Sunday, March 16, 2014

Idea Garage Sale: Modern Megafauna

Today is Game with People Day, and today we play Cavemaster. I am about equal parts excited and apprehensive; as should be any person who tries to play a Pleistocene game with me.

People exist in this world who are doing practical work to restore the lost world of the Pleistocene. I've probably mentioned this here before, because reintroduction of megafauna and the return of mammoths, giant sloths, short-faced bears, et al., is naturally an attractive notion to me. I don't necessarily think such things are doable, or wise; but a project like the Pleistocene Park, dealing with the restoration of an ecosystem with the assistance of existing, rather than extinct, species has the potential to be fruitful in a lot of ways, and I'm all for it.

But the Idea Garage Sale isn't about practical plans; it's about spinning stories. And thinking about the Pleistocene, and Pleistocene Park, and megafauna, and so on, pulls me in a number of directions.

The first, of course, is backwards. The surface of possible stories set in the Pleistocene has barely been scratched, and I'm puzzled at myself that I haven't started my second one yet.

The second is forwards. Suppose megafauna and their ecosystems can be restored; and suppose that circumstances of human society allow them to be restored (which I am far from sure is the case) - how extensive can the restoration be? Are we talking one megapark in Siberia, tourism to which causes an unexpected economic boom? A few small patchy islands of pseudo-ecology run as theme parks in the most affluent nations? Modern technological society collapsing in on itself and providing room for the megafauna to reassert themselves from the small, tentative starts a few hyperspecialized scientists gave them?

And then there's sideways - alternate universes in which the end-of-Pleistocene megafaunal extinction did not occur. Aurochs still roam Europe; different species of probiscidea grace each continent, along with hundreds of dependent species (consider the insect life that mammoth dung could harbor!) and predators. Since in historical times industrialized hunting, farming, transportation, and harvesting of raw materials have been the chief culprits in major reductions in biodiversity, the implications for human history are numerous even if we assume that the end-of-Pleistocene extinctions weren't humanity's fault.

Jefferson had a reasonable expectation that the Lewis and Clark expedition might have encountered mammoths. What if they had?

What if the "Save the Woolly Mammoth" shirt I'm wearing now were a legitimate political slogan shirt rather than a joke?

How is African slavery different, if the economy enslaving the Africans is based on growing cotton in mastodon country? Could you grow cotton at an industrial scale in mastodon country?

How would the Spanish Civil War have been different if the Running of Bulls in Pamplona is a running of aurochs, with all the differences in circumstance that entails?

How is the history of the Iroquois Nation different on a continent that never had to do without horses, in which the top predator other than man is the short-faced bear? Or perhaps the American lion?

How does the timber industry accommodate the reality of the giant beaver?
I don't know about you, but my world-building disease is paralyzed by the sheer richness of the possibilities.

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