The Osher’s fantasy map exhibition, North of Nowhere, West of the Moon: Myth, Fiction, and Fantasy in Maps, is now online—though a number of the exhibition’s maps are unavailable to view, I’m guessing for copyright reasons1 (previously).
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.
As you probably know, I’m keenly interested in fiction where maps are part of the story. The latest example of this comes from my friend Fran Wilde, whose story, “An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands,” went live on Tor.com this morning. This is a story that challenges our ideas of what a map is for and what a map does—what a map maps—as travellers from another world discover that their destination is already inhabited, and try to map themselves into a safe space in between the settled areas—which is a real twist on the colonial uses of maps in history. It can be read for free online; an ebook is also available at a nominal cost.
(See also my in-progress list of fiction about maps.)
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
A new edition of Star Trek: Stellar Cartography is coming out in October, TrekCore reports. Like The Lands of Ice and Fire, it’s a collection of folded maps—10 of them, 24″×36″ in size—rather than a bound atlas. The new edition, authored by Larry Nemecek, corrects errors and typos and adds material from the various series, including season one of Discovery. (The first edition came out in 2013.)
Previously: Mapping Star Trek.
I can’t explain how I missed this one when it came out last fall. You Are Here: Tales of Cartographic Wonders is an anthology of 18 science fiction and fantasy stories about maps. Edited by N. E. White, it includes one story I’ve seen before: Charlotte Ashley’s “Eleusinian Mysteries.” I look forward to reading the others and reporting back. Amazon | iBooks
This month marks Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, so I thought it might be worth it to put together a little post about maps in Star Trek. This proved to be more fraught a subject than I expected. There are a lot of maps of the Star Trek universe out there by divers hands, some more official than others, and they don’t always agree on all points, as Sufficient Velocity forum member WhiteDragon25 griped in 2014:
Despite so many planets, stars, systems, and other locations that were mentioned and referenced to throughout the entire franchise’s run, we’ve never got an official and fully accurate map of the Trek universe. […] Hell, for all of the Star Wars EU’s faults, at least it managed to generate a universally accepted map! Star Trek on the other hand, despite being just as popular as Star Wars, cannot even figure out the sizes and positions of the Feds, the Romulans, and the Klingons in relation to one another!
WhiteDragon25 might be overstating things a bit: most of the maps have the Star Trek major powers in the same relative position (other empires like the Tholians are another matter). But the point remains. While original series canon assigned aliens to known nearby stars, and the shows occasionally used real locations (e.g. Wolf 359), episode writers did not start with a map and generally did not take spatial relationships into consideration, which no doubt has made the belated mapping process a bit more challenging.
In print form, the earliest map I’m aware of is Star Trek Maps (1980), which according to Memory Alpha was a pair of double-sided map posters accompanied by a fairly mathy booklet; of course, the Star Trek universe was a lot smaller then. Star Trek: Star Charts came out in 2002 and seems to be considered the most canonical of the maps in existence; it’s out of print now, though. Star Trek: Stellar Cartography (2013), a collection of ten 24″×36″ folded maps. (Note that I haven’t seen any of these maps.)
Online, Star Trek Dimension’s Cartography section has maps from the series as well as Christian Rühl’s Galactic Atlas. StarTrekMap.com, a fan site that appears to be based on Star Trek: Star Charts, uses an in-universe interface that functions well (scroll wheel zooming!) but is awfully small on large screens. Neither has been updated in years. The Star Trek Online game also has, as you might expect, a map.
When it comes to maps and fantasy, I’m particularly interested in the ways that maps are used in the course of a story, as opposed to appearing at the front of the book for reference purposes. I’ve posted many examples over the past few years and have a bunch more in my to-read pile.
It looks like next year will add considerably to that list: Unlikely Story is publishing a single-issue Journal of Unlikely Cartography. The call for submissions:
From pirate maps leading to buried treasure to painstakingly-drawn maps of continents that never were, there are endless unlikely possibilities in the world of cartography. Send us your story of a rogue GPS taking a driver down non-existent roads, show us what lies in those unexplored territories labeled “here there be monsters,” give us haunted globes, star charts written in disappearing ink, and spiraling lines on crumbling parchment leading to the center of the labyrinth. As always, we want gorgeously-told tales, gripping characters, and unique worlds to explore. Genre doesn’t matter to us, along as your tale involves maps or cartography in some integral way.
Pays 5¢/word on publication, deadline February 1. I have had considerable difficulty in submitting to anthologies in the past (I write fiction very slowly; the story never quite gels in time for the deadline), but I really, really, really need to submit something to this.
Alejandro Polanco Masa, whose map blog La Cartoteca is one of the finest on the subject in any language, has announced the availability of his speculative fiction novel El Viaje de Argos, in which maps play a prominent role. Here’s the description in Spanish:
Desde antiguo un enigmático astro llamado Argos siembra la atmósfera con una substancia muy especial. Sólo un pequeño grupo de sabios sabe cómo recolectar y emplear esa esencia de los cielos que permite la vida eterna. Pero en pleno auge de la Roma imperial, un desastre sacude a la hermandad de sabios. Desperdigados por el mundo y sin los conocimientos necesarios para mantener la inmortalidad, vagarán sin rumbo, condenados al olvido. Hasta que en el siglo XXI, una inquieta historiadora, Irene Abad, descubre un antiguo mapa que, sin saberlo, conduce hasta el peligroso secreto que los Hijos de Argos han perseguido durante dos milenios.
I wish I could say more about this, but I never studied Spanish and can barely navigate Spanish-language websites, much less read novels. El Viaje de Argos is available in ebook form via Amazon and iBooks.