The Map Room - A Weblog about Maps
As I said during the Q&A part of my fantasy maps presentation at Readercon (see previous entry), maps of other worlds in the solar system are usually images from space probes that have been set to a map projection. The key word is usually. On Monday the U.S. Geological Survey released a geologic map of Mars that "brings together observations and scientific findings from four orbiting spacecraft that have been acquiring data for more than 16 years." Via io9 and Wired.
In Mapping It Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies, out now from Thames & Hudson, editor Hans Ulrich Obrist invited contributors "to create a personal map of their own, in whatever form and showing whatever terrain they choose, whether real-world or imaginary." Examples of the results can be found on the websites of Design Week, FT Magazine and the Guardian; the New Yorker has posted an excerpt from Tom McCarthy's introduction.
Readercon 25 is less than two weeks away. Now that the program schedule has gone live, I can tell you what I'll be doing there. Quite a bit, as it turns out. And not coincidentally, there is quite a bit of map-related programming.Thursday, July 10: 8:00 PM The Map and the Story. Jonathan Crowe (leader), Chris Gerwel, Greer Gilman, Shira Lipkin. Maps are a familiar sight in our field, but lately a number of stories have placed maps and cartography at the core of the story itself. Maps serve as portals to other worlds, cartographers remake the world in a map's image, and mapmaking itself becomes a means to discuss the distance between perception and reality, between the map and the territory. Panelists will discuss the ways in which maps and cartography have escaped from the endpapers in recent works of fiction.
This is the first of three map-related programming items this year. We'll be talking about map-related stories like "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu, to take one example. Note that Thursday evening programming is open to the public -- a Readercon membership is not required. So if you're in the Boston area, why not stop by for a look?Friday, July 11: 7:00 PM An Illustrated Guide to Fantasy Maps. Jonathan Crowe. Why do the maps in fantasy novels look the way they do? Could they be different? Jonathan Crowe describes fantasy map design elements, looks at good and bad executions of the fantasy map design, compares fantasy maps with their real-world historical equivalents, and explores some new and different takes on the fantasy map.
A slideshow presentation. If you were at Can-Con in 2012, you saw an early version of this. I'm working on it like mad right now. This is the second map-related programming item this year.Sunday, July 13: 10:00 AM Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled. Jonathan Crowe, Gavin Grant, Kate Nepveu, Graham Sleight, Gayle Surrette (moderator). In a 2013 review of Joyce Carol Oates's The Accursed, Stephen King stated, "While I consider the Internet-fueled concern with 'spoilers' rather infantile, the true secrets of well-made fiction deserve to be kept." How does spoiler-acquired knowledge change our reading of fiction? Are some books more "deserving" of going unspoiled than others? If so, what criteria do we apply to determine those works?
Incidentally, the third map-related programming item takes place on Sunday afternoon:1:00 PM Unlikely Cartography. Shira Lipkin, Sarah Pinsker. This summer, Unlikely Story will publish their Unlikely Cartography issue, featuring stories by Shira Lipkin, Kat Howard, Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn, and others. Together with editor A.C. Wise, these authors will discuss their stories, and other authors (historical and modern) who similarly explored the cartography of the fantastic. Influences and discussion topics may include Calvino's Invisible Cities, Eco's Legendary Lands, Post's Atlas of Fantasy, Mieville's The City and the City, and more.
I'll be in the audience for this one. The Journal of Unlikely Cartography was released last Sunday; I'll have a post discussing the stories shortly.
Major map exhibitions are frequently accompanied by lavishly illustrated books: London: A Life in Maps and the Magnificent Maps exhibitions had their eponymous books (London: A Life in Maps and Magnificent Maps), and the Chicago Festival of Maps was accompanied by Maps: Finding Our Place in the World.
No surprise, then, that "Ships, Clocks and Stars: The Quest for Longitude," an exhibition opening at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich next month, also has its accompanying volume: it's called Finding Longitude: How Clocks and Stars Helped Solve the Longitude Problem, and it comes out later this week. It'll be interesting to see how this complements Dava Sobel's Longitude, a short history of the Longitude Prize and Harrison's chronometers (my review).
I love geofiction -- creating imaginary worlds through maps -- and OpenGeofiction is something I've wanted to see for a long time: a collaborative map of an imaginary world that is built with OpenStreetMap's editing tools. The world is divided into territories, some of which any member can edit, others that are assigned to individual members (after a waiting period). More info here.
