Build your vocabulary with Ziggy Stardust and the Breccia From Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars is a treasure trove of words I don't know, most of them about rocks, that being what they have up there. Well, rocks and antagonism. But I already know a lot about antagonism.

Here's what I've looked up by the halfway point:


"rock composed of broken fragments of minerals or rock cemented together by a fine-grained matrix" (Wikipedia)

caliche (rhymes with "peachy")

"a sedimentary rock, a hardened natural cement of calcium carbonate that binds other materials such as gravel, sand, clay, and silt" (Wikipedia)


"a deep, elongated, steep-sided depression" (Wikipedia). There aren't any on Earth.


"Chondrites are stony (non-metallic) meteorites that have not been modified due to melting or differentiation of the parent body" (Wikipedia)


"a hard layer on or near the surface of soil" (Wikipedia)


"an isolated peak of rock projecting above a surface of inland ice or snow" (Google)


"the layer of unconsolidated rocky material covering bedrock" (Google)


"a land surface characterised by very irregular surfaces of marshy hollows and small hummocks formed as ice-rich permafrost thaws" (Wikipedia)

The more I read about geology, though, the more I wondered: can Martian geology really be called "geology", since the geo- comes from a Greek root meaning "earth"?

Why yes, yes it can. The experts call studying the solid parts of any planet or moon "geology". This has not stopped people from coining areology, from Ares (the Greek equivalent of the Roman god Mars) - a word which also occurs a great deal in Red Mars, though Wikipedia says it's "rarely, if ever, used by professional geologists and planetary scientists".

Perhaps that's because it could easily be confused with areaology.

Areaology is the teaching that David Bowie's crotch "exists at every point in every facet of reality". As you will see if you click that link1, considerable thought has been put into the implications of this principle. Also there are pictures.

Unlike some SF set on Mars, Robinson didn't make room for a Bowie reference. However, as the Areaologists would teach us, all such references are redundant anyway.

1. You mean you didn't click that link? I'm more shocked than disappointed. (back to article)

Written on March 25, 2016