The Map Is The Territory

In which I geek out about maps. Especially mine.

You know what? I’m incredibly stoked that there’s a map of Nova Hesperia in the front of CLASH.

I’ve always loved maps. When I first read The Hobbit at some tender age, I probably spent as much time looking at Thorin’s map in the frontispiece as I did reading the words. My strongest reason for wanting to read Lord of the Rings -might- well have been to find out more about the territory, and my biggest complaint about the Narnia books was the relative dearth of cartography. I liked the real world too, and the heavens above; I spent a lot of those same tender years poring over a world atlas and studying the constellations on my planisphere.

Even now I find it notoriously easy to get derailed by maps. While doing some minor fact-checking for CLASH I picked up the Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood, and that was it for the next three days. In my office I have a noticeboard. Most of it is covered with maps of pre-Columbian America: the extent of the Mississippian culture, the rough territories of the other nations and tribes, the… You get the idea.

My editor and I did bandy around the idea of having a map in the front of CLASH, but it took a long time for us to get serious. For one thing we were busy with other issues like, say, making sure all the words in the book were right. But I never quite let go of the idea… even though it actually costs me money.

Yep. The map is extra artwork, and someone has to pay for that. If it costs $X to commission a map, then that $X is added to the amount I have to earn out on my advance before I start receiving royalties. There ain’t no such thing as a free map. Well, that’s how it worked for me. Other authors’ mileage may vary, but I have no problem with the logic.

While I was still mulling over whether or not to do it, someone I deeply trust made the comment to me that having a map wasn’t going to sell any books. Damn. I must have bought a slew of fantasy (and straight historical) novels over the years based almost solely on the map inside the front cover. I must be weird. Again. So I checked with some of my writer friends, and was quite relieved when they came back and said “Oh yeah, I’m the same.”

Then again, I chose them as friends, so there may be a selection effect involved here. Hmm.

Anyway, even if they’d all said “Naw,” I’d still have wanted the map.

Its creation was an interesting collaboration. Here’s how it went:

It’s New Year’s Eve 2013 and I’m sitting on the floor surrounded with atlases and topographic maps of North America, writing a thousand-word treatment of what I think the map should look like. It starts off something like this:

“So what we need is a map of the eastern half of North America, but greatly simplified and perhaps containing deliberate errors. We will essentially be looking at it like Romans. To the West the map will be bounded by the Rockies, which are not named, and about which little is known except that there are spiky, snowy mountains there. At least for the first book, the map will not include the western coastline of North America. Featured on the map will be:”

And then a bunch of notes about which rivers, seas, bays, mountains, towns, and trails should be named, and information about the territories of the named tribes, and thoughts on fonts and, gosh, whatever else I could throw in there to state in words the kind of thing I was thinking of. If I could draw I might have sketched it out, but I have no talent in that area at all.

And I sent it in, and then nothing happened for a very long time, and towards the end of 2014 my editor and I were like “Oh, crap, the map,” and went into high gear. We got a map back from the designer and I was like “Well that’s sort of what I had in mind, except what I –should- have said was…”

And back and forth we went: four times, with ever shortening intervals between, and I think we all agreed on the final version at the absolute final possible moment before printing when it could still have been included. I’m not exaggerating here.

But it’s awesome. Truly.

It’s North America in a different universe. A North America with few boundaries and no states, where the waterways are the dominant lines of communication. A North America of the thirteenth century, as it might be perceived by peoples with both Native American and Roman perspectives and influences.

More than that I can’t say without giving away some plot points, so you’ll have to take my word for it: This map is Nova Hesperia. In this case, the map is the territory. And I love what the artist did with it: the similarities to the real North America and the subtle distortions, the simplifications and exaggerations that real early cartographers might have made, the way the forests and mountains are shown. The fonts. The whole deal.

And so here it is, by kind permission of Del Rey and the artist. Please, for my sake and his, if this map propagates anywhere else, make sure Simon Sullivan’s name, copyright and Web site credit stay associated with it, as follows:

Map (c) 2015 by Simon Sullivan,

And including my name, and the name of the book, wouldn’t hurt either. Thanks, and enjoy!

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