and back again…

Visualization can get sometimes get in the way of manifestation. I had started to develop a map of a hypothetical planet in orbit around the larger star in the Alpha Fornacis binary system, a location in Astral. What does the story need from such a map?

While I was in high school Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings was released. Some educators including my English teacher seized the opportunity to introduce a classic of modern literature. There is, of course, the famous map of Middle-Earth of which there are now countless variations. Pauline Baynes, trained as a cartographer during World War II while a volunteer with the Ministry of Defence, did the original work.

J. R. R. Tolkien was very impressed by Miss Baynes’ talent though some of his friends suggested that her work reduced his “to a commentary on the drawings”. He viewed her mapmaking as presenting a “collateral theme” and introduced her to C. S. Lewis. Some of how we view Narnia is still influenced by her imagination.

Maps tell stories just as novels do. If used in conjunction they must help tell the same story. Does it help show how long and/or arduous a physical journey is? Are there warnings about potential dangers along the way? Is the map equivalent to a trail of breadcrumbs away from Rosina Leckermaul or a length of thread leading back to Ariadne? Proper use of a map helps shape the narrative and defines the characters.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very pro-map. One of the things I’ll catch myself wondering when I pick up a science fiction or fantasy novel, “I hope there’s a map.” As a fan of fiction I think I rather expect a nice, fancy map. But why map α For Aa?

Building an illustration of the network of Earth’s five dozen future colony worlds helped establish the sociopolitical environment of Astral. The concerns and attitudes of the major characters grew out of my understanding of how humans had spread into interstellar space. Part of the motive of the murderer stems from the star map.

In a setting where terraforming is somewhat commonplace – and the character of any given planet can therefore be changed to suit settlers – there’s less need to map the planet’s surface. Moving from future city’s public transit station to another seems far less important to map out when some of the characters have already traveled more than 20 light-years before the story begins.

I’ve done animations of rotating fictional worlds before but I’d forgotten how time-consuming that can be. From time to time now I will have to ask myself, “What does this contribute to the story?”, which is a polite way of asking, “Are you wasting your time on this detail?”

Dalim-planet-anim

This afternoon I remembered something I’d made eight years ago. In Astral, the locations that matter are those along the way in pursuit of the murderer and where justice may be meted out. Less spinning globe and more floor plan, then. And I won’t need to sketch out any rooms; real buildings are everywhere as a menu of locations.

Hotel scene

From preschool on, we’re told that imagination is a virtue. It is, in fact, the first tool of any artist whether with images or words – unless you happen to be one of those lucky people for whom a blank page or canvas is a Muse in itself. In order to invite and guide a reader to explore any new world, the author must be a diligent scout first. A writer of any sort owes those who may follow his or her lead not to be distracted along the first trail blazed.

From the end of May 1985 to the day before Halloween of 1992 (first on HBO and then shown by USA Network), each episode of The Ray Bradbury Theatre began with the author’s description of himself as a pack rat of things that helped him dream stories into being. The introduction concluded with Mr. Bradbury saying, “And the trip? Exactly one half exhilaration, exactly one half terror.”

If a map helps along the way it is a valuable tool. If not it’s another item of clutter.


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Except it isn’t like that…

 

A month ago I wrote about a selection of Seven Wonders of Fictional Worlds and concluded with the fantasy of time travel to visit the traditional Wonders of classical antiquity. One of them, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, is seen in the background of this imagined hall of the Great Library in that same city.

Library

In 1980 Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage reinforced a story I’d learned in school. About 20% of both the first and last episodes of that documentary miniseries recount the importance and grandeur and then the tragic loss of the Great Library of Alexandria. The account makes it seem like a seven-century run that came to an end on one disastrous day. The last librarian, Hypatia, was murdered by a mob of zealots and the scrolls were burned.

Historians and scholars, along with both fans and authors of science fiction, hold onto the fantasy of time travel to before that terrible day. What books would you save if you had the chance? Dr. Sagan is not immune here:

“If I could travel back into time, this is the place I would visit. The Library of Alexandria, at its height, two thousand years ago.”

The story of the apparently sudden disaster portrays the mob as ignorant acting in defense of its ignorance. The loss to knowledge remains incalculable and is, probably rightfully, regarded as a one or two thousand-year setback to nearly all fields of study. Dr. Sagan provided a sense of perspective on this loss:

“We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter’s Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.”

There are nine missing books of the poetry of Sappho and none of the works of Pythagoras survive. A full inventory of what was lost is also lost!

In the 2009 film, Agora, Hypatia is the hero and acts out our fantasy of salvage.

Hypatia

Hypatia was not merely the last librarian. In an age when women were still widely regarded as little more than property she was among the world’s leading mathematicians and astronomers. Further, she was a philosopher and teacher.

The mob that killed her and destroyed the Library is painted as acting out of fear but it seems more likely they were motivated by anger. In addition to the roles mentioned above, Hypatia was also not afraid to express political views. She is believed to have been a supported of Orestes, the governor of Alexandria; this made her an opponent of Cyril, that city’s bishop and successor to Theophilus.

But it didn’t happen quite that way.

As presented, the tale of the final moments of Hypatia and the Library is often a summary of at least four events and a compression of almost 400 years. The impression that there was just one very bad day at the Library is a false one. Julius Caesar did damage in 48 ʙᴄ and more may have happened toward the end of the reign of Aurelian (c. 275 ᴀᴅ).

There were at least two other libraries in Alexandria and – in summary – they may all have been conflated into one. One of these other libraries was part of the Serapeum Temple, which was ordered destroyed by the Bishop of Alexandria – Theophilus – in 391 ᴀᴅ.

This means Hypatia was more likely the victim of an assassination rather than a martyr of scholarship and/or science. The manner of death was particularly brutal to be sure but it cannot have been part of the attacks by Caesar or Aurelian; she wouldn’t have been born yet. She doesn’t seem to have come to prominence in Alexandria until nine years after the destruction of the Serapeum and its own library. The murder took place fifteen years later still.

“The books were distributed to the public baths of Alexandria, where they were used to feed the stoves which kept the baths so comfortably warm. Ibn al-Kifti writes that ‘the number of baths was well known, but I have forgotten it’ (we have Eutychius‘ word that there were in fact four thousand). ‘They say,’ continues Ibn al-Kifti, ‘that it took six months to burn all that mass of material.’”

Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library (University of California Press; 1st edition (Aug. 29, 1990))

The Library of Alexandria is said to have held between Eutychius’ estimate and one million scrolls. Many of these were the result of the “books of the ships” policy. All ships entering the harbor of Alexandria were inspected. Any books found aboard were seized and a copy was made. The originals are said to have been kept for the library, the original owner of the books got the copies.

In addition to the time travel fantasy: What answers and inspirations would you save of you could? – we should also ask: Were the scrolls and books in the library during its destructions the last copies in existence? What’s easier – inventing time travel or holding out hope while in diligent search for missing copies?

Note: The title of this post is a quote from Nova: Season 8, Episode 12. “It’s About Time” (Dec. 30, 1980).

You are invited to rampantly speculate and muse in answer to these questions via comment on this post. Given that this blog is [Thankfully] visited by people from 78 nations and counting, the perspectives are sure to be fascinating.


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Well, why not write?

There are four stories pushing at me (not counting those planned with my coauthor). In pondering each over the past week or so, I was a little surprised to realize that each stems from a different purpose in telling.

For longer than I can precisely recall, I have criticized a lot of films with the label “big, dumb, testosteronedriven explosion movie”. I’ve never been particularly interested in writing a romp. That’s not the objective or, I should say, there is an objective.

Each of the stories I have in progress came from quite different moments of inspiration. Some were like unexpected bolts of lightning while others were the result of prolonged brainstorms.

Comprehension of a lifetime’s factors —

One of the novels began as a spreadsheet for sorting data and looking for trends. It wasn’t intended to be a story at all. Trends in the information, however, began to suggest a narrative. The more I looked, the more compelling and fascinating (to me) it became. There actually was a narrative in the chart and it sprang out of it in an almost parthenogenetic way.

Expanding the perception of courage —

The second book was inspired by a single image. I cannot say if the artist had any story in mind but it made me think of a “band of brothers” situation. The main characters in said band all happen to be young women. For a brief moment it seemed that Sucker Punch might be what I had in mind but the reviews given by friends dissuaded me from that notion and from seeing the film.

The diligence of the heart —

Folklore has many tales that predict the return of a hero or of a force. Imagine such a situation were to transform a part of the world – and everyone in it – almost in an instant. What aspect of human nature and emotion could then be examined? What would prove you were still human despite the change and how far would you go to prove it?

Making sense of nonsense —

Science fiction series, when they include sentient aliens, eventually generate a set of stereotypes concerning them. Even Star Trek and Doctor Who have not proven immune. Examining the Vulcans logically reveals that much of what we think we know about them doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. I aim to explain the contradictions.

For just a little over a year, I have been posting here on a weekly basis. Somewhat prior to adopting that habit this blog kicked off with a simple image. If my reason for writing can be distilled to a single sentence, it is captured in that banner.

Homesteading