Terry Pratchett once declared the Discworld unmappable (“There are no maps. You can’t map a sense of humour.”); all the same, there is now an interactive map of principal city Ankh-Morpork for the iPad. Tor.com reports that “the map is dotted with itty-bitty little people walking around Ankh-Morpork, doing their Ankh-Morpork business. Walking around, being themselves. … While many of these figures are indistinct civilians, the city is full of characters from the Discworld novels. Of course Death is there … ” Costs $14; requires iOS 6.
Simon Garfield’s On the Map is the third book of its kind that I’ve encountered, akin to Mike Parker’s Map Addict (review) or Ken Jennings’s Maphead (review): Maps 101—an introductory book for people who are interested in maps but don’t necessarily know a lot about them, written by an enthusiastic generalist. But Garfield’s book is more peripatetic and less focused than the others.
On the Map covers a huge amount of ground in its 400-plus pages, from the Library of Alexandria to Apple Maps (but only the announcement; the subsequent fracas came too late). There is no narrative thread tying the chapters together, and some chapters, arranged by theme, span centuries; they’re interspersed with sidebars called “pocket maps” that deal with a smaller subject in a bit more depth. It’s an excellent survey of what’s been happening with maps over the past decade; you’d be better served by reading this book than by plowing through eight years and 4,055 posts of my former map blog, though you’d arrive at the same point in the end.
Because of that blog, I am the worst audience for this book: nothing really surprised me. Those who have been paying close attention to this subject will not find much new material: this is a survey. In fact, there were several instances where I knew that Garfield was telling the story too briefly, and leaving stuff out. In his rush to cover everything, he glosses over a lot of detail. Prodigious in scope but limited in depth, this book is a view from a height. There are chapters, even paragraphs, whose topics have been addressed with entire books. On the Map is only the start of your trip into maps; it will only whet your appetite for more.
Previously: On the Map: A New Book from Simon Garfield.
Saladin Ahmed’s essay on the NPR website argues that the appeal of epic fantasy isn’t in its plots, characters or themes; it’s in its creation of a vividly detailed secondary world.
[A]t its best, work that prioritizes world-building offers pleasures that just can’t be found in other sorts of literature, the joy of traveling to, as Tolkien put it, “a Secondary World which your mind can enter.” The type of immersion that a massive built world provides is unique. It’s an almost physical sense of getting lost somewhere that isn’t home, but which comes to be home. A sense that one is walking, sometimes even dancing, on a tightrope between the fantastic and the mundane. As with the Thousand and One Nights, which so often—and yes, clompingly—mentions things like which vegetables were just bought or who the monarch was at a given time, the modern fantasy novel’s nerdy attendance to world-building gives it a strange mimetic heft not present in, say, fairy tales.
If you accept Ahmed’s argument—and I can see no reason not to—then the usefulness of a fantasy map is immediately obvious. If it’s all about perceiving that secondary world, the map is literally the key to that world. As Ahmed recalls George R. R. Martin telling him, “When college students and hippies started hanging up Lord of the Rings posters, Martin pointed out, ‘It wasn’t the book covers or some artist’s conception of Frodo that went on our walls. It was the map of Middle-earth.’”
Conversely, you could argue that a story that isn’t principally about the world-building doesn’t need the map.
Martin Elmer’s “Laconic History of the World” is a typographic map of the world that reduces each country to a single word. It was produced, Martin says, “by running all the various countries’ ‘History of _____’ Wikipedia article through a word cloud, then writing out the most common word to fit into the country’s boundary. The result is thousands of years of human history oversimplified into 100-some words.” Martin has also created a graphic reader’s companion that explains the results.
Brandon Martin-Anderson’s Census Dotmap plots every person counted in the 2010 Census as a single dot on the map. Which is to say that there are 308,450,225 dots on the map. Zoom in and see (though it’s not labelled and can be confusing to navigate at higher zooms). I suppose this is the demographic equivalent of the 1:1 map of Borges’s “On Exactitude in Science.” Via Boing Boing.
Another mapmaker is getting a book-length biography. The Measure of Manhattan, Marguerite Holloway’s biography of surveyor John Randel, Jr. (1787-1865), whose decade-long survey of the island of Manhattan was the basis for that city’s street grid, comes out in February. Via BLDGBLOG, who blurbed it: “Marguerite Holloway’s engaging survey takes us step by step through the challenges of obsolete land laws and outdated maps of an earlier metropolis, looking for—and finding—the future shape of this immeasurable city.” Buy at Amazon | publisher’s page
As announced by AllThingsD shortly before it happened, Google Maps for iPhone was released last night. If you rely on Google’s extensive local search database, Street View or transit directions, downloading this app is a no-brainer. You will say, “At last!” and go get it. Here’s the App Store link.
