The Extrahuman Union

Posts Tagged ‘maps

I love maps. I admit it, I’m a map obsessive, and I always have been. When I was a little kid I made a huge cardboard map of the streets in my town–and it was almost 100% accurate. I may have forgotten a few streets here and there, but the upshot was that I’d looked at the map of Newington so many times that I had it basically memorized. I can still tell you where Twenty Rod Rd. is, even though I can barely remember where I’ve left my purse.

I also love books with maps in them. Fantasy books are great for maps, thanks in large part to the fantastic ones Christopher Tolkien drew for his father’s books. Some science fiction books have them, too–such as Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, which sometimes will have a very simple map of the Hegen Hub in it. Most speculative fiction books don’t have maps, which is fine. But it’s still a really good idea to have some conception of where your characters are. Very simple things can profoundly affect what happens in a particular world. Take, for instance, this map of the Confederation (see the Extrahumans series) that I whipped up:

THE SPARK, which releases on August 28th, is in part about an uprising on Mandolia. If you look at the map, you’ll notice that Mandolia is pretty far away from Earth and Calvasna, which are the most populous and capital worlds of the Confederation respectively. Earth and Calvasna are the heart of power for the Confederation, and Valen and Mandolia, where our characters can sometimes find a little bit of wiggle room around government repression, are out on the fringe. That distance allows a lot of the events in the book to happen without an immediate crackdown.

Even then, it’s good for me to know which planets are near which other planets. Mandolia and Valen are very close, which impacts travel time and communication, and there’s a lot of traffic between the two worlds. Quela, on the other hand, isn’t really all that close to anything.

Here’s another example of a map I’m working on:

This is for a fantasy project, and it shows two major things: one being the size of the Sona Empire now, and the other being how large the Sona Empire was a long time before the story takes place. Therefore a major piece of history is very clear on the map. A few other spots on the map are labeled. I can use this map, which keeps evolving, to track where my characters are and what their world is like. The book begins at the Yastine Convent, which is in the mountainous north of the empire, near the border, far away from the capital. That makes it a certain kind of place, and certain kinds of things can happen there.

I didn’t have a firm grasp on this story until I drew this version of the map. I must have drawn and redrawn it a dozen times before I got it right. Once I did, though, I had a better grasp of where all the players were and what was possible. I could see where the protagonist would travel, and I could see where the book would end up. I also knew what was crucial to this world, and what the story would revolve around. I knew some of these things already, but the map helped me place those abstract ideas into something more concrete.

I don’t think I’d put either map in an actual book right now, and I certainly don’t have to. Sometimes readers don’t need maps to follow along. I always liked imagining the geography of Narnia and Prydain as a reader; I didn’t need to see it. But if you’re writing fiction, whether fantasy, SF or contemporary, it’s not a bad idea to have some kind of map to keep track of where things are, and what everyone’s doing. That map can be anything from what I’ve created here to a simple diagram showing where the various buildings on the street where your story is set are located. For THE SPARK I drew a crude street map of First Landing, so I knew where in the city Dee was and where she could go next.

Maps are a great way to think about fictional worlds, no matter their scale or genre. if a writer really knows the space her characters are in and uses it well, the world starts to seem more three-dimensional to the reader.

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One of my enduring obsessions is maps–especially political maps. I exercised that obsession this weekend with a piece over at CT News Junkie about Connecticut’s fifth congressional district, which will have no incumbent running in it in 2012! Open congressional seats are the Loch Ness Monsters of Connecticut politics, so this is going to get interesting.

The maps are pretty cool for this one. I’ve put a bunch of Connecticut political maps up on my Flickr photostream.

Maps help me think about a place. I have many maps of various places in the BROKEN universe, as well as several of the fantasy worlds I’ve written about from time to time. I sometimes sketch maps for fun when I’m bored. I also find that when I’m reading a book, maps often help me visualize the world of the story. Christopher Tolkien’s maps of his father’s world are the stuff of legend, not only because of the quality, but because of the scope and style.

Maps also help me think about things politically. Sometimes maps can reveal patterns we didn’t know were there, and tell us something about why people are voting the way they are and how they might vote in the future. The 5th district maps in the CTNJ piece show a volatile district that sometimes–if not always–responds strongly to national political winds. An open seat in this district is really a toss-up, as I think Connecticut’s voters will come to realize more over the coming cycle.

How about you? Do you find maps, political, fictional or otherwise, to be useful? Do you have any favorite map sites (mine is Strange Maps)?


Susan Jane Bigelow’s Extrahuman Union

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BROKEN

Extrahuman Union #1

SKY RANGER

Extrahuman Union #2

THE SPARK

Extrahumans #3

THE DEMON GIRL’S SONG

YA LGBT epic fantasy!

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