Alternate history is a long-established subgenre of science fiction. “But one of the deepest pleasures of alternate histories are their maps. Sometimes these allow stories to unfurl, or complement the hypothetical world of a tale being told. But in many cases, the map alone tells a story,” writes Samuel Arbesman in a piece exploring alternate history and its maps at BBC Future. It’s a 101-level piece insofar as alternate history the subgenre is concerned; the pleasure, as you might expect, is the maps shared and linked to. [ICA]
A map of Scarfolk has been announced. For those blissfully unaware, Scarfolk is Richard Littler’s fictional, satirical English town locked in a 1970s-era dystopia. Littler has been producing deeply creepy examples of graphic design—public information posters, mainly—purporting to emanate from Scarfolk authorities on his blog and in two books so far. This “road and leisure map for uninvited tourists,” which apparently comes with a postcard and visa, costs £12. As they say in Scarfolk: For more information please reread. [via]
Chris Spooner’s step-by-step tutorial on how to create a fantasy map in Photoshop offers some insights on how to create the look and feel of a digitally generated fantasy map with Photoshop. Because its method of generating land masses is more or less random (it uses the cloud rendering tool to create landforms and topography), it’s not a tool you could use to generate a map of a specific secondary world—in other words, not something that could elevate your rough sketch into something professional looking—but it looks fun to play with. [Alejandro Polanco]
Meander, created by Robert Hodgin, is “a procedural system for generating historical maps of rivers that never existed.” That statement takes some unpacking. It creates maps inspired by Harold Fisk’s 1944 map of the historical path of the Mississippi River with the Houdini 3D animation app. It starts with an input guideline; the river flows and meanders and oxbows from there. Then the system creates land plots that follow the path of the river. And then it creates a road network on top of that. And then it generates names for all these procedurally generated map features. In other words, Meander doesn’t just procedurally generate a river, it generates the entire country it runs through. Whoa.
Gizmodo takes a look at the Imaginary Maps group on Reddit, where members mostly post imagined maps from alternate timelines—countries that never existed, the aftermath of wars that went the other way, that sort of thing. The bulk of the piece is an interview with frequent contributor xpNc, who talks about their own motivations for creating such maps. Some, of course, are controversial—a good way to pick a fight, apparently, is to draw a map of the Balkans with alternate borders. And, as xpNc tells Gizmodo, “Some people are just a little bit too enthusiastic about scenarios where Germany takes over the world, and I really don’t want to attract that crowd”—fortunately the wave of “Germany wins the Second World War” maps that I saw on the group a while back (last year?) seems to have abated.
From a certain point of view, The Force Awakens is the story of how a rare and valuable map was kept out of the hands of an unscrupulous and extremely motivated collector. While a map served as the MacGuffin of Episode 7, maps of the Star Wars universe have been a thing for a while, at least in terms of supporting material.
According to this 2015 article on the Star Wars website about the history of maps of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, the first official map was produced in 1998. Since then the Star Wars galaxy’s map has been surprisingly consistent despite the addition of a huge amount of material (movies, TV shows, ancillary books and comics) and the canon shift that took place when Disney bought Lucasfilm: older maps—such as fan websites like Modi’s or W. R. van Hage’s, or the 2009 Star Wars: The Essential Atlas (updated with online appendices)—may not include planets that appear in later movies and TV shows (e.g., Jakku, Scarif or Lothal), but what does appear stays in the same place from map to map (i.e., Tatooine and Coruscant are in the same place). Jason Fry’s System Database keeps track of things.
The most up-to-date map I’ve been able to find is Henry Bernberg’s interactive Star Wars Galaxy Map, which has several advantages. Built using ArcGIS—he’s a GIS professional—and hosted using Carto, it has toggleable layers and is searchable (many maps online are simple images, which is tricky when you’re looking for a specific planet). It is, in other words, a useable map, which is a rare thing in science fiction and fantasy, and almost essential when dealing with an imaginary universe of Star Wars’ size.
Fantasy worlds have established maps. Science fictional worlds not so much: what maps exist of imaginary planets are often fan imaginings rather than “official” work. One exception is the planet Bajor, a key location in the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Its map was created by DS9 writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who drew it on a white board in the show’s writer’s room, and maintained it over five seasons. Wolfe posted the map to Twitter last week.
— Robert Hewitt Wolfe (@writergeekrhw) July 31, 2019
The Onion: World’s Cartographers Continue Living Secret Life of Luxury on Idyllic, Never Disclosed 8th Continent. “‘Ah, yes—this is the life,’ said topographical researcher Garrett Farthing, chuckling to himself as he delicately put the finishing touches on yet another map showing their current location to be an empty stretch of the Pacific Ocean while being fed grapes by a trained monkey from an ultra-docile species found only on their lush, temperate, 3.5-million-square-mile landmass. […] No non-cartographer should ever sully this place with their uncultured presence.” You just had to blab, Onion. [WMS]
The Ordnance Survey isn’t above an April Fool’s prank, it seems. For the April 2018 issue of Country Walking magazine, they created a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean that “had been lost to the sea centuries ago, only for it to have now mysteriously risen out of the waves in need of mapping.” (Its name, “Hy-Breasal,” might have been a tip-off.) In a post on the Ordnance Survey’s blog, cartographer Mark Wolstenholme explains how he used existing OS mapping to create a made-up island in a very short time frame.
