Map blogger. Science fiction and fantasy critic and writer. Snake whisperer.

Category: Science Fiction & Fantasy Page 1 of 6

The Cartographers

I bet you’ve been wondering what I thought about Peng Shepherd’s novel The Cartographers (William Morrow/Orion, March 2022). After all, it’s a literary fantasy about maps: is it even possible for a book to be more relevant to my interests? Well, wonder no longer, because I’ve reviewed it for Strange Horizons.

This piece is a little bit different from the usual review, in that it examines The Cartographers in the context of mysteries and fantasy that deploy similar map tropes, as well as the idées fixes our culture has about maps. As I write in the review, there’s an awful lot for me to unpack:

I have been writing about maps for nearly two decades, and in that time I have encountered many works of fiction that incorporate maps and map tropes into their storytelling, whether as paratexts or as plot elements, and I have never encountered a story, at any length, as thoroughly encompassed by maps as The Cartographers. It’s not just that almost every character in the book works with maps in some fashion, whether as a cartographer, artist, librarian, map dealer, or technician. Nor are maps just a plot point—they are the point. The Cartographers is a Stations of the Map: its pilgrimage follows a path that touches on so many aspects of maps and mapmaking, from academic cartography to fire insurance maps. It spends time on the purpose and meaning of maps: it aspires to an almost Socratic dialogue. It deploys familiar fantasy genre tropes about maps. But it’s structured as a mystery novel, and opens with a murder.

Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books (UK) | Bookshop

Fantasy Blockbusters and the Failure of the Long Tail

Matthew Claxton sees the recent chartbusting Kickstarter by Brandon Sanderson as evidence of a disconnect between a small group of big names racking up the sales and the rest of the field, which gets critical attention but not much else. Also that Chris Anderson’s Long Tail, as applied today, is deeply broken when it comes to discoverability: “But where we were promised frictionless discovery, we got a series of loops back into the same things, over and over and over again. Rothfuss and Sanderson Jordan and G. R. R. M. and Tolkien and Lynch and Abercrombie, and you’re a couple of levels deep before you start regularly seeing names like Fonda Lee or R. F. Kuang. (And many of their recs will lead you back to guess where?).”

Putting the Fact in Fantasy

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

Undiscovered Territories

My review of Robert Freeman Wexler’s short story collection, Undiscovered Territories (PS Publishing, 2021), is now online at Strange Horizons. “Wexler’s stories inhabit the same emotional universe. There is a certain similarity to his protagonists and the situations they find themselves in. By and large they are men. More to the point, they are uprooted, unattached, and unhappy men: sensitive, socially and romantically isolated, unhappy in their employment, miserable to varying degrees of desperation, and above all else alone. In many of these stories, it’s into these miasmas of masculine anxieties that the speculative elements intrude, and offer a path out—whether emotionally or literally.” Amazon (UK)

Maps in Science Fiction

My article “Maps in Science Fiction,” which attempts a taxonomy of the maps that appear in science fiction novels, stories and media, has just been published in the February 2022 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction. It took a while for this to see print—I started work on it in the summer of 2014—but I’m glad it finally has: science fiction maps don’t get a fraction of the attention fantasy maps do, and I think I might have come up with some useful frameworks in this piece. The complete text of the article will be posted at some point; in the meantime, I’ve posted a bit of a teaser to The Map Room. But if you really can’t wait, you can buy the NYRSF issue here; it costs just US$2.99 in the usual electronic formats.

Update: Read the article here.

Gorodischer Passes

It is an indictment of how writers in other languages are overlooked that I cannot find a single item in English about the passing of Argentine writer Angélica Gorodischer, who died yesterday in her lifelong home city of Rosario at the age of 93. Here’s El País in Spanish. Of the four books of hers translated into English, I’ve read three: Kalpa Imperial, Trafalgar and Prodigies. (A fourth, Jaguars’ Tomb, came out last year.) Kalpa Imperial got the most attention (it was translated by Le Guin) and Prodigies is difficult; as for Trafalgar, a series of mischievous tall space tales from an unreliable narrator, it’s one of my favourites. In 2003, on the occasion of their publishing Kalpa Imperial, Small Beer Press presented 20 Questions with Angélica Gorodischer.

Update: A post from Small Beer Press, On Publishing Angélica Gorodischer, is a behind-the-scenes look at how they came to publish her in translation.

Mermaid Care: Story Notes

My first professionally published story, “Mermaid Care,” a flash piece with a creepy take on anthropomorphism and the exotic animal trade, can be found in the December 2021 issue of Mermaids Monthly—which is now officially available to the general public, both online and in the usual ebook formats.

It’s only 950 words long, so there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t go read it right now. Since I’m going to talk about the story’s origins and inspirations in this post, everything will make more sense if you’ve read the story first.