Some caveats: there is no native iPad version. Both Engadget and Techcrunch point out that this is a get-the-essentials-out-the-door-now maps app: certain features you’d expect from the desktop or Android version (e.g., biking, indoor, offline maps) aren’t available. While it’s vector-based, it seems to me to be a little slower and less responsive than Apple’s native app.
And its interface is quite different from the Google-based maps app we saw on the iPhone prior to iOS 6: not only does it adopt the design language of other Google iOS apps, like Google+ and the iOS 6 YouTube app (which isn’t to my taste, but Google is running with it), but it puts things in different locations: transit, traffic and satellite imagery are obtained by pulling from the right; local info and Street View are on the bottom. Obtaining the 3D map is not at all obvious: it requires a two-finger drag explained here. Which is to say that you may need to get used to the changes. If you were hoping to get the old Maps app back, that’s not happening.
You should know what you’re getting when you buy this. It’s not an atlas. It’s not even a book. George himself describes it as “a book-shaped box containing a whole bunch of gorgeous, glossy, fold-out maps of Westeros, Essos, and the lands and seas from A Song of Ice and Fire.” There is no text other than on a single-page introduction.
Open the box and you see two sleeves containing six maps apiece. Each map is 24 by 30 inches, single sided, in full colour, and on glossy paper, the kind you can see your fingerprints on. As fantasy maps go, this is a lavish production—a long way from the two-colour atlases we’ve seen for other imaginary worlds. (Some Amazon reviewers have expressed concern about wear and tear from folding and unfolding the maps; bear that in mind.)
Jeffrey Beebe operates in the same space as Jerry Gretzinger or Austin Tappan Wright. “Over the last fifteen years, I have created the world of Refractoria, a comprehensive imagino-ordinary world that is equal parts autobiography and pure fantasy.” The design language is pure fantasy map, but he goes deeper than that: in addition to maps, he’s created heraldry and constellations, among many other things: the primary source materials of an imagined place whose history has not been written. Boing Boing, MetaFilter.
K. J. Parker’s “Let Maps to Others,” a novella published in Subterranean, deals with themes of interest to those of us interested in maps in fantasy fiction, though it’s not a map story per se. The story deals with the discovery of the country of Essecuivo three centuries prior by an explorer whose manuscript about it has been lost, and for which the coordinates are unknown. It’s narrated by an unnamed scholar of Essecuivo, whose actions regarding the lost manuscript lead to a duke mounting an expedition to find the place. A grand story that may end up on award ballots next year.
Earlier this month Nokia, the parent company of Navteq, announced its cross-platform mapping service, which they’re calling Here. To that end, its free iOS app, Here Maps, appeared in the App Store this week. I’ve poked around with it a little bit today and have some thoughts.
Those seeking a true alternative to Apple’s (or Google’s) maps will probably be disappointed. It’s a perfectly serviceable portal to the Nokia’s map platform, but there’s nothing to ooh or aah over. Nokia’s maps aren’t necessarily better; as with all map platforms—Google’s, Apple’s, OpenStreetMap’s and Nokia’s—whose is better varies from place to place. For my little village, for example, Nokia’s street data is a bit better than Apple’s, and it has more POIs; on the other hand, some of Nokia’s POIs are misplaced, and Apple has better, higher-resolution imagery for my area. Again, it depends on where you are.
I’m not a fan of Here Maps’s UI: it’s rather clunky and appears to be designed to be the same across all platforms, rather than using native iOS widgetry. It seems better matched to the iPhone/iPod touch than to the iPad, where the non-native popup windows swallow too much of the screen. The map tiles are bitmapped rather than vector images, and load more slowly than I’d expect. To be sure, there is an offline mode, and a few other features I haven’t explored yet—see Cult of Mac, Macworld and TUAW for more thorough looks at this app. My first impression is kind of meh: it’s good to have multiple map apps, but this one doesn’t really stand out. But it’s free, so it can’t hurt to try it.
Herewith my writeup of the “Maps and Fantasy Literature” panel at the World Fantasy Convention earlier this month in Richmond Hill, Ontario, based on fragmentary and cryptic notes and no doubt full of misrepresentations and misattributions. The panel took place on Sunday, November 4 at 10 a.m. Panellists were Robert Boyczuk, Laura Goodin, Matthew Johnson, Sara Simmons, Jo Walton, and Bill Willingham (who acted as moderator). The panel description:
George explains that this isn’t an atlas; in fact, it’s “not an actual book at all, but a book-shaped box containing a whole bunch of gorgeous, glossy, fold-out maps of Westeros, Essos, and the lands and seas from A Song of Ice and Fire.” (I hadn’t been sure.) Among the maps is an eagerly anticipated world map. George clarifies that “it’s not a complete world map, no. The idea was to do something representing the lands and seas of which, say, a maester of the Citadel might be aware … and while the maesters know more about Asshai and the lands beyond than a medieval monk knew about Cathay, distance remains a factor, and past a certain point legends and myths will creep here.”