The April 2011 issue of online science-fiction magazine Clarkesworld features a story by E. Lily Yu called “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees,” which is exactly about what it sounds like it’s about. It’s set in reasonably contemporary China, where “it was discovered that the wasp nests of Yiwei, dipped in hot water, unfurled into beautifully accurate maps of provinces near and far, inked in vegetable pigments and labeled in careful Mandarin that could be distinguished beneath a microscope.” I do love fantasy and science fiction tales with maps at their heart, but that shouldn’t surprise you.
Fiction About Maps
Bookslut’s Christopher Merkel reviews the English translation of Belén Gopegui’s 1993 prize-winning debut novel, The Scale of Maps (La escala de los mapas), in which a geographer and a mapmaker conduct an affair.
[A]side from its focus on the idea of place, The Scale of Maps isn’t focused on any one place in particular — anything but. Despite taking place in Spain, the book isn’t about anything particularly Spanish (unless it is and I entirely missed it, in which case you know I’m good for an apology). But still, I haven’t encountered anything particularly like its intricate cartography from anywhere else. The Scale of Maps is very much an idea book of cosmopolitan character, and Gopegui seems to have intended it as such: according to Sergio, “books are the maps of men. Every act of reading involves the paradoxical act of touching a map with the tip of the index finger… I believe in maps. They establish a unique relationship between us and the world, as do books.”
In Maps & Legends is a digital comic book series about a fantasy mapmaker who finds herself drawn into a mysterious world she’s been mapping.
Kaitlin is a newly single freelance artist who is stuck in the rut of the well-paying, for-hire covers and maps she creates for fat fantasy novels.
But at night, driven by some strange compulsion, Kait has been working long hours on an intricate, mixed-media map of a place she’s never been, a map that covers all four walls of the window-less spare room she keeps locked next to her tiny bedroom. She’s not sure where the inspiration for the map comes from, but she can’t seem to help herself.
One cold night, Kait is visited by a disheveled man named Bartamus who claims to be from another world. He needs her to finish a map of his dying world so he can use his skills to save it.
The comic is available through a number of venues, including e-book readers, Graphic.ly, and Comixology. Four of ten issues have been published so far, with a new issue coming out every six weeks. Each issue costs 99¢. The first four issues are also available as a combo e-book for the Kindle and the Nook for $2.99.
I read the combo e-book on the Kindle app for the iPad, which is a less effective interface than the Comixology app (which has a free eight-page preview). The art is full-colour on the iPad, and is rotated 90 degrees: enable your screen lock, rotate your iPad and, counterintuitively, scroll up.
The artwork by Niki Smith is, as you can see above, beautifully done, with steampunky bits and lasers contrasting with map-influenced earth tones. The story, written by Michael Jasper, makes full use of what Jo Walton calls “incluing” — things are revealed in bits and pieces rather than in a giant infodump (as in the description I quoted above). It’s an effective literary device, but it does mean that it is not immediately clear what is going on, particularly when, as in a comic book, description is purely visual: we’re shown, not told, unless it’s spoken or thought. The fact that it’s a serial is a little frustrating: it’s hard to stop at issue four, and wait six weeks for each new installment, when things are still so mysterious — I want the rest of the story now, which I think is a good sign: it’s tense and it’s gripping. Definitely worth a look.
- Buy In Maps & Legends #1-4 (Kindle) at Amazon.com
(e)space & fiction is a blog about the use of maps “and other spatial machineries” in works of fiction, from novels to movies to comic books. Bilingual, in French and English. Thanks to Paul for the link.
“Childhood is a branch of cartography,” writes Michael Chabon in The New York Review of Books:
Most great stories of adventure, from The Hobbit to Seven Pillars of Wisdom, come furnished with a map. That’s because every story of adventure is in part the story of a landscape, of the interrelationship between human beings (or Hobbits, as the case may be) and topography. Every adventure story is conceivable only with reference to the particular set of geographical features that in each case sets the course, literally, of the tale. But I think there is another, deeper reason for the reliable presence of maps in the pages, or on the endpapers, of an adventure story, whether that story is imaginatively or factually true. We have this idea of armchair traveling, of the reader who seeks in the pages of a ripping yarn or a memoir of polar exploration the kind of heroism and danger, in unknown, half-legendary lands, that he or she could never hope to find in life.
This is a mistaken notion, in my view. People read stories of adventure — and write them — because they have themselves been adventurers. Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure, a tale of privation, courage, constant vigilance, danger, and sometimes calamity. For the most part the young adventurer sets forth equipped only with the fragmentary map — marked here there be tygers and mean kid with air rifle — that he or she has been able to construct out of a patchwork of personal misfortune, bedtime reading, and the accumulated local lore of the neighborhood children.
A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica, a fantasy short story by Catherynne M. Valente published in the May 2008 issue of the online science fiction and fantasy magazine Clarkesworld, tells the tale of two rival Argentine cartographers mapping the… • Continue reading this entry.
Representations of maps seem to be a popular source material for corset makers: Mayfaire Moon is releasing a corset in honour of the publication of Catherynne M. Valente’s new fantasy novel, Palimpsest; ProfMaelstromme offers an underbust “steampunk map corset”… • Continue reading this entry.
Crime novelist Linda Fairstein’s latest book, Lethal Legacy, has a distressingly familiar plotline. From, believe it or not, The Courier Mail of Brisbane, Australia: “[Series protagonist Alex] Cooper and regular police associate Mike Chapman delve into the shady world… • Continue reading this entry.
“Exploring Waldseemüller’s World” is a two-day symposium to be held at the Library of Congress on May 14 and 15, 2009. According to the press release, it will “examine Martin Waldseemüller’s cartographic vision and address the complex historical and… • Continue reading this entry.
A reader wrote me in June: I was just wondering if you have read the new book (due out this month, June 2008) called 1434 by Gavin Menzies in which he puts forward a hypthesis that the Chinese set off… • Continue reading this entry.
The August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had a damn fine short story by Christopher Rowe where mapping plays a central role. In “Another Word for Map Is Faith,” an alternate America is ruled by… • Continue reading this entry.