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?