Channeling Earth’s Terrain for Outer Space

When I first took the plunge and launched my Other Worldly series protagonist Rowan Layne into outer space, my greatest challenge was how would I describe what other planets, moons, and stars look like in terms of ecosystems?

I didn’t want it to be trite or cheesy, and as always sought some semblance of believable originality.

Hence, I drew upon personal experience. No, I haven’t been to space, but I recalled that the first time I traveled to the United Kingdom and to France, I marveled at how the grass, rocks, and soil were the same as where I’d grown up in Virginia.

Earth was, well, Earth. No matter where I went.

Although I’ve been told that in Africa, the air alone makes it seem like you’re in an exotic atmosphere of another planet. There’s plenty of spots I haven’t visited but long to go, just as many dream of traveling into outer space.

Photos of Earth’s distant places regularly crop up as Microsoft screensavers on my laptop. The latest is a butte-like red-rock terrain with green foliage that looks like skinny conifers, and I would swear it was Utah, but it is in fact Kyrgyzstan. Known as the “Jeti-Oguz” rocks. Who knew the other side of the planet had cool red rocks fit for movie Westerns too?

Other photo spots I mistook for the American Southwest turned out to be in fascinating places such as Chile. Snow-capped mountains appearing like the familiar Rockies or Tetons were actually Switzerland, France, and other locales. And Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount Adams in Washington could be easily confused with Mount Fuji in Japan.

But then there’s those red rock formations throughout Arizona, Nevada, and Utah in the American southwest that often seem like another planet. I’m not the only person who has described Valley of Fire State Park, just an hour outside of Las Vegas, as looking like Mars. It’s been featured in movies like Total Recall for that very reason.

Valley of Fire is also featured in my Other Worldly series as the secret headquarters of an alien species called Red Orbiters. Because it does feel downright alien to me, though it’s a favorite place on Earth.

The round gray boulders in a campground of Joshua Tree National Park in California once made me think of the land of the Flintstones, so sometimes fiction and reality mesh. I haven’t used that park or those rocks in my novels yet, but this kind of uncanny connection is what I set out to do when first describing Mercury, Venus, and Mars in my fifth novel, Alien Sensation.

I channeled snow-capped mountains for some, but also cactus-dotted desert terrain for Mercury, a tropical rainforest plus erupting volcanoes for Venus, and my beloved rocky coastal terrain with otters of Monterey Bay for Mars. Mars also has harsher, less picturesque red-rock terrain comprised of red diamond mines.

I also created a completely fantastical world where crystals predominate, an idyllic rock garden of sorts. The color and sparkle may seem similar to Earth’s gemstones, but the eye sometimes plays trick on Rowan Layne while she’s on Proxima Centauri b in Alien Sensation, making her feel as if she’s in the Land of Oz.

In my coming-soon sixth novel, Altogether Alien, I incorporate actual erupting volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii, so I didn’t have to make much up, or even imagine what that’s like. It’s the youngest geological place on Earth, and I know from experience that it looks and feels downright otherworldly when you’re there, strolling across cooled lava flows with steam still spurting from the ground. I did, however, have to go back and add the November 2022 eruption of Mauna Loa to those chapters once that volcano began spewing orange lava along with Kilauea.

I tie this world of erupting volcanoes and lava flows on Earth’s Hawaiian Big Island to extraterrestrial beings in my own fantastical way for Altogether Alien, wherein the aforementioned long-dormant yet potentially active Mount Adams is also featured. Plus, Rowan travels to a planet I conjured within Pleiades having connections to Hawaii, including a tropical isle with pineapples and frolicking dolphins, plus an ecosystem that uncannily resembles the peach-hued buttes of the Land of Enchantment known as New Mexico. Complete with cheeky roadrunners.

New Mexico is among several US states with locales that feel otherworldly upon visiting, including many areas with petroglyphs. Yet another ancient feature from the Indigenous People of the now American southwest that would appear to have ties to alien worlds and origins. But don’t take it from me, because I didn’t have to fabricate that either.

Altogether Alien is both out of this world and evocative of Earth’s varied and fascinating terrain. Coming next month, it’s a rousing journey from volcano-erupting tropics to the windswept mystical desert, both of our planet and what I’ve imagined for worlds beyond.


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