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World Building (Sci-Fi): Chose Your Planetary Color


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Most science fiction works with casual interstellar space travel suffer from the Single Biome Planet Syndrome.

This is the case were in a planet is described as having a single class biome, such as Forest, Desert, Tundra or Ocean for the entire planet.

The reasons are obvious for this:

  1. It gives you a wide variety of exotic yet familiar locals with well known weather patterns and animal behavior. You don’t have to create a complex world if your only going to use a specific local such as a Forest, a City or a Desert.
  2. Cut down on cost. You don’t have to go globe trotting to get locations shots for each environment and the backgrounds can be easily recreated inside a studio or in your local backwoods area (rock quarries and pine forest are fairly common in North American and British sci-fi productions). Even with CGI, you still have to pay the animators to come up with something that is reasonable in a short amount of time (at least on TV).
  3. Writers can also save themselves a lot of world building headaches by going the single biome route.

Now, there are planets in our own solar systems which are dominated by a a singular geographic/weather pattern. The key word here is biome or as it better known, an ecosystem. Wikipedia defines it thus:

Biome are climatically and geographically defined as similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms,[1] and are often referred to as ecosystems. Biomes are defined by factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation (quasi-equilibrium state of the local ecosystem). An ecosystem has many biotopes and a biome is a major habitat type. A major habitat type, however, is a compromise, as it has an intrinsic inhomogeneity.

The problem comes from the fact that life, even the most simple form of life has an effect on the environment around it. Photosynthesis changes the gas ratios in the atmosphere, which can lead to the creation of water molecules, an ozone layer. Their root systems can slow down erosion and so on and so forth.

One way around this is to look at Earth own geological history. Earth has been at times a volcanic planet, a water planet (still is), a frozen planet, a swamp planet and even desert planet. But this is due to many factors such as continental drift, asteroid/comet impacts, volcanism and the like. More likely than not any planet encountered would be going through one of these phases (which can last millions of years) but even then you would still have temperature gradients due to ocean currents, altitude and a host of other factors, among them, of course, the presence of life itself.

Especially true if such life is sentient, which means at the very least a conscious ability to alter the landscape through tool use, labor and science/technology.

Of course, if the planet was terraformed by a sufficiently advanced race so that it has a single biome/ecosystem that could work.

At the end of the day it is the creator’s choice and it is up to the audience to decide it they accept it or not.


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