Friday, November 18, 2016

Atlas of Oddities, Part Deux

Here's the sequel to the blockbuster prequel...  3 maps down, 3 to go.

In my 2013 April A-Z post on author Somtow Sucharitkul, I mentioned his alternate take on a Roman empire that conquered (or tried to conquer) the New World.  His original "Aquila" short stories were published in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in the 1980s, then later packaged into novels.  However, the novels didn't contain this gem of a map from the April 1982 issue of Asimov's!

Click to Maximus... er, maximize

I had to dig through a few boxes to find this one, but once I realized it wasn't online anywhere (at least anywhere easily searchable), I was determined to rescue and digitize it.  The map credit at lower left reads "J. R. Odbert."  I think most of the Latin puns are taken right out of Somtow's story, but I wouldn't put it past a crafty cartographer to insert more.  As I remember, a lot of the story takes place in and around the city of Caesarea, which I think is sitting where Omaha, Nebraska ought to be.  This is not your paterfamilias' Terra Nova!

The last two maps are things I've drawn.

Several times on this blog I've waxed on about my love of David Zindell's awesome first novel Neverness and its sequels.  I even wrote a fannish Travel Guide to his intricate and uplifting constructed universe -- which I heartily recommend to anyone about to read the books for the first time.  No spoilers in there!  Much of the action takes place on the largest island on a chilly planet named Icefall.  Zindell didn't include a map of the place, but I did my best to piece together something that could help readers navigate around...

I think my MS Office art skillz have matured a bit since first making this in 2011, but it does the job.  I do need to note that the TV show Family Matters didn't exist when Zindell came up with the name of that southern-most mountain, but I wonder if he found it a minor source of embarrassment when writing the sequels...

Okay (gulp), the final map today is something I drew back in the 1980s.  When my friends and I played D&D, we took turns running the game, and we each took control of a continent on a larger world.  We blithely ignored the realities of such a setup, and each new adventure usually started with something like "As you're disembarking from the ship from Brian's continent, you see...."

Anyway, here's mine.  I did my best to enhance the image, but the original is very lightly-drawn pencil on notebook paper...

I suppose there's a symmetry between my "Ponténar" with the mythical "Poseidonis" that I talked about in the previous post.  I originally designed the coastlines by tracing over a map of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and imagined a whole Greek-themed Atlantis-ish empire in the southern part.  I eventually added some extra land up in the north, because my actual contour of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge just didn't have enough surface area for everything I wanted to squeeze in.

Unfortunately, I never got to tell the stories of many of the places on this map.  Invorum up north was a hidden stronghold of powerful wizards.  The unfortunate dwarfs of Felak-Gizan were enslaved by the Tachyran empire, and were soon going to get their revenge.  See that island in the bay between Tachyra and Yaxaan?  The volcano on that sucker was going to cause trouble for hundreds of miles around.

As I look at the place names in my map, I also see a litany of morphed names of people that meant a lot to me back then.  I'm not going to tell you who Meaghra, Rendin, Gyule, and Kalapis are named after, but each one gives me a lump in the throat.

Ah, well.  I think counter-factual maps like these are tempting vessels for us to pour in our weird, wild thoughts & dreams... and mix them up in ways that sometimes surprise even the mapmaker.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Atlas of Oddities, Part 1

Psst... hey... want to see some weird maps?  I've done this once before, and now I've got six more to share... this time including a few of my own creations.  But I realize that my blog posts tend