I've been playing with it and am already nervous about the amount of time I can see myself losing to this. (Though one wrinkle is having no real-world referents to determine scale: without GPS traces or aerial imagery, figuring out how big a house, or a cloverleaf loop, should be is going to be tricky.)
Previously: Ian Silva's Koana Islands.
I was not aware that Batman's Gotham City has had a consistent map for the last fifteen years or so. Its geography was defined in 1998 by illustrator Eliot R. Brown for the "No Man's Land" storyline but has been used ever since, including by the Christopher Nolan trilogy of movies. Brown describes how the map came to be on his website; the story has also been picked up by Smithsonian.com. Thanks to Caitlin and Dwight for the tip.
E. Forbes Smiley III was a well-known and well-connected map dealer, an expert who helped build the Slaughter and Leventhal map collections. Then in 2005 he was caught -- on videotape -- stealing maps from Yale University's Beinecke Library. Libraries he had frequented scrambled to check their own holdings and found additional maps missing. Smiley, who cooperated with the authorities, would eventually be sentenced to 3½ years for stealing nearly 100 maps from the British, Boston Public, New York Public, Harvard and Yale libraries, among others. The libraries believed he stole many more.
With The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents a book-length exploration of the Forbes Smiley affair, which stunned map collectors and map libraries alike in 2005. Its publication, coming nine years after Smiley's arrest and four years after his release from prison, is something of an anticlimax, especially for those of us who followed the case so closely as it unfolded (I blogged about it more than 60 times, myself).
Map thieves fascinate us, even if they themselves are not that fascinating (see, for example, the essential blandness of Gilbert Bland, the subject of a previous book about map thefts, Miles Harvey's Island of Lost Maps), because of what they steal. As stolen goods, antique maps are a curiosity: like art, but more stealable, because there are few copies, not just one.
Unlike Bland, who was an interloper whose catalogues suddenly filled up with suspiciously good items, Smiley was very much an insider in the world of map collecting. With his posh name and pedigreed affect, he looked like old money, though his origins were a bit more modest. E. Forbes Smiley III had privileged access that Ed Smiley (the name he goes by now, incidentally) could never dream of. He filled the role of the "gentleman thief," an epithet that has since been applied to two other book thieves, William Simon Jacques and Farhad Hakimzadeh -- as though the Thomas Crowns of the world suddenly got a taste for old maps.
So I knew that there would be a book about Forbes Smiley some day. Though to be honest I always thought it would come from Kim Martineau, whose reporting for the Hartford Courant provided so much of the bedrock material of the news coverage of this case. But Michael Blanding, an investigative journalist based in Boston, has taken up the task, thanks in large part to Smiley's temporary willingness to be interviewed. While Smiley changed his mind and backed away, those interviews were sufficient, along with a good deal of journalistic legwork, to transform Blanding's project from the originally intended article to the book we have here, which provides a view, albeit partial and incomplete by necessity, of someone who has until now been rather inscrutable.
Because Smiley cut the interviews short, we are missing much about the thefts themselves. The key events are largely narrated from the public record, as are the viewpoints of the libraries and other key figures, and the issues around library inventory and security. As someone who followed the case very closely, I found myself reminded, rather than enlightened: the story unfolded much as I remembered. (As I said, I did post an awful lot about the case; I am not exactly the typical reader.)
Had Blanding limited himself to recapitulating the known facts this would have made for a slight volume in every sense. The value Blanding adds to the reportage is the context he wraps around the Smiley case, context that helps us understand the how and why of the case. There are three aspects to that context:
One, by detailing Smiley's work in map collecting and with map libraries, we get a detailed look at his history with the trade, his expertise, and his relationships with some very serious names in the field. There is a reason, in other words, why Smiley's arrest sent shock waves throughout the map collecting community: he was known, he was respected, and moreover he had elite access. Stealing maps is all too easy, and it's even easier with insider knowledge.
Two, by interspersing his narrative with segues into the history of cartography, so that we better understand the importance of the artifacts that Smiley stole, and why libraries complained so bitterly when Smiley's sentence was, they thought, so light.