The Kim Stanley Robinson Moment

A profile of Kim Stanley Robinson in this week’s New Yorker, focusing on his recent novels about the challenges of climate change, and on his most recent, The Ministry for the Future, which has caught particular fire at this critical moment. “‘The Ministry for the Future’ gave me a sense of the space. It shows our prospects to be both imaginable and variable: we can still redraw the plans. Perhaps because the novel fills a vital narrative gap, it achieved an unusually wide readership. Barack Obama included it on his list of the best books of the year; the Times columnist Ezra Klein said that all policymakers should read it. Christiana Figueres, the U.N. diplomat who led the effort to create the Paris agreement, listened to the novel in her garden and wept.”

Burning Girls and Other Stories

My review of Veronica Schanoes’s Burning Girls and Other Stories (Tor.com, 2021) is now online at Strange Horizons. “What Schanoes is doing, in other words, is practicing a realist mode of fairy-tale storytelling, one that knows what the source material is about but grounds it in times and places appropriate to its themes.” Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

Meanwhile, at the start of every year Strange Horizons asks its reviewers to look back at what they’ve read, watched and played over the past year. Despite having read much less in 2021 than I have in every other year over the past decade, I managed to contribute a few paragraphs, which you can read in “2021 in Review: Part One.”

‘Twitter Is the Worst Reader’

Having been on the receiving end of Twitter vitriol half a dozen times, sf writer Fonda Lee has some thoughts about being in the crosshairs of the rage machine. “Twitter removes the trust between writer and reader by flattening meaning to the single most offensive understanding and proliferating that version alone. […] For the most part, we authors write for a receptive, open-minded audience, an audience that has paid money for our work and wants to trust us. Twitter is the opposite of that, a twisted looking-glass version of reality in which the readership beyond our immediate circle is poised with hostile scrutiny.”

Soup Ads and SF

I did not know until today that German publisher Heyne once had a policy of inserting two-page adverts for Maggi soup (and presumably other products) into the text of their books, and that when Terry Pratchett found out about it he dropped them as his German publisher. It also apparently happened to Iain M. Banks—and to Duane Duane, who discovered similar soup ads in the German translations of her Star Trek Romulan novels. (This seems rather more pervasive than my my German ex-girlfriend’s soup obsession, which I found kind of endearing at the time. Then again, she was an sf reader: maybe the ads burned something deep into her psyche.)

Movie Night of the Cooters

George R. R. Martin paused his journey into the sun to report that Howard Waldrop’s classic story “Night of the Cooters”—in which the Martians of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds invade a small town in Texas whose sheriff has a passing resemblance to Slim Pickensis being made into a short film, with Vincent d’Onofrio directing and starring. Shot on green screen, with effects to follow during a lengthy post-production; I suspect we ought not to expect great things from this. But the fact that any Waldrop story is being filmed in any fashion—that’s noteworthy.

Rabbit Island

My third review for Strange Horizons, which looks at Elvira Navarro’s short story collection Rabbit Island (Two Lines Press, 2021) is now online. “In eleven relatively short stories—the book is only 164 pages long—Rabbit Island draws on the fantastic to offer a bleak look at contemporary Spain; its arrival in English translation comes at a point where it is unexpectedly pertinent.”

Amazon (Canada, UK) | Apple Books | Bookshop

‘Art as a Mirror, Never as a Doorway’

Lincoln Michel’s response to the Isabel Fall controversy (previously) has a sharp point about the tendency toward what he calls puritan readings of art. “Art needs criticism to thrive, and there is certainly plenty of hateful, racist, sexist, and otherwise bigoted (or just badly made) art out there quite deserving of our scorn. But there is a difference between criticism and harassment. There is a difference between attacking bigotry and in demanding that art be unambiguous is its moral messaging. There is a difference between art—beautiful, strange, complex, and messy art—and Goofus and Gallant comic strips.”

Some Weekend Reading

The rekindling of Fireside magazine (Andrew Liptak, Transfer Orbit): “Now, Fireside is looking to right the ship. After the controversy broke, Brian White, the magazine’s original founder and former Editor-in-Chief, stepped in as the publication’s Interim Editorial Director to save the publication, and is now implementing some new changes to try and steer the magazine back to sustainability.”

Queer readings of The Lord of the Rings are not accidents (Molly Ostertag, Polygon): “Revisiting the book in the last year, as someone who has been out for many years and who is deeply engaged in making and consuming queer stories, I was amazed to find a same-sex love story at the heart of the narrative.” Frodo and Sam: obvious in hindsight—and, here’s the thing, it was not necessarily not deliberate on Tolkien’s part.

How Twitter can ruin a life (Emily VanDerWerff, Vox): “In January 2020, not long after her short story ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter’ was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.” I’m not sure Twitter is to blame here, rather than an online sf community that’s gotten comfortable with punching down for great justice. On the other hand:

Did Twitter break YA? (Nicole Brinkley, Misshelved): Young-adult writers have turned to Twitter to connect with their audience; this has not turned out well. “Relying on Twitter to shape a culture like YA publishing inevitably leads to a moment where the most vulnerable participants in that industry will break. Either they become part of the rage machine, or the rage machine turns on them.”

Page 1 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén