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.


On the plurality of worldviews…

The presentation of a heptad of must-see sights in all the world is at least 2,500 years old. Only a few of the actual lists survive; some are known only by reference made in other works. There is generally agreement on six of the seven wonders. The Colossus of Rhodes could not have included by Herodotus. The supposedly harbour-spanning statue was not built until 150 years after his death.

All of the sets of Seven Wonders of the World do agree on one other thing. Each suggested stop for itineraries was offered with the pragmatism of actually paying a visit. Islands in the sky (Aeolia) and divine palaces (Mt. Olympus) never made the cut.

If allowing for the inclusion of imaginary places, no one’s list can be expected to match another. My birthday was this week so I’m treating myself to my choice of the seven. Your results may vary.

Dream

  • The Dreaming

Starting in January of 1989 author Neil Gaiman, and a pageant of talented artists beginning with Sam Kieth, gave us a continuing (re)introduction to the realm of Morpheus. The Dreaming contains everything dreamt or that might be. One location within that is of particular note is Lucien’s Library. Like the features of the domain surrounding it, the books shelved here do not exist in the real world. They are yet to be written (presumably including my own works-in-progress); once completed they vanish from the Dreaming.

The original comic series ran for 75 issues. Roughly a year later, Derek Pearcy adapted the French game Magna Veritas. Steve Jackson Games published it under the name In Nomine. One supplement for this game offered dreamlands as the province of the Archangel Blandine.

  • Arda, The Realm, etc.

Even before the film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson, artists were inspired to explore the legendarium of Middle-earth. The resulting work is just as inspiring, particularly when the subject is any place called home by the Elves. More than just an extended stay – living in Lothlórien or Imladris (better known as Rivendell) would be ideal.

  • The Wizarding World

If Hogwarts existed in reality, I doubt I’d enroll. (I’m probably more of a mutant than a mage.) However, I would certainly appreciate a tour the campus. Moving stairwells. Animated oil paintings. Interactive ghosts. The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a fascinating place. If venturing into the wider, though hidden, world of J. K. Rowling it would be fun to window shop Diagon Alley and maybe meet a dragon.

  • The Discworld

Landfall would not be necessary for the most stunning vista here. A few orbits and scads of photos would suffice. Terry Pratchett stated that the inspiration of Great A’Tuin was a summary of a myth he read at about the age of nine. The description of a flat land on the backs of elephants, themselves on the back of a giant turtle, he claimed was part of a book on astronomy.

The turtle in question is doubtless Akūpāra, the Unbounded, from Hindu literature. Similar beliefs appear in the lore of Native American nations, such as the Iroquois and Lenape.

  • The Etherium

When I was asked for a review of Treasure Planet (2002), I said it was the Disney film for which I’d waited my whole life. The novel on which it is based was, of course, an assignment but I enjoyed reading it. Tall ships and astronomy are mostly unrelated, life-long fascinations. How could a combination be bad?

This very concept was explored in Swords of the Swashbucklers (Marvel Comics, Oct. 1984; Epic Comics, Mar. 1985-Mar. 1987) and the Spelljammer campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, Nov. 1989-Aug. 1993). There is also a scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), in which some of the characters escape from captivity by climbing the crescent moon. All the while, constellations swim like living creatures in the background.

Which brings us to Montressor Spaceport in the Etherium (i.e., outer space). Watching a crescent moon turn from this…

The Moon

to the view below was one of the most exciting elements of the film for me.

Montressor

  • The United Federation of Planets

Within the territory patrolled by Starfleet, one might wish to vacation on the so-called “Shore Leave planet” or on the “pleasure planet” of Risa. It would be interesting to witness two stars merging into one (as in “Ship in a Bottle”) or an actual Dyson sphere (“Relics”).

Alternatively, this could be where I’d snark about J. J. Abrams as a custodian of the Star Trek universe and the destruction of Spock’s homeworld but I’ll simply gesture in that direction – going straight on to planetfall.

t'khasi

Vulcan is a place about which I’ve some strong opinions. If fact-finding could happen on a fictional planet, this would be a dream come true.

Tardis

  • The TARDIS

The Doctor’s description of where the TARDIS can go is a perfect summary.

All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

Where?

A tour of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World ending with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon gift shop.