How to Navigate the Seas of a Flat Fantasy World

How does navigation work on a flat world? Admittedly this is not a question that comes up outside flat earth societies, at least not in the real world, but fantasy worlds aren’t always spherical. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, for example, started off as a flat world, but became round during a cataclysmic event. Before that, the Númenóreans (Aragorn’s ancestors, for those not totally up on their Tolkien lore) were held to be the greatest seafarers in the world: “mariners whose like shall never be again since the world was diminished,” as The Silmarillion puts it. The problem is, a flat earth has implications for navigation: many known methods simply wouldn’t work.

“Mithlond” by Jordy Lakiere

In a piece I wrote for Tor.com,The Dúnedain and the Deep Blue Sea: On Númenórean Navigation,” I try to puzzle out how they could have navigated the oceans of a flat world. I come up with a solution or two, within the limitations of my math abilities. (I’m sure readers who have more math than I do will be able to come up with something better.) It assumes a certain familiarity with Tolkien’s works, and it draws rather heavily on John Edward Huth’s Lost Art of Finding Our Way, which I reviewed here, not at all coincidentally, last month.

Readercon 25

Jonathan Crowe on the Readercon panel I had a very good Readercon. I was a nervous wreck leading up to it, because I had to rewrite the fantasy maps presentation from the ground up. (The first draft was too long and too unfocused. Thanks ever so much to my beta testers who pointed out its flaws the Sunday before the convention.)

Fortunately the presentation on Friday night went off without a hitch—the computer connected properly to the projector, I forgot to stammer—and was very well received: one person called it “probably my favorite event of the con,” which is astonishing when you consider that the con in question is freaking Readercon.

(My presentation also seems to have resulted in Wesleyan University Press selling out its on-hand copies of Stefan Ekman’s Here Be Dragons, which was referenced heavily.)

The Thursday night panel on maps in fiction also seems to have gone over well, based on what I’ve been hearing. It’s not always easy to tell if a panel goes well when you’re leading it: even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to, as was the case here, it may still be a success if the audience enjoys it. Which appears to have been the case. If nothing else, I managed to emit something quotable:

As for the context of that remark, if you weren’t there, I’ll leave that for you to figure out. (I’m working on something along those lines, let me just say.)
For my final panel on Sunday morning, I joined my fellow panellists in a discussion of spoilers. I found myself jumping in and throwing little idea bombs into the discussion, hopefully not too annoyingly or in too derailing a fashion. I saw Scott Edelman recording it on video (the photo above is his) so you may well see the whole thing online at some point.

Meanwhile, I took photos sporadically: here’s the photo album. (Goes without saying that I didn’t bring a camera to my own panels.)

I’d say more, and in more fulsome detail, but I’m off to Detcon 1 in the morning, so this is all you get for now. (This is entirely too little time between conventions.)

My New Article on Fantasy Maps: ‘Here Be Blank Spaces’

NYRSF logo My short essay on fantasy maps, “Here Be Blank Spaces: Vaguely Medieval Fantasy Maps” appears in issue #300 of The New York Review of Science Fiction, out today. I wrote it in response to several books I read rather closely together earlier this year: Reinhart’s Art of the Map, Van Duzer’s Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps, and especially Ekman’s Here Be Dragons (links to my reviews). Taken together, these books highlighted a key difference between fantasy maps and their real-world counterparts from medieval and early modern Europe: fantasy maps are full of blank spaces; real-world maps were not.

Issue #300 of the NYRSF should be available to subscribers now. If you’re not a subscriber, you’re in luck: issue #300 is being made available for free (it’s the NYRSF‘s 25th anniversary, and the publishers are offering it to celebrate and in hopes that you’ll subscribe). Download it from this page. I’ll eventually have it up in the Articles section as well.

Update 8/28: Read the article here.

OpenStreetMap in Ottawa

I nearly forgot to mention that last Sunday I gave a presentation on the state of OpenStreetMap in Ottawa to the SummerCamp 2011 Mapping Party. It was a small group — five of us, the majority of whom knew more about the subject than I did — and, due to technical snafus with the meeting location, was held in a Bridgehead coffee shop on Bank Street. All the same, my spiel was well received. I made three points in the presentation: that OpenStreetMap was a lot less complete than some make it out to be; that the OSM map of Ottawa needs a lot of work; and here’s what to do about it.

I suppose that I could make the slideshow available if you’re really interested, but my presentations tend to be talks illustrated by slides, rather than read-the-slides, so without me talking it through it’d be kind of confusing. But here’s the penultimate slide, which shows a screencap of OSM’s map of downtown Ottawa, with things that need fixing helpfully labelled.

Ottawa Mapping Party Presentation

You’ll be happy to know that many of these things have since been fixed.