My article “Maps in Science Fiction,” which attempts a taxonomy of the maps that appear in science fiction novels, stories and media, has just been published in the February 2022 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.
Maps are a central part of our experience of the fantasy genre: “No Tour of Fantasyland is complete without one,” wrote Diana Wynne Jones in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland; fantasy maps “are only much noticed when they’re absent,” notes The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. It’s easy to forget that maps are also found in science fiction. They don’t turn up as frequently, nor are they expected to, and we don’t talk about them or think about them nearly as often. But they do exist. I’ve been writing about fantasy maps for years, and even I didn’t give science fiction maps the same consideration at least until 2014, when during a presentation about fantasy maps at Readercon, I had to extemporize in response to a question about science fiction maps. My off-the-cuff response led me to look into where and how maps are used in science fiction and from there to write this article on the subject.
This article took a while to come to fruition. I put out a call for examples of science fiction maps and pitched the idea to the NYRSF’s editor back in July 2014—and then life got thoroughly and fundamentally in the way. It was still thoroughly and fundamentally in the way when I finally, finally finished it and sent it off to NYRSF in the summer of 2020. Life was thoroughly and fundamentally in the way at their end, too—thanks, pandemic!—so it’s taken until now to see print at last. I’m glad it has: science fiction maps don’t get a fraction of the attention fantasy maps do, and I think I might have come up with some useful frameworks in this piece.
From the examples explored here, we can discern several functions science fiction maps can perform on behalf of both text and reader. Maps may have a thematic purpose as in the case of maps of Pern or Majipoor in that their style signals a science fantasy environment, the use of fantasy reading protocols, and a text of likely interest to fantasy readers. They may have a storytelling purpose as with the maps from Dune, the Steerswoman series, and the Mars trilogy: the maps separate the known from the unknown, the transformed from the untouched, the colonized from the indigenous. Or they may have a conceptual purpose by giving the reader a big-picture understanding of structures, solar systems, networks, or empires.
I will post the complete text of the article later. In the meantime, if the teasers above have left you unwilling to wait even a little bit, you can buy the NYRSF issue here; it costs just $2.99 in the usual electronic formats.
Update: You can read the article here.