I was inspired by Matthew Wright’s post, Worldbuilding: putting it on ice, to offer up a quote from Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale: a Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life”.
He quoted p. 120 of “Life: An Unauthorized Biography” by Richard Fortey. Can you imagine the utter strangeness of this landscape?
“I can imagine standing upon a Cambrian shore in the evening, much as I stood on the shore at Spitsbergen and wondered about the biography of life for the first time. The sea lapping at my feet would look and feel much the same. Where the sea meets the land there is a patch of slightly sticky, rounded stromatolite pillows, survivors from the last groves of the Precambrian. The wind is whistling across the red plains behind me, where nothing visible lives, and I can feel the sharp sting of wind-blown sand on the back of my legs. But in the muddy sand at my feet I can see worm casts, little curled wiggles that look familiar. I can see trails of dimpled impressions left by the scuttling of crustacean-like animals… Apart from the whistle of the breeze and the crash and suck of the breakers, it is completely silent, and nothing cries in the wind…”
This phrase – the wind is whistling across the red plains behind me, where nothing visible lives – grabbed my imagination, and has never let it go. No animals, no plants, just dirt, and rocks, and volcanoes… no movement, no wind in the trees, nothing but clouds scudding over a barren landscape.
And that was the earth, 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian period. Already the world was teeming with microscopic life, but the sea? It was also home to worms, hard-shelled beasties, and the things they fed on. Life was exploding under the waves, but the first brave multi-cellular beings had yet to make their way to the open air.
If you would like to know more about the Cambrian period, I recommend this link.
Can you imagine how strange the earth must have been at that time? It opens up more and more ideas for worldbuilding in fantasy/scifi novels, doesn’t it?