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Subject: Macrodactyl Part 4: World Building


Author:
Wes Boyd
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Date Posted: 15:19:15 05/27/16 Fri

Where could people fly on a macrodactyl's back?

In my writing I try to stay away from fantasy and stick to things that can be extrapolated from reality. I haven't always been successful at it, but that's another story. In this case, I'm going to rule out approaches like Jurassic Park and time machines and at least try to stick to the realm of the vaguely possible, at least as we understand things at this time.

Interstellar space flight at less than light speed is at least theoretically possible, although there are plenty of engineering problems to be solved before someone sets out on a starship. I'm not going to get into those problems, but there are many good articles and books on the topic to pursue. I'd be willing to bet that it gets tried somewhere in the distant future assuming the world doesn't get too loused up along the way.

So, with that in mind, I'm going to wander into pure science fiction for a moment and do some world building. Actually, I've been working on this for some time, not that it's likely to turn into a story, but the macrodactyl fits right into the concept. This world, which I have not gotten around to naming, is vaguely Earthlike although smaller and denser with considerably more active plate tectonics. It is more geologically active overall, which among other things means more volcanoes.

The really important part of it is that it has an atmosphere with a sharper density gradient than earth. Air gets thinner with altitude, and it's more extreme here. On Earth, oxygen makes up about 21 percent of the air; on this world, it's closer to 40 percent, and there's more air to begin with. The important part of this is that humans are restricted to a rather thin layer of elevation; they can't get down to sea level because the oxygen partial pressure is high enough that they will suffer oxygen poisoning and die rather quickly. Conversely, they can't get too high in elevation without suffering oxygen deprivation, so there's a range of perhaps eight thousand feet in which humans can live.

It's pretty darn warm down in the lowlands because, like the greater air density change with altitude there is also a corresponding greater change in temperature with elevation than on Earth. It's also pretty darn cold year around at the high limit of human habitation, which narrows the human habitable band, too.

That this world is in a stage similar to the Earth's Cretaceous period, but where there hasn't been a Chicxulub dinosaur killer asteroid. In other words, it's in the late era of the dinosaurs. The lower elevations -- which partly overlap the area humans can handle -- are mostly dense jungle, which with a lesser percentage of ocean is part of why there's so much oxygen. Many of the "dinosaurs" eat vegetation, but there are some that hunt meat. The macrodactyls probably evolved to be so big so they could hunt bigger prey.

One of the reasons I decided to make the metrodactyls meat eaters is because of the greater energy available with the relatively small volume to process. I was going to make them plant eaters until I reflected upon cows, which have to eat high volumes of relatively lower energy food -- and then they have to dispose of that waste. I remembered a poem from when I was a kid that ended, "I sure am glad that cows don't fly." Falling manure is not a hazard you often see in science fiction stories. Incommmmminnngggg!

At some point someone decided to try and domesticate some of the smaller species. It worked for some, but not for others, but for whatever reason it was possible to tame a few lizards; eventually someone tried it with macrodactyls. The higher air density and oxygen pressure probably gave the macrodactyls a performance advantage over their similar species long ago and far away. You have to wonder about the person who would have been crazy enough to be the first person to try and ride a macrodactyl, but someone did it and over the years it has been moderately successful. Because of payload limitations, the riders had to be small and it might be strange to see a 90-pound woman training a beast with a 54-foot wingspan. But then it looks a little strange to see an even smaller 10-year-old kid at a fair on Earth leading and training a 2,000 pound steer, too -- yet it happens all the time in farm country with good 4-H clubs.

While I'm focusing on the flying lizards, this could be an interesting world in other ways. With humans restricted to elevations above sea level, areas of settlement are separated and might not be in real good communication with each other, which is why the metrodactyl riders are important. Our settlers have airplanes, of course, but they are few, far between, and need fuel while the metrodactyls can live off the land. The ocean is strictly a "no go" place, partly because of oxygen poisoning, but partly because there are things living in the ocean that would give a nuclear submarine pause if one were available.

The people of this world run rather small -- only rarely does anyone get over five feet or maybe 120 pounds. Although this helps with coming up with metrodactyl riders, I can think of a number of reasons why the people of this planet evolved over the generations into being little, only some of which involve the planet or deliberately breeding to ride the lizards. The human population is probably rather small (although I don't know how small "rather small" is) at least partly because this world is obviously a dangerous place and life can be short even if the settlers are careful.

