New Orleans: ‘Totally Unrealistic’ Fantasy City

Don’t miss writer and game designer James L. Sutter critiquing New Orleans as though it was a city from a fantasy novel. A major criticism of fantasy maps, whether of cities or worlds, is their lack of realism: unrealistic rivers, mountains and so forth. New Orleans, with its totally unrealistic terrain, doesn’t pass the test. “Please clean up your map and resubmit when it follows the rules of a real-world city,” Sutter concludes.

Territory, a Literary Project

Territory is an online literary magazine (or what they call “a literary project”) whose subject is “territories and the maps that will always fail to capture them. It’s about the naive dream of objectivity, and how we use the act of representation to both hide and broadcast our subjectivities.” Seven issues so far; they’re organized into what they call an atlas, and comprise various fictions, illustrations and other works of art. It will take me some time to go through it all. [Leventhal]

Mapping ‘River of Teeth’

Sarah Gailey/Tim Paul

Sarah Gailey is the author of two novellas, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow, about an alternate America that domesticated hippos, which promptly ran swam feral in the Mississippi. In this Tor.com post, she describes how there wasn’t supposed to be an accompanying map, but one got made anyway.

It had never occurred to me to draw a map. I had written a story that wasn’t an epic, high-fantasy journey across nations. Why would I draw a map? Maps are for bigger stories, right? How does one go about drawing a map? I stayed up that night googling cartography. My search was not fruitful. I tucked that particular insecurity into the part of my brain where I catalogue all my shortcomings as a writer, and I did my best to forget about it.

Imagine, then, my abject horror when my River of Teeth editor, Justin Landon, sent me the following message: “oh hey, btw, do you have a rough map you’ve done for RoT?”

I said no, and he asked me to put something together. I hedged heavily, hoping that if I said “I will probably do a bad job” enough times, my editor might say “oh, ha ha, just kidding, I would never make you do something this hard! Please, go enjoy a cocktail.”

Reader, he made me do a map. I gritted my teeth, grabbed a piece of paper and an existing map of Louisiana, and braced myself for despair. You’ll never believe what happened next.

I had so much fun.

Literary Maps Exhibition at Harvard’s Houghton Library

Landmarks: Maps as Literary Illustration, an exhibition of literary and fantasy maps at Harvard’s Houghton Library, is free to the public and runs through 14 April 2018. “Presented in conjunction with the bicentenary of the Harvard Map Collection, this exhibition brings together over 60 landmark literary maps, from the 200-mile-wide island in Thomas More’s Utopia to the supercontinent called the Stillness in N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. Visitors will traverse literary geographies from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to Nuruddin Farah’s besieged Somalia; or perhaps escape the world’s bothers in Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood.” Atlas Obscura has more on the exhibition, along with a selection of some of the maps it presents. [Tony Campbell]

#mappingfantasy

Cat Rambo livetweeted some of the good bits from the online class on creating fantasy maps she taught with Alex Acks and Paul Weimer earlier this month (see previous entry), using the #mappingfantasy hashtag. Most of those good bits were common sense worldbuilding advice; by and large the intended audience is authors creating their fantasy worlds. They’re the ones who benefit most from basic geological or geographical advice, such as:

Other tips would be familiar to cartography students.

Here’s a point that makes sense from a worldbuilding perspective, but it has led to the cliché that every point on the map has to be visited:

On the other hand, there were some subversive bits that are so prosaic and pregnant with meaning that I’d love to know the context.

Literature and Cartography

Here’s a book that, given my interest in maps and literature, I’ll have to track down: Literature and Cartography: Theories, Histories, Genres, edited by Anders Engberg-Pedersen and featuring contributions from 15 other authors. “Literary authors have frequently called on elements of cartography to ground fictional space, to visualize sites, and to help readers get their bearings in the imaginative world of the text. Today, the convergence of digital mapping and globalization has spurred a cartographic turn in literature. This book gathers leading scholars to consider the relationship of literature and cartography. Generously illustrated with full-color maps and visualizations, it offers the first systematic overview of an emerging approach to the study of literature.” Out today from The MIT Press. [Amazon]

More Fantasy Map Generators

Maps Mania has a roundup of fantasy map generators—applications that generate maps of imaginary cities or landscapes algorithmically. Sometimes even with names. Two of them I’d previously heard of: Uncharted Atlas, a Twitter bot that tweets out a new map every hour, and the Medieval Fantasy City Generator, which generates a random medieval city layout. Two were new to me: Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator, which comes complete with documentation and an accompanying blog; and Oskar Stalberg’s City Generator, which doesn’t.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If fantasy map generators can produce a map that is at least credible in comparison to the human-made product, what does that say about that human-made product in terms of the imagination and creativity that went into it?

