How to link biomes/landscapes

Plucky Novice

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In my fantasy world (in my novel, I'm not nuts...yet), I currently have what is akin to rolling green hills that lead into a pseudo-deciduous forest (pseudo because it's filled with my my own brand of fantasy flora and fauna). Whilst in a fantasy novel, this is not wholly dissimilar to the biomes found in Europe or eastern US states.

I want to introduce a contrasting biome that is far more barren. Not necessarily featureless but largely bereft of flora and fauna. For example salt flats, deserts, rocky landscapes. I'm not looking for a substantial temperature differential though. In between the biomes I want to include a large geographic feature - think Grand Canyon-esque.

I'm interested in opinions on how I should transition between the contrasting biomes. Do I need to worry about a realistic transition or as it's fantasy can I just do what I want? What do you think a realistic transition might look like?
 

Dave

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Rather than a plentiful supply or a lack of water being a limiting factor to growth, why not have some other mineral?

I always thought the idea in Larry Niven's Destiny's Road clever. It is a world that lacks Potassium and where Potassium is as lethal to the native life as Arsenic is to Earthlife. The survivors and ancestors of a crashed ship from Earth cannot survive eating the native life, and Earth plants will not grow without giving them "speckles."

There could be a perfectly valid reason why one half of a planet could be rich in Nitrogen, but in the other hemisphere Nitrogen was rare and it was barren.

And transitions can be slow and graded or very abrupt. It depends on the Geography and Geology. I personally would like the author to explain it all to me, but from my experience reading posts here, many people won't care at all. They care much more about the narrative than the world building. As you say, it is Fantasy not SF, so you have even more leeway. Few people ask how Magic works and fantastic creatures just exist.
 

Plucky Novice

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You can have a high mountain range creating the barren, rain shadow effect on one side and a verdant land on the other.
More info on rain shadows: Rain shadow - Wikipedia
This might work well for me actually, I could have a long gradual increase in altitude in the forest and a drop off on the other side. That at least has some semblance of scientific reality.
 

scarpelius

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Nature does not do sharp separation between zones. In a plain, there must be a transition between the lush jungle and barren dessert. Unless magic/human/something else intervene, in nature one state is slowly degrading to another state. That's why nature is messy and wild. compared to our world.
Since you operate in a fantasy world you might think you can skip nature rules. But, if you are not explaining it very well, e.g. magic barriers separate the kingdom of summer from kingdom of winter and one side of the river have bees and flowers, while the other side it is frozen, you risk to loose credibility in the eyes of the reader, because he is used to such transitions, from the real world.
 

J.D. Robinson

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In my mind, fantasy welcomes abrupt juxtapositions—if that “unnatural” transition is a plot point. Maybe I’ve misunderstood the question, but a rapid biome shift is well within the realm of fantasy, explained by anything from portals to magic to a vast meteor that salted the earth there. In my mind, a story often lies in the exceptions. So if you can devise a plausible/interesting explanation, almost anything is fair game.
 

tinkerdan

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Not much opinion on this however brought to mind this old movie.
White Dwarf (film) - Wikipedia (tidal locked world with two divergent cultures. More than likely two divergent biomes separated by a wall and controlled by weather making satellites if I remember correctly. )
Which sort of say's you can do this well or poorly.

However the notion led to some interesting research finds.
Biomes
Biome - Wikipedia
You may already have done such research; however if not you might want to consider some just to help build some believability into the picture.

Why would this happen and what circumstances would maintain it.

Also The Helliconia Trilogy by Brian W. Aldiss might be instructive when examining drastic differences or changes in biomes.
 

AnyaKimlin

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The level of details and how much you can get away with will depend on the narrator of the story. I've always favoured a first person/close third person for my fantasy, because the world only ever needs to be understood at the character's level of understanding. In 2019 we still have a flat Earth society...

A third omniscient narrator will have to explain and be expected to understand more.
 

Boaz

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@scarpelius I agree that in the majority of the of the places you should find transitionary zones. Plains give way to woodlands that become forests. Yet there are cases where extremes exist side by side.

The fertile land around the Nile and various oases feature lush vegetation next to endless sand.

On the island of Kauai, Mount Waialeale average more than 370 inches of rain per year (683 inches in 1982) and the beach of Kekaha only twenty miles away averages only ten inches of rain per year. Of course there is a 5,000 feet elevation difference... which would be a realistic and easy way to explain radical changes in climate.

Los Angeles should be dry as an old bone with nothing but some scrub brush, but humans have made it a spectacular garden by importing massive amounts of water.
 

Plucky Novice

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Really useful comments from everyone. Thanks for the support.

I'm going to try to have "believable" geography but with a close third person pov I can probably get away with not being spot on.
 

Ursa major

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Nature does not do sharp separation between zones.
Actually, it does... in the valley of the Nile in Egypt:

330px-Nile_River_and_delta_from_orbit.jpg

The seperation is very stark: in only a few steps**, one can walk from sand and barren rock to grass-covered earth. Obviously, the latter area has been cultivated for thousands of years, but the conditions that allowed that cultivation were natural: an annual flood bringing alluvial soils from as far away as Ethipoia (via the Blue Nile).