There is a "critter problem," especially at the lower elevations, and the classic M-2 fifty-caliber machine gun isn't big enough to deal with the larger and more obnoxious species. The settlers have been forced to reinvent the rocket-propelled grenade. At the lower elevations it's necessary to live in armed fortresses and only till fields during daylight with a security team overwatch. It's still pretty dangerous -- and cold -- at higher elevations, but at least there the biggest and most obnoxious critters are altitude restricted too -- they can't handle the higher elevations or the cooler temperatures.

Fortunately the settlers have a lot of iron and heavier metals -- the planet has a high density, after all. They have built a couple of "tanks" to investigate the lower elevations, basically pressure vessels on treads, but they aren't used much because they're pretty dangerous and there are more important things to do, like survive.

What kind of society would evolve? What would the settlers be like? What stories would they tell? All I can say is that I might have to work on that one. I'm not really a science fiction writer, but every now and then I add a few twists to the backstory, even if I never write a book about it. It is something to think about, and at least I've had fun for a couple of days thinking about and researching this from the viewpoint of riding a prehistoric flying lizard.

I'm not sure that this is going to turn into a story or what, so I guess I'll just have to wait and see. Hope you enjoyed it!

-- Wes

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Replies:
[> Subject: Re: Macrodactyl Part 4: World Building


Author:
K Pelle
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Date Posted: 19:42:28 05/27/16 Fri

>Where could people fly on a macrodactyl's back?
>
>-- Wes

I don't know if it will give you any ideas, but there's a story called "Green Doom" by Porlock that explores a world that sounds similar, only if I remember correctly the author had the protagonist riding giant dragonflies. (lol)

If I remember correctly the story was part of a series and was probably available on SOL.

KP

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[> Subject: Re: Macrodactyl Part 4: World Building


Author:
Ellis
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Date Posted: 20:02:27 05/28/16 Sat

>Interstellar space flight at less than light speed is
>at least theoretically possible, although there are
>plenty of engineering problems to be solved before
>someone sets out on a starship. I'm not going to get
>into those problems, but there are many good articles
>and books on the topic to pursue. I'd be willing to
>bet that it gets tried somewhere in the distant future
>assuming the world doesn't get too loused up along the
>way.

Eh, I bet someone will try it relatively soon. A century or so, unless there is a major but not completely catastrophic disaster, where humans need to leave the planet but there are still enough left to build a variety of ships.
Or if there is a major new physics discovery, then someone might try it pretty quickly, but THAT is impossible to predict.

>Many of the "dinosaurs" eat vegetation, but
>there are some that hunt meat. The macrodactyls
>probably evolved to be so big so they could hunt
>bigger prey.
>
>One of the reasons I decided to make the metrodactyls
>meat eaters is because of the greater energy available
>with the relatively small volume to process. I was
>going to make them plant eaters until I reflected upon
>cows, which have to eat high volumes of relatively
>lower energy food -- and then they have to dispose of
>that waste. I remembered a poem from when I was a kid
>that ended, "I sure am glad that cows don't fly."
>Falling manure is not a hazard you often see in
>science fiction stories. Incommmmminnngggg!

I was talking to one of the people involved with the Smithsonian Pterodactyl a while ago and he commented that of course pterosaurs ate meat.
"It doesn't take much effort to sneak up on a leaf!"
That is the main reason to fly, from an evolutionary point of view. Every large bird eats meat, though some are scavengers rather than hunters.

>You have to wonder about the person
>who would have been crazy enough to be the first
>person to try and ride a macrodactyl, but someone did
>it and over the years it has been moderately
>successful.

YEE HAW!!!! [wave your cowboy hat]

>There is a "critter problem," especially at the lower
>elevations, and the classic M-2 fifty-caliber machine
>gun isn't big enough to deal with the larger and more
>obnoxious species. The settlers have been forced to
>reinvent the rocket-propelled grenade. At the lower
>elevations it's necessary to live in armed fortresses
>and only till fields during daylight with a security
>team overwatch. It's still pretty dangerous -- and
>cold -- at higher elevations, but at least there the
>biggest and most obnoxious critters are altitude
>restricted too -- they can't handle the higher
>elevations or the cooler temperatures.

Wouldn't that point to hydroponic farming, mostly because it needs less land (can be stacked vertically)?


>I'm not sure that this is going to turn into a story
>or what, so I guess I'll just have to wait and see.
>Hope you enjoyed it!
>
>-- Wes

Thanks for sharing Wes. If it does, I know I'd love to read it. Your characters are always fascinating.

-E

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