Brian Staveley on Fantasy Maps

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Isaac Stewart, map from The Last Mortal Bond. 2016.

To mark the publication of The Last Mortal Bond (Amazon, iBooks), the final volume in his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, Brian Staveley has penned this essay on the value of maps in fantasy fiction. Excerpts:

A map is more than a two-dimensional catalogue of locations. First, and most importantly, it is a promise. By mapping a world, or a continent, or even a city, a writer assures his/her readers that their imagination has ranged well beyond the boundaries of their particular story, that they have imagined, not just the room in which the scene takes place, but the street beyond that room, the political structure responsible for building those streets and maintaining them, the agricultural system on which that political structure rests, the natural resources that undergird that system, and all the rest. […]

last-mortal-bondFinally, maps provide a lens through which to view the events of the story. Every map, after all, contains the biases of the mapmaker, and while cartography might like to lay a claim to objectivity, there can be no objectivity in an artifact that excludes a thousand-fold the amount of information that it contains. Does a map contain political boundaries or landforms? What demographic information does it convey? Religion? Age? Ethnicity? What does it elide? What landforms are depicted? Which are excluded? Do those confident dotted lines obscure ongoing conflicts? No map can escape these deliberations, and even the most thoughtful cartography can’t offer the absolute truth, only a perspective on that truth. One reason I spend so much time studying a map before I read the book that follows is that I’m curious about that perspective. I get a glimpse before I even begin, into what the writer thinks is important about their own story.

The Design Details of Interactive Maps

Axis Maps’s Dave Heyman offers some advice on interactive map design—specifically, on the details, like colour usage and data interfaces. “Academic cartography provides good guidelines for thematic cartography, but interactivity and user-interface design are often ‘I know it when I see it’ type of things. What follows are 4 quick design concepts and techniques that can be applied in many situations to improve the look and feel of an interactive map.” [via]

New National Maps of Switzerland

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Switzerland is updating its official map series. The new maps are digitally based and use new fonts, symbols and colours—railways, for example, are now in red. They replace the 1:25,000 series that dates back to the 1950s; all 247 sheets should be replaced by 2019. You can compare the old and new map designs on this interactive map (screencap above). [via]

A Multilingual Map of India

Arun Ganesh talks about making a multilingual map of India: “Hardly anyone in India even knows that OSM can handle regional languages, simply because its not visible anywhere on the map. After some recent interest from the community in making regional language maps for openstreetmap.in, I decided to give this a shot to make a multilingual place map for India using OSM and Mapbox Studio that I have been playing with recently.”

Fantasy Football and Election Maps

Development Seed’s Anna Scalamonga discusses the work they did on the Washington Post’s live interactive election maps. “Our challenge was to build a real-time data app that engages users and make it easy to track the most important information. Inspired by interactions and visual presentation from fantasy football apps, we designed tools for live election tracking that make it clear when the data is changing and provide contextual information to make these changes understandable.”

Andy Woodruff: Beyond the Sea

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Inspired by maps that attempt to show what’s across the ocean when you look out from the shore (like this one and this one), Andy Woodruff applies a bit more rigour (and some geometry) to ask what’s across the ocean when you look out in a straight line perpendicular from the shore. (The other maps simply followed parallels of latitude.) Follow a straight line perpendicular from a point on the shore of Newfoundland and you get to Australia (via great circle), not France.

Encountering Map Dealers: Hudson, Arader

Atlas Obscura profiles map collector and dealer Murray Hudson. “Today, Murray Hudson owns what is said to be the largest private collection of for-sale antique maps, prints and globes in the world. His collection, held in Halls, Tennessee, contains, in addition to some 24,000 maps, over 6700 books, 2690 prints, and 760 globes.”

Last month the Wall Street Journal’s Ralph Gardner, Jr. reported on his visit to the Arader Galleries; it’s very much a first-time-experience kind of narrative that is noteworthy for the complete absence of Graham Arader (except in the comments), whose presence usually looms quite large in stories about map collecting. [via]

Mapping Titan with VIMS

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Because of its thick and opaque atmosphere, Titan’s largest moon, Titan, has to be mapped piece by piece during close fly-bys by the Cassini spacecraft, using radar, infrared and visual data. The above image is one of two montages that “shows four synthetic views of Titan created using data acquired by the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) on board NASA’s Cassini spacecraft between 2004 and 2015. These views demonstrate some of the progress researchers have made in creating smooth-looking maps of Titan from the multitude of different VIMS observations made under a wide variety of lighting and viewing conditions.” More on VIMS here.

Previously: Titan in StereoTopography of Titan“Extraterrestrial Islands in a Methane Sea”Mapping the Solar System: Mercury and TitanHuygens Probe Images of Titan.

How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps

blando-how-to-draw Jared Lando’s How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps (Impact, August 2015) is a step-by-step guide to fantasy cartography. That it professes to teach how to draw “authentic fantasy maps” is as clear evidence as any that fantasy maps have a clearly defined style that is difficult to deviate from. This is a book I need to track down, stat. Amazon, iBooks.

A Map Error Roundup

A demolition company tore down the wrong house in Rowlett, Texas thanks to a Google Maps error that directed them one block over. As is often the case in new subdivisions, the street names were extremely similar: Cousteau Drive and Calypso Drive. [via] Something similar, though not quite map-related, happened on Sunday in Gatineau, Quebec (just down the highway from me), where fire crews rushed to Rue de la Terrasse-Eardley to fight a house fire, which would have been fine except that the fire was at a house on Rue de la Terrasse.

British military maps are being redrawn after a fighter jet nearly collided with a microlight: the maps had mislocated the civilian airfield by half a mile.

City Maps: An Adult Colouring Book

city-maps-coloring Gretchen Peterson has announced City Maps: A Coloring Book for Adults. Adult colouring books have rapidly become a Thing; Peterson once wondered why there weren’t any map colouring books (which is a damn good question: the closest I’d been able to find is Splendid Cities) so she made one herself. “I’m excited about this because normally I make maps that are more scientific, regulatory, or otherwise government oriented but this is a collection of maps for everyone. And what’s more, everyone can color them just the way they want to!” Available now from Amazon.

Women in Cartography (Part 4)

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Anna van Westerstee Beek, “Caarte vande landingh inde baay van Vigos als meede het inneemen van twee Casteels,” 1702. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Laura Bliss and Carlyn Osborn continue their series of blog posts on women in cartographic history at CityLab and Worlds Revealed, respectively. Bliss looks at 20th century women, including illustrators  Louise E. Jefferson and Ruth Belew as well as seafloor mapper Marie Tharp; Osborn looks at Dutch mapmaker Anna van Westerstee Beek (1657–1717).

Previously: Women in CartographyWomen in Cartography (Continued)Women in Cartography (Part 3).