Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything

Four More Map Stories

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?

More: Fiction About Maps, part of the Fantasy Maps project.

Previously: Four Map Stories.