Previously: The Medieval Fantasy City GeneratorUncharted Atlas.

Fantasy Maps as Memory Palace

On Obsidian Wings, a post on why I need maps in fantasy novels: “Two books I recently read made me realize that I don’t just like maps, they’re part of how my mind works. For me, a map is a type of memory palace, linking up all kinds of information for easy retrieval. Without one, I don’t just feel lost, I feel dumb—because my memories are disorganized and harder to recall.” An interesting take on the usefulness of fantasy maps. [Skiffy and Fanty]

An Online Class on Fantasy Maps

Alex Acks and Paul Weimer are teaching an online class on creating fantasy maps:

Join Alex Acks and Paul Weimer as they talk about fantasy maps in order to give you the tools you need to create and map your world. Topics include basic geologic principles, common mistakes, forms maps can take, how maps reflect world view, and how maps change over time.

Acks, you may recall, wrote pieces on Middle-earth’s problematic mountains and rivers, and fantasy maps in general; Weimer, for his part, wrote a defence of fantasy maps. The class costs $99 and takes place via Google Hangouts on 16 December.

Maps from The Magicians Trilogy Available

Roland Chambers, map for The Magician King, 2011.

Roland Chambers is selling limited-edition prints of his maps for Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. Each print costs £100 and is A2-sized (42 × 59.4 cm); only 100 copies of each will be printed. More at The Verge. I’ve admired Chambers’s work for a while: these are fantasy maps that are less derivative and closer to their original source matter (children’s book illustrations) than the standard fantasy map fare. [Lev Grossman]

Previously: Fantasy Map Roundup.

‘The Perplexing River Systems of Middle-earth’

Having ruffled fannish feathers with a post critiquing Middle-earth’s mountains and another admitting that they don’t like fantasy maps, Alex Acks returns with a Tor.com post about the problems with Middle-earth’s river systems. Specifically, the Anduin, which breaks all kinds of hydrological rules: it cuts across mountain ranges (and parallels the Misty Mountains), it lacks tributaries along one side and it doesn’t seem to have much of a drainage basin. “Even if you grant the mountains as things created by the Valar doing their Valar-thing—which means my mental excuse for the Anduin cutting through mountain ranges is void—it still looks weird from a geological perspective.”

Another point Acks makes, about Tolkien’s influence on fantasy maps in general, that I should file for later:

Just as Tolkien’s novels have had a massive influence on epic fantasy as a genre, his map is the bad fantasy map that launched a thousand bad fantasy maps—many of which lack even his mythological fig leaf to explain the really eyebrow-raising geography. The things that make me cringe about the geography of Middle-earth are still echoing in the ways we imagine and construct fantasy worlds today.

Previously: ‘The Messed Up Mountains of Middle-earth’Two Views on Fantasy MapsThe Territory Is Not the Map.

The Territory Is Not the Map

Critiques of fantasy maps have more to do with the shortcomings of fantasy worlds than the maps that depict them.

There’s something I’ve noticed about the recent round of debates about fantasy maps, something I’ve been noticing about discussions of fantasy maps in general. They don’t talk about fantasy maps in terms of their cartographic merit. That is to say, they don’t judge fantasy maps as maps.

When Alex Acks vents about fantasy maps, it’s because the mountain ranges in Middle-earth don’t make sense, not because the cartography of Pauline Baynes or Christopher Tolkien wasn’t up to the task. It’s more that the territory is shaped to fit the story rather than the other way around, less that the maps of said territory frequently lack a scale. When Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza says that “Game of Thrones has such a terrible map it could be presented as a parody of bad fantasy maps,” he’s not saying that the cartography of the various Song of Ice and Fire mapmakers, such as Jonathan Roberts (The Lands of Ice and Fire), James Sinclair (books one through four) or Jeffrey L. Ward (A Dance with Dragons), is deficient. He’s saying that the Game of Thrones geography is terrible.

Continue reading “The Territory Is Not the Map”

Russell Kirkpatrick on Fantasy Maps

You don’t have to draw a pointy-witch’s-hat faux-medieval map. You can draw an oblique perspective. You can fill your map with misdirection. You can scrawl annotations over it and make it an actual artifact of your story. You can make geological maps, three-dimensional cutaways, cartoons, whatever suits your story. In fact, I await the day when authors realise they can be as creative—and subversive—with their maps as they are with their text.

That’s Russell Kirkpatrick, a geographer and fantasy novelist from New Zealand, in a blog post discussing the use and usefulness of fantasy maps. Should fantasy maps have maps? “No, for three reasons.” Should authors draw maps? Yes, even if it doesn’t end up in print. Lots of interesting things said here. [Paul Weimer]