I’ve always been a huge map nerd.
I love them in fantasy novels especially. In fact, one of my favorite things about reading fantasy novels are the maps. I could easily stare at them for a long time before even starting the book itself, and often, my impression of the book or series is informed by just how detailed the map is.
Weirdly enough, I love real maps, too, especially antiquated ones. It’s just fascinating to me how cartographers were able to draw them, despite lacking all the modern tools we have.
Unlike fantasy, space-based science fiction doesn’t seem to do as well with maps, or even world building. My biggest pet peeve are “monoworlds”. You see them all the time in sci-fi: planets that just have a single biome and temperature. There’s the Forest World, the Ice World, the Desert World, the Water World, with little no deviation in climate over an entire biosphere, if any at all.
I’m sure it’s possible for there to be worlds like that, maybe even probable, but I would think it would be more likely to have a world where it’s mostly desert, but also to have some wetter parts with a more Mediterranean type of climate. Or in the case of a world cooler than Earth but otherwise mostly the same, it wouldn’t all be necessarily ice and snow, but perhaps have a narrow band of temperate land on the equator where life was possible.
I’ve always known that if I wrote a series in space, I would avoid the sin of making only monoworlds. I want to go beyond that, to make my worlds feel unique and alive – if not to the level of detail as Frank Herbert (the creator of Dune), at least something a little less lazy that would make these places live in a reader’s imagination with some nuance that shows that these could be real places. Not to say I would never create a monoworld, but if I did, I would be sure to at least explain why the world was like that in the first place.
I used this really cool website called Fractal World Generator to make the map above, then sort of spiffed it up a bit in Photoshop. Nothing crazy, my Photoshop skills are nothing to write home about. It’s a bit crazy to think that a random world generator more or less inspired a lot of the content for the second novel in my new series, but that’s the case.
You set the parameters, and the site lets you play God and spit out entire worlds. This one I set to be 92% ocean coverage, and 33% ice cap coverage. A dozen clicks of the button until I found the map that looked just right. I opened it in Photoshop and started filling in the cities, making up names, imagining how its history might logically unfold, as well as what kind of native life populated it, and how it might interact with Earth life that would inevitably be introduced, and how that native life would respond to that, so on and so on…
Needless to say, it was a lot of fun, and might be my favorite thing to do as a writer. The most fun part about writing Xenoworld, to me, was imaging how a vastly different form of alien life might transform a planet.
Basically, I’m psyched that I discovered this Map Generator. At some point, assuming I have the money for it, I may even hire a professional illustrator to turn these maps into something more pleasing to the eye. In an ideal world (sorry), money wouldn’t be an object, and I’d probably include a ton of maps for the readers’ reference in each of my books.
Why we don’t see this more often with e-books is probably due to the fact that Amazon charges us poor authors delivery fees based on file size. Adding highly detailed maps inside an e-book increases the file size, increasing the delivery fee. A few cents here and there might not seem like a lot, but on the scale of possibly thousands of books sold, it most definitely adds up. I suppose you can charge a dollar more, but then that extra dollar might be enough to persuade many-a-new reader to look elsewhere.
So at best, maps must be limited, and adding something like ten maps to an e-book, as awesome as that might be in theory, is most likely unfeasible.
Long story short, long live maps.