And three, by building a portrait of Smiley himself, the person beyond the map dealer: his tendency to act like a personable, benign dictator that came out in his social life and in his conflicts with the residents of Sebec, Maine, where he ran several businesses; his money troubles, exacerbated by financial mismanagement and the cost of keeping up appearances; his grievances against institutions and individuals in the map community.
In the end we get a sense of Smiley's motives, but the hard question remains: are all the maps he stole accounted for? There are missing maps that the libraries believe Smiley stole, but cannot prove it. And there are still maps recovered from Smiley that as of last year still have not been claimed. There was always a sense during the proceedings that Smiley was holding something back; at this point we may never know whether he still is. Map thieves are usually enigmatic, and Smiley is no exception.
I received an electronic review copy from the publisher.
Four more fantasy stories about maps to tell you about.
To begin with, two short stories by Beth Cato, both published in Daily Science Fiction, both available to read online. In the first, "Cartographer's Ink" (August 24, 2012), cartographers "peddle in ink, earth and war": boundaries drawn on maps with magic ink have real-world effects. The second, simply titled "Maps" (February 14, 2013), is a brief, quietly horrific tale of a young girl, Christina, whose left hand, against her will, draws maps that predict the future. Both belong to that group of map stories that deal in the tension between map and territory, between representation and reality.
Next, "Caligo Lane" by Ellen Klages (Subterranean, Winter 2014), which uses the map-as-portal trope: a San Francisco cartographer-witch in a hard-to-find home uses a map to conjure a literal passageway to the place being mapped.
The secret of ori-kami is that a single sheet of paper can be folded in a nearly infinite variety of patterns, each resulting in a different transformation of the available space. Given any two points, it is possible to fold a line that connects them. A map is a menu of possible paths. When Franny folds one of her own making, instead of plain paper, she creates a new alignment of the world, opening improbable passages from one place to another.
Once, when she was young and in a temper, she crumpled one into a ball and threw it across the room, muttering curses. A man in Norway found himself in an unnamed desert, confused and over-dressed. His journey did not end well.
The Japanese army might call this art ori-chizu, "map folding," but fortunately they are unaware of its power.
Finally, we have "The Inner Inner City" by Robert Charles Wilson, which first appeared in Northern Frights 4, an anthology edited by Don Hutchison (Mosaic Press, 1997); it's since been reprinted in Wilson's collection, The Perseids and Other Stories (Tor, 2000). In response to a challenge to invent a religion, Jeremy Singer decides to create "a city religion. An urban occultism. Divination by cartography. Call it paracartography." There is a tradition of using secret maps to find hidden places; this iteration is quite surreal.
So my religion of the city would have to unite the two domains, the gnostic and the urban. Paracartography implied the making of maps, city maps, a map of this city, but not an ordinary map; a map of the city's secret terrains, the city as perceived by a divine madman, streets rendered as ecstasies or purgatories; a map legible only at night, in the dark.
Singer loses himself in overnight walks, in more ways than one.
What I rediscovered that autumn was my ability to get lost. Toronto is a forgiving city, essentially a gridwork of streets as formal and uninspiring as its banks. Walk in any direction long enough, you'll find a landmark or a familiar bus route. As a rule. But the invention of paracartography exercised such trancelike power that I was liable to walk without any sense of time or direction and find myself, hours later, in a wholly new neighborhood, as if my feet had followed a map of their own.
Which was precisely what I wanted. Automatic pathfinding, like automatic writing. How better to begin a paracartographic survey?
Previously: Four Map Stories.
Dark Horse has released a Game of Thrones map marker set, based on a map and markers briefly seen in the first season of the HBO TV series. What surprises me is how much more the map resembles a real-world medieval map, in its use of symbols and text, than do the usual fantasy maps, including those for Westeros (though, as I've argued before, real-world medieval maps were much more information-dense, and covered in text). At $200, it's not cheap, but the markers are up to six inches in height, and the map is made of fabric and roughly four by three feet in size. It's available for purchase at Amazon and ThinkGeek, among others.
In 2005 and 2006 my map blog, The Map Room, was full of posts about one E. Forbes Smiley III, who had been caught stealing rare maps from the Beinecke Library at Yale University. As is often the case with map thieves, Smiley was found to be responsible for many other map thefts from other libraries, and suspected in other thefts. Smiley was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (I posted a lot about the Smiley case: see The Map Room's Map Thefts category archives.)
I knew there would have to be a book on the Smiley case at some point, and one is coming out next month: The Map Thief, whose author, Michael Blanding, has managed to interview Smiley himself, and promises new information about the case. I'm really looking forward to seeing how well Blanding has managed to tell this particular tale, which consumed so much of my attention seven or eight years ago.
The Only Fantasy World Map You'll Ever Need by Jake Manley isn't the first map of its kind that I've seen (see also the map in Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland); still, it's clear that fantasy maps are a proven vehicle to satirize and critique the genre. (And be satirized and critiqued.) Via @scalzi.
CanVec is a dataset produced by the federal Department of Natural Resources. It's been made available to use in OpenStreetMap: users have to download the data for a given area and import it into the OSM database.
It's a great resource, but I've been giving CanVec the side eye for years, largely because OSM users had been bungling the imports and not cleaning up the mess they made. To some extent it also encouraged a certain amount of laziness from Canadian OSM users: why go to the trouble of tracing imagery or going out with a GPS if you could just download the data from the Natural Resources FTP server?
That said, most of my complaints were from a few years ago; it's been a while since I've seen a CanVec-induced mess in the database (for example, doubled or even tripled roads imported on top of one another). And between existing imports and the improved Bing aerial and satellite imagery coverage, there weren't many places I was aware of that I could, you know, try a CanVec import for myself.
Hartney, a town of a few hundred people in southwestern Manitoba, managed to fall between the cracks of two swaths of aerial and satellite imagery. It was a noticeably empty patch of a map that was starting to fill up.
It was also the town my father grew up in. I spent a lot of time there as a child. I was, suffice to say, familiar with it. It was therefore a natural target for me to map. But with no imagery and no realistic chance of my visiting there in the near future, I was not likely to do so in the usual manner.
So I imported CanVec data.
It turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. For one thing, I didn't have to import the entire tile: I could import only the items I wanted. For another, I didn't have to resort to JOSM or some other application I was unfamiliar with; I could, it turned out, do it in Potlach, the Flash-based web editor I've always used, by importing the downloaded zip file as a vector layer and alt-clicking each element through into the edit screen.
But easier still wasn't objectively easy. I had to figure out what file to download from the FTP server by looking it up on the Atlas of Canada, and figuring out which of the files to import into Potlatch is a bit of a trial-and-error thing. There's also a bit of a delay before the CanVec layer shows up in your edit window.
In the end, though, I was able to figure it out, with the following results:
I practiced good edit hygiene: I created a separate user account for imports (here) and I cleaned up what I edited: I joined road segments so that a road five blocks long wasn't five separate ways, I straightened a badly garbled stretch of rail line, and I added a couple of points of interest I knew from personal experience.
In the end, I think I've left the map better than I found it. I didn't everything I could have: CanVec isn't perfect, and I'm not in a position to verify its data on the ground, so I adopted a less-is-more approach, so that I didn't simply add a ton of data for someone else to clean up. Nor did I add so much that it would discourage a local user from adding more, better, and more up-to-date material.
A positive experience overall. I was surprised.
Two books (well, one is sort of book-ish) related to map art and personal cartography to tell you about:
- Map Art Lab: 52 Exciting Art Explorations in Mapmaking, Imagination, and Travel by Jill K. Berry and Linden McNeilly (Quarry Books, 5/14): "map-related activities set into weekly exercises, beginning with legends and lines, moving through types and styles, and then creating personalized maps that allow you to journey to new worlds."
- Make Map Art: Creatively Illustrate Your World by Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell (Chronicle Books, 2/14), a "creative toolkit" that includes a booklet and 30 pull-out sheets to use as templates for personal mapmaking projects.
Jill Kelly's previous work, Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking, was reviewed here in 2011.
In The Geology of Game of Thrones, a group of geologists has created a geologic map of Westeros and Essos, as well as an invented geologic history of the planet on which George R. R. Martin's epic takes place. Via io9.
This isn't the first time a fantasy world has been looked at through a geologic lens. Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth took a reasonably rigorous look at the landforms of Middle-earth. And Antony Swithin -- a geologist in real life under his real name, William Sarjeant -- created a geologic map of his invented island of Rockall (see previous entry).
Previously: Review: The Lands of Ice and Fire.