And here I was, using a typewriter to type addresses on envelopes or labels for maximum legibility and going to the trouble to look up the ZIP+4 code, because I wanted my letters to get there as quickly and as painlessly as possible. That turns out to be even more overkill than I thought: the USPS has a system for reading badly addressed mail: a single Remote Encoding Facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. There used to be 55 such facilities, but it’s been cut down to just one thanks to dramatically improved OCR. Tom Scott visits the facility in this video; Atlas Obscura had a short writeup in 2015.
Three years ago Tor.com published an essay of mine in which I argued that the classic fantasy map style was not something that would be used by characters in a fantasy world. Provocatively titled “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters,” it proved to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. The main complaint was that it was wrong for me to think that fantasy should follow the rules of the real world; fantasy was fantasy, and as such it was okay if its maps didn’t follow the rules.1 In fairness, my critics were the wrong audience for what I was trying to say.
They would also be the wrong audience for the book under consideration here: Putting the Fact into Fantasy, a collection of 50 short essays by various writers, edited by Dan Koboldt and published earlier this month by Writer’s Digest Books. The publisher is a hint as to the audience: these pieces are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction who want to up their game in terms of adding a touch of realism to their work. Because fantasy is built from recognizable real-world raw materials—horses and castles, archers and peasants, trade routes and languages, weapons and wounds—getting the real-world details right can in fact matter. They can save you from resorting to clichés, and knowledgeable readers from being thrown out of the story by what to them is an obvious error.2
In December 2020 I won an eBay auction for a 1968 Royal 200. With shipping, the typewriter came to a grand total of $63.87. It was an ultraportable made in Japan by Silver-Seiko and sold under the venerable Royal brand; the 200 appears identical to the better-known Mercury. Our example turned out to be surprisingly good, not just for what it was—a cheap, small typewriter—but full stop: it types better and faster than many ostensibly superior machines, and despite some yellowed plastic1 it remains in terrific shape. But while its platen and sound insulation could stand replacing, I wondered whether it was worth spending money upgrading such a cheap typewriter: the expense would not necessarily be recouped if we decided to sell the thing on. Meanwhile, the typewriter blogger Joe Van Cleave went and did to his Royal Mercury what I was simply musing about: he replaced the platen and installed a sound insulation kit, with good results. He clearly intends to keep using his, and at this point I think I’m likely to do the same with mine. Resale value should be a moot point in this context. In a way it’s too bad that it’s no longer quite as silly to get J. J. Short to recover its platen, now that Joe’s broken this ground. I liked the idea of doing something silly.