The same is true farther north. For example, Giza is not only the home of those three large Pyramids standing on the edge of the desert, but a city of many millions situated right across the river from Cairo.


** - The last holiday foreign holiday I had -- to Jordan, Israel and Egypt, 32 years ago -- included visiting the Valley of the Kings, and I took those few steps myself.
 

AnyaKimlin

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There's a sharp change near where I live. We live in a coastal region that rarely gets any snow, the weather is very much UK but quite mild, and the place I live is fairly flat. Out of my rear window is Califer Hill and its neighbour Cluny Hill they form a barrier between where we live and bleak grouse Moorland which then gives way to the Grampian Mountains. Out of the front is first a military base, but then there is a firth or estuary that splits us from the Highlands to the North. In Victorian times where I live was nicknamed the Scottish Riviera and it's very distinct from even the rest of the county.

I can travel only a few miles right now to find fairly deep snow and ice, but the dusting of snow we had last week has all melted.
 

scarpelius

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@Ursa major Here is the south of the Sahara desert. You can clearly see the transition. The example you give about Nile is the exception. In the absence of precipitation you will find vegetation as far as water can reach. This can be a few steps or more, creating a sharp change in vegetation.
I remember the history of Egyptians saying they were blessed because of the annually Nile flooding which brought fertile soil and water to the sandy plains in the Nile Valley.
Anyway, there are more answers to the OP question.
It depends on his world setting what he choose. But he cannot have a river like the Nile, separating a desert from a fertile land. The logic must prevail even if it is a fantasy world.
That of course, if he does not employ the help of magic.

sahara.jpg
 

Dave

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@Ursa major Here is the south of the Sahara desert. You can clearly see the transition. The example you give about Nile is the exception.
It may be exceptional, but it certainly isn't unusual. As I already said once, you could have an abrupt transition anywhere that the geography or geology makes it so. Magic doesn't need to be involved. Height i.e. a Rift valley, gorge or canyon. The changes in relief could be much greater than those on Earth. Some poisonous mineral in the soil i.e. Arsenic, Cadmium or Copper, or even radioactivity. I heard an anecdote about a place in New Zealand with two parallel streams, one was the melt-water from a Glacier, the other was from hydro-thermal springs. One is close to freezing, one is boiling hot. You can fish in one and cook the fish in the other. You would need to scale that up a little, but you can see what I mean. I could think of more extremes if I tried.
 

scarpelius

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@Dave Yes, you can have anything, as long as you explain it logically. No matter if your world is fantasy or real, the readers are from this world.
 

AnyaKimlin

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@Dave Yes, you can have anything, as long as you explain it logically. No matter if your world is fantasy or real, the readers are from this world.
How many Earthbound creatures can explain their world logically? In the history of mankind we've used a variety of slightly bizarre explanation to explain phenomenon. It doesn't have to be all that logical it just has to be there understanding of it.
 

scarpelius

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@AnyaKimlin I am not familiar with Earthbound.
Also I said logic not realistic. For example, I can accept a story written in medieval times when they thought the Earth is flat or even a modern story about flat Earth (see the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), but I am going to have a hard time believing that, outside the medieval time settings.
 

AnyaKimlin

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@AnyaKimlin I am not familiar with Earthbound.
Also I said logic not realistic. For example, I can accept a story written in medieval times when they thought the Earth is flat or even a modern story about flat Earth (see the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End), but I am going to have a hard time believing that, outside the medieval time settings.
Sorry I meant how many creatures living on Earth today have a logical explanation for why where they live is the way it is?

I mean, I know roughly that we are protected by the Grampians to the South, we have the higher temperatures because of the sea and we also have protection from the mountains up North which range they are I can't remember but I can see them if I stand on the beach. That's the reason we have the unusual microclimate we do and the local New Age foundation can grow cauliflowers the size of dinner plates. They say it is the "magic" of the place. My explanation is far from exhaustive and doesn't really contain a lot of logic. Others won't even know beyond we can get snow days when the sun is shining and there is no snow on the ground, but ten mile down the road in the main town its been snowing all morning.

Like the village on the West Coast that has an unusual climate is something to do with the Gulf Stream but I can't even remember what it's called but I have seen pictures of the palm trees. I know it exists but can't really help with the logic.

When we're telling stories the creatures that live in our world may know that a place is a certain way and be able to describe it but they may not have any explanation let alone a logical one. It just is. My narrator for my post apocalyptic/epicish/cyberpunkish type fantasy was first person from the point of view of a seventeen year old who is a genius with technology but as never actually left one square mile of the Royal Quarter of a city. His reading has been heavily censored out of fear he may become corrupted. He dreams of the stars but he's only just discovered there is a world outside his narrow existence. He's just amazed about his surroundings and doesn't really have much of an explanation for them.

He knows these streams of light come and go from the universe, he's been taught he lives inside a god, but that god doesn't exist, there are connections with Earth but he doesn't discover what they are in his lifetime (it comes in a later story). At his point in understanding he thinks Earth is this really cool world that fantasy authors like David Attenborough, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein made up to set their stories in. Earth science books are as much sci fi and fantasy to him as Sherlock or Tolkien. I came up with the idea so he could say "No sh*t Sherlock" and call his cat Galileo.
 

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