Lake Missoula, and related topics

So a couple of days ago, somehow the big ice-age floods came up in conversation, but I didn’t remember the details, just that a lot of glacial meltwater backed up behind a huge ice dam, which broke, loosing an unbelievable flood across the western US.

Well, guess what Kim Stanley Robinson refers to briefly in RED MARS? Which I have been reading — or skimming would be a more accurate term — because I like the technical descriptions even though I dislike most of the characters, which makes it perfect while I work on my own WIP.

Anyway! Because of this handy coincidence, I was able to look up this great geological moment in US history, so let me pass that on to you.

Try to visualize this: a lake covering a big chunk of Montana, backed up behind an ice wall 200 feet high. When that dam broke, two trillion cubic meters of water drained west to to Pacific ocean in a matter of days, ten times as much outflow as all the rivers in the world today put together! That massive river ripped right through the basalt bedrock to dig channels 600 feet deep.

Wow. Just wow.

There’s a site here offering details and pictures.

While we’re on the subject of huge floods — did you know that the Med used to be a dry basin? Yep. Geological subsidence in the Straits of Gibralter allowed the Atlantic to flood into the Mediterranean and turn it into a sea, an event which occurred about five million years ago. The whole filling up of the sea is thought to have taken only a few months. Think of that! Wow!

I don’t think it’s possible to really imagine something like that, do you? Although maybe it is, because it’s exactly this kind of description that makes Robinson worth reading. Even though I dislike Maya, and Frank, and John, and actually at least half the point-of-view characters in his Mars trilogy. I like Nadia, though, and Ann is okay, and in the second book we get pov chapters from Sax, I like those. And Nirgel is okay. But, yeah, basically I read Robinson for the geology.

I actually learned about the Med being a salt desert and then filling up from a very different SFF author, Randall Garrett, who in the eighties wrote a series of books called the Gandalara cycle. I read these back then and — sorry for the spoiler, which is unavoidable given the context — thus learned about the history of the Mediterranean, which provides an important plot driver through the whole series, though exactly what’s going on is not revealed till the end.

Though this is important, knowing it will not interfere at all (I think!) with your reading enjoyment of these books, which are quite good, and certainly are not at all focused on geology like KSR. Garrett builds his own prehistoric society down on the salt desert, with considerable attention to detail and good characterization. I really enjoyed this series and have re-read the books several times. In fact, I was just skimming parts of the first book the other day, thinking about the Med and floods, and though it’s hard for me to evaluate a story with which I’m now overfamiliar, I do think this series is well worth looking up. Even the giant telepathic cats are handled in a slightly less wish-fulfillment way than one usually sees with telepathic animals, more like real animals and less like your special magic BFF.

Anybody else remember this series? What did you think?

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10 thoughts on “Lake Missoula, and related topics”

  1. I know I looked at the Gandalara books, but I don’ t think I ever read any. Now I will have to try them.

    I did read another set with a similar set up: Michael Scott Rohan’s WINTER OF THE WORLD. I remember I kept picking up the first one in the store, wondering if it was interesting… eventually did buy it, after flipping through and noticing the non-standard (for the time) flora which included redwood trees. At the time all there were in print were bog standard European-ish flora & fauna settings. Redwood trees are Californian – this author was doing something different. He had appendixes laying out biology – to a point – climate & stuff, too. So I picked it up for the redwoods, and reread for the smithcraft & characters. The main character is a smith, but in that world some smiths can do more than shape metal, they can imbue it with extra … thing-ness? The sword our hero forges for his friend isn’t magic – no glowing, or special *power* but won’t break or go dull because swords need to be sharp & one piece. That kind of thing. Although they can also make magic things. Our guy can even do it unintentionally such as when he makes a weather vane and idly whistles sea chanties over it while doing the fine work. And, intellectually, for his craft, he uses his brain. On the personal level he’s not so great although he’s got friends even so. Very rooted, too, his childhood and early history keep affecting things for the grown man. Setting spoiler follows

    It’s also set in a period when the Mediterranean wasn’t a sea, although he made it a river on the continent we get to in book 3. The first two of the trilogy are set in the Americas, for values of the Americas during extreme ice ages. Gibralter is there, although not yet a Straits of…until the end.

    Wow, those first Goodreads reviews are glowing! :

    Very obscure, but I liked it and you might find it interesting. And it’s now on Kindle, she adds temptingly.

  2. I admit that my ears now prick up when I hear the “And it’s on Kindle” phrase. And it does sound really interesting. I like the thing about the smithing; I like books that really develop a craft or profession for the reader. Yeah, I’ll go see how much it is and either add it to my Kindle or else to my wishlist.

  3. So, dying to know what the WIP is. Loved most recent books _House of Shadows_ and _Floating Island_ ! Books page not updated for a year :(

  4. Yes, yes, the fact is, nothing much has happened for a year! Not that I haven’t written stuff, but the publishing industry really does move at roughly the speed of plate tectonics. I am very much hoping to update that page VERY SOON with good news about MULTIPLE MANUSCRIPTS, so cross your fingers for me, please!

    In the meantime, though, the current WIP is the sequel to BLACK DOG, which is kind of an urban fantasy (rural fantasy, really) type of thing. BLACK DOG is coming out next spring and the sequel, tentatively called PURE MAGIC, will be out in 2015.

  5. Oh, good. Can I still hold out hope for a HoS sequel in the mountains of Kalches? HoS world is just delicious.

  6. Yes, actually. I’m not sure whether Orbit will take a sequel to HoS, but I have 100 pages plus a rough plot done, and I will definitely bring it out independently if necessary. I’ve been wanting to try self-publishing anyway, so it’s good either way. I hope to have news about that next year sometime, too.

    And thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. sequel to HOUSE? set in Kalches? Wonderful!

    I usually don’t prod authors as they have better inspirations than I do, but I’m delighted to hear this.

  8. I have this great scene I want to write the whole book to get to! Plus I am far from tired of the world or the characters. The sequel actually starts about five minutes after the first book ends and has exactly the same pov characters, which is certainly a first for me. I hope a lot of people feel as you and Pete Mack do, especially if I wind up bringing this one out independently!

    And yes, after this and that involved with the BLACK DOG universe, this is what I want to work on next. And I can! Because, no other outstanding contract for a new book, so I can do whatever I want.

  9. I understand urban fantasy sells well, but I am just so tired of various shapeshifter stories, and stories indistinguishable from romance. With one exception: just reread “Boobs” short story by Suzy-McKee Charnas. That is one shapeshifter story that is, well, yummy. Picked on teenage girl as werewolf: om nom nom!

  10. Yep, these days I pick up a paranormal / UF only if it gets good reviews from someone I know shares my taste. I’m grateful for those bloggers who point out series that are likely to work for me, because wihtout them, every single book in that genre would just disappear into the vast sea of similar titles.

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