Via Kottke, news of a new map book that sounds rather interesting: A Map of the World: The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers, described by the publisher as “a compelling collection of work by a new generation of original and sought-after designers, illustrators, and mapmakers. This work showcases specific regions, characterizes local scenes, generates moods, and tells stories beyond sheer navigation. From accurate and surprisingly detailed representations to personal, naïve, and modernistic interpretations, the featured projects from around the world range from maps and atlases inspired by classic forms to cartographic experiments and editorial illustrations.” Samples on the publisher’s website. Many of them I’ve seen before online; I’m happy to see them reprinted.
This is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I should have written it last December, during the hullaballoo over Apple’s maps, but I’ve never been one to strike when the iron is hot.
You’ll recall that there were a lot of complaints about Apple’s maps app when it launched with iOS 6, replacing the previous app that was powered by Google Maps. The map data didn’t match the user experience: it was a first-rate app that used second-rate data. Apple oversold the experience and failed to meet the high expectations of its customers. It was a problem that no other online map provider had ever had to deal with before, not least because no one had launched a new map service with the same amount of hubris, nor the same amount of scrutiny from day one.
But many of the complaints about Apple’s maps verged into hyperbole. The notion that Apple’s maps were uniquely bad compared to other online maps was frankly unfair. Because when you get right down to it, all online maps suck. They all fail in some way, somewhere, and some more than others—and if the maps you use seem fine to you, it’s because they suck somewhere else.
In 2010 I blogged about Neil Freeman’s reimagined United States where the 50 states were redrawn so that each state had the same population. (That map had been circulating for a few years prior to that.) Neil has since produced a new version at the same address, with new boundaries and state names on a nicer map. Though it’s just as thought-provoking. Via Kottke.
NASA has released a free-air gravity map of the Moon: “If the Moon were a perfectly smooth sphere of uniform density, the gravity map would be a single, featureless color, indicating that the force of gravity at a given elevation was the same everywhere. But like other rocky bodies in the solar system, including Earth, the Moon has both a bumpy surface and a lumpy interior. … The free-air gravity map shows deviations from the mean, the gravity that a cueball Moon would have.” Gravity data comes from the GRAIL mission, with the digital elevation model provided by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter laser altimeter. Image credit: NASA’s Goddard Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.
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.