterfactual where humans still turn up.

I think "no New World" is a fairly common one (Terry Pratchett's Strata springs to mind, but it doesn't really fit your question). Maybe some of the "what could the dinosaurs have evolved into?" stuff?

This might be of interest. It has maps. This partial article seems to be going in the right direction, too. You could try searching here.
posted by Leon at 6:05 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ahh, found it. Jaredia
posted by CrazyJoel at 6:06 AM on July 14, 2008

Ahh, found it. Jaredia

Foiled again!
posted by JaredSeth at 6:43 AM on July 14, 2008

I thought of Will Wright's Game "Sim Earth" which is based on James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis. This let you play about with stuff like 'rate of continental drift'. Stick that up a little too high and you would not see anything more sentient than eukaryotes. You might find it interesting to read up about Gaia theory since it involved taking account of both geological and biological determinants to a planet's destiny.

In "The Amber Spyglass" Philip Pullman writes about an alternate world where the geology had worked in such a way as to cover the surface with smooth lava flows. Some of the creatures in the world had therefore evolved wheels and used them as roads.
posted by rongorongo at 6:51 AM on July 14, 2008

Best answer: Ooh. Sort by divergence. Neat.
posted by Leon at 8:05 AM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not precisely what you're looking for as it is focused solely on the US, but well worth mentioning, is John McPhee's Annals of the Former World.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:27 AM on July 14, 2008

Whoa, Jaredia gets really furry by the bottom (with some excuse).
posted by Gnatcho at 9:38 AM on July 14, 2008

Albeit no excuse for pictures of animals evolved to civilization-building levels that resemble nothing so much as furry drawing :-)
posted by Gnatcho at 9:40 AM on July 14, 2008

Ahh, found it. Jaredia

Nice, but one problem it looks like they didn't sort out is what to do with topographic features that were caused by glaciation. This would include the great lakes, and all those lakes in Canda. Likely gone, Scandinavia, at least the Baltic sea would likely be gone. Norway would be less "Fjord-y".

And of course Africa would be more fjord-y.

But still pretty interesting.
posted by xetere at 11:22 AM on July 14, 2008

I'm not sure if it's exactly what your looking for, but the Russian Immanuel Velikovsky has written extensively on alternate theories for the earths formation.

Also, the science fiction author James P. Hogan is a big subscriber of Veikovsky's theories and has written several books that use his ideas as a central theme.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:46 PM on July 14, 2008

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