After an aborted attempt at cutting up Lundy, I chose the Outer Hebrides’ isle of Pabbay for the main part of our new island. To disguise its origin, I flipped and rotated the island. To achieve that, all the names, symbols and vegetation had to stripped off, and because OS Explorer mapping is a raster image, that meant a lot of pixel selecting in Photoshop. Another restriction with the raster, meant I could only rotate the island by 90 or 180 degrees. Any other angle would re-interpolate the pixels and the print quality would be lost.
To further disguise the island, I looked for a smaller island to add, this time taken from the Orkney Islands. This was joined by the addition of an area of sand and reworked low water line. To finish the shaping, I added a handful of rocky outcrops around the coast as well as some mud, sand and a redrawn high-water line through the dunes. A bigger loch was hand drawn and is unique to this island.
Adding new features and Easter eggs in Illustrator and Photoshop came next. Read the post for the details.
I mentioned Atlas Obscura’s call for readers to submit maps of their perfect dream island, but I neglected to post a link to the results. Atlas Obscura: “We received submissions from readers young and old, all full of fun and creative details. Entries included islands full of cats (there were several of those, in fact), political strongholds, simple sandbar paradises, intricate hidden bases, guinea pig sanctuaries, and poetic dreamscapes.”
Atlas Obscura is asking readers to draw a map of their perfect dream island and send it in to them. That’s something I can absolutely get behind.
If you could make an island to your exact specifications, what would it look like? What would make it unique—the true island of your individual dreams?
Maybe your island is made entirely of recycled bottles, or only accepts currency featuring Darth Vader. Perhaps your island is set up as a villains’ lair, or populated with magical creatures that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Is your island an expansive paradise that will take years to explore, or a simple spot of sand surrounded by boundless ocean? Does it have a treehouse? A mansion? Is there a skull-shaped cave? A water park? A hidden base in a volcano? Mischievous monkeys? Pirate ghosts? A lost society of evolved super-beings?
You’ve got until, uh, tomorrow afternoon. Atlas Obscura will publish their favourites on Friday.
The Great Map of Movieland is a whimsical map that plots 1,800 movie titles on an imaginary terrain. Film genres appear as regions (Adventure Plains, Coming of Age Peninsula) and the films themselves appear as towns, with town size correlating to a film’s importance. (It’s a bit odd to see Star Wars and Star Trek in the Adventure Plains rather than the Sci-Fi Mountains, and I’m not sure what the significance of the highways are, nor why Casablanca and The Return of the King are right next to one another.) The brainchild of 31-year-old French designer David Honnorat, the map was a subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign last fall and is now available, via David’s store, as a 26×36″ print; the price is €40. [Boing Boing]
The Routledge Handbook
Out last month, the expensive, 600-page Routledge Handbook of Mapping and Cartography (Routledge). Edited by Alexander J. Kent (who co-wrote The Red Atlas) and Peter Vujakovic, the book “draws on the wealth of new scholarship and practice in this emerging field, from the latest conceptual developments in mapping and advances in map-making technology to reflections on the role of maps in society. It brings together 43 engaging chapters on a diverse range of topics, including the history of cartography, map use and user issues, cartographic design, remote sensing, volunteered geographic information (VGI), and map art.” [The History of Cartography Project]
New Academic Books
New academic books on maps and cartography published over the past couple of months include:
- The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860 (University of North Carolina Press), the latest work by the historian of early American map literacy Martin Brückner;
- Paul Robert Magocsi’s Carpathian Rus’: A Historical Atlas (University of Toronto Press), a cartographic look at a strategic borderland in central Europe;
- Jasper Van Putten’s Networked Nation: Mapping German Cities in Sebastian Munster’s ‘Cosmographia’ (Brill), a study of city views in Renaissance Europe; and
- Claire Reddleman’s Cartographic Abstraction in Contemporary Art: Seeing with Maps (Routledge), an extremely theoretical study of modern map art.
More on Books We’ve Heard of Before
Related: Map Books of 2017.
The Future Mapping Company has announced the discovery of a new island 20 kilometres off the coast of Great Britain. They have naturally already produced a new map of this island.
The Isle of Bait is a small, beautiful and untouched paradise, but there is a hitch—it is only visible through the Face Swap Snapchat filter.
It appears that a glitch during the most recent geological shift caused a permanent geofence to go up around the island, preventing it from being visible to the naked eye.
Geocached for so long, local authorities are debating whether to rename landmarks and points of interest to bring the island into the post-Brexit era. Bay of Bright Futures, the Eneychestuary and Happiness Hill are all remnants of a past that is no longer a reality for the rest of the country. Toblerone Ridge, a local favourite for its distinctive jagged shape, may be the worst affected as plans to widen the gaps between peaks are unveiled as part of a “Greater Value Modernisation Programme.”
For this reason, this map is already a collector’s item, so we would advise acting now before the facts are revealed to be of an alternative nature.
Not since the discoveries of Null Island or San Seriffe has there been news of this magnitude—indeed, this announcement comes 40 years to the day after the Guardian published its supplement on the latter island.
On 1 April 1977, the Guardian published something that has become known as one of the finest April Fool’s gags in history: a seven-page supplement about the fictional, “semi-colonial” island of San Serriffe, complete with a map (at right) full of typographic puns and gags. The Guardian has a page on the gag and has reprinted a couple of the articles here and here; the Museum of Hoaxes has scans of the entire supplement.