Saladin Ahmed on Secondary World Fantasy

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.

Laconic History of the World

Laconic History of The World
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.

Census Dotmap

Dotmap

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.

The Measure of Manhattan

Book cover: The Measure of Manhattan 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

Google Maps for iPhone

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.

Jeffrey Beebe’s Refractoria

Western Refractoria (detail), Jeffrey Beebe
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.

Let Maps to Others

K. J. Parker’s “Let Maps to Others,” a novella published in Subterranean, deals with themes of interest to those of us interested in maps in fantasy fiction, though it’s not a map story per se. The story deals with the discovery of the country of Essecuivo three centuries prior by an explorer whose manuscript about it has been lost, and for which the coordinates are unknown. It’s narrated by an unnamed scholar of Essecuivo, whose actions regarding the lost manuscript lead to a duke mounting an expedition to find the place. A grand story that may end up on award ballots next year.

Now Out: The Lands of Ice and Fire

Book cover: The Lands of Ice and Fire Today is the release date (in North America) for The Lands of Ice and Fire, a book (sort of) that contains maps of George R. R. Martin‘s Westeros, the setting for A Game of Thrones and its sequels.

George explains that this isn’t an atlas; in fact, it’s “not an actual book at all, but 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.” (I hadn’t been sure.) Among the maps is an eagerly anticipated world map. George clarifies that “it’s not a complete world map, no. The idea was to do something representing the lands and seas of which, say, a maester of the Citadel might be aware … and while the maesters know more about Asshai and the lands beyond than a medieval monk knew about Cathay, distance remains a factor, and past a certain point legends and myths will creep here.”

The maps are the work of fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts. Sample images at io9 and Tor.com.

Buy at Amazon | publisher’s page

Previously: The Lands of Ice and Fire: Westeros Atlas Coming in October.

Apple-Google Maps Kremlinology

Details continue to emerge, as details tend to do, about how and why Apple replaced Google with its own maps in iOS 6. John Paczkowski reports that the Apple-Google maps arrangement faltered over voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, which Google Maps has had on Android for years but Apple couldn’t get from Google. John Gruber looks at the timeline of Apple’s contract with Google here and here, and has some ideas why Apple would give the boot to Google with time still on the clock.

Pogue calls Apple’s Maps app “an appalling first release. It may be the most embarrassing, least usable piece of software Apple has ever unleashed.” (I guess he never tried version 1.0 of the Podcasts app on older hardware.) In passing, however, he also mentions that Street View is coming to the mobile website in a couple of weeks. Street View is a big part of my own Google Maps usage; if it is for you as well, you’ll welcome that news. (The desktop web version requires Flash, so has not been available to mobile devices.)

The competition has been having fun at Apple’s expense, except that Motorola’s ad gave iOS a nonexistent address to get lost with.

Previously: Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps; Reactions to Apple’s Maps; iOS Maps: More Reactions and Analysis; iOS 6 Maps: First Impressions and More Links; Apple, Google and China: iOS Maps.

Update: Apple CEO Tim Cook’s statement.

Apple, Google and China: iOS Maps

First, how to report a problem in iOS 6 maps: MacRumors, Macworld. Jamie Ryan reports that reported errors are being corrected quickly.
More information about Google Maps’s removal from iOS 6, and whether it will return with a Google-built app. Eric Schmidt said Monday that, contrary to rumours, Google hadn’t submitted an app yet, and things got muddled from there. The Verge and the New York Times’s Bits Blog reported last night that there was still a year left on Apple’s contract with Google, and that Google was caught flatfooted by the move and is scrambling to build its own map. They are building one, though. It’s just a matter of when we’ll see it.

One place where Apple’s maps are demonstrably better than Google’s is China, where Apple was able to draw upon maps from a Chinese company. The drawback is that the maps aren’t integrated with those in the rest of the world. Anthony Drendel, AppleInsider, Wall Street Journal.

TUAW argues that Apple dumped Google because it wasn’t allowed to do turn-by-turn navigation with Google Maps. Engadget’s Brad Hill believes that the switch was “shrewd, inevitable and an indicator that Apple understands the true battle it wages.” See also AppleInsider’s detailed multipage review.

Roger Zelazny’s Here There Be Dragons

Roger Zelazny’s Here There Be Dragons is a short fairy tale that first appeared as one volume of a two-volume limited-edition deluxe illustrated signed slipcased hardcover set published by Donald M. Grant in 1992. Zelazny wrote it and its companion story, Way Up High (about a girl and a pterosaur) in the late 1960s, and had Vaughn Bodé illustrate them before his untimely death in 1975. The story is about a kingdom that nobody ever left because its Royal Cartographers always wrote “Here There Be Dragons” at the margins of their maps, so everyone thought they were surrounded by dragons. Hilarity ensues when the princess wants fireworks for her birthday, but no one knows how to make them anymore, so the idea is hit upon to enlist the services of a dragon. And so it goes. It’s a clever little story, but you’re almost certain never to see it: the print run was limited to a thousand copies, and while the set is available used on Amazon and AbeBooks, it’s very, very expensive. I’m afraid it has become collectible. (I was lent a copy. I have to give it back.)

iOS 6 Maps: First Impressions and More Links

I’ve been poking around with iOS 6 maps on both my fourth-generation iPod touch and on Jennifer’s third-generation iPad. My initial impression is that the app is fast and renders streets quickly, and turn-by-turn directions seem to be okay in practice. The satellite imagery comes from different sources than Google’s and in some areas is actually higher resolution than what Google offers. There’s a lot of missing data though: searching for local bank branches while we were in Ottawa this weekend, for example, was an exercise in futility.

More analysis from around the Intertubes:

The Next Web reports that Apple’s satellite imagery only shows China and Taiwan when viewed from China. TechCrunch reports that Apple is recruiting former Google Maps staff and points to weirdness that ensues when Apple Maps links are used on the desktop.

iOS Maps: More Reactions and Analysis

Regarding the pickle Apple has gotten itself into by providing its own maps in iOS 6, some context and analysis is provided by Gizmodo, the Guardian, Macworld and The Verge, all of which are worth reading. Cult of Mac suggests some workarounds. AllThingsD has a statement from Apple promising that it will get better, plus news that “the team assigned to the app is under lockdown right now working to fix it.” In general, everyone agrees that maps are hard to do and that Apple has a lot of work ahead of it. Dan Frommer is strangely optimistic, seeing in adversity an opportunity for Apple to prove itself. Meanwhile, 9to5Mac reports that Google does have an iOS map app that is awaiting approval from Apple. (Update: Dalrymple says nope, and he can be relied upon.)

Previously: Reactions to Apple’s Maps; Early Reviews of iOS 6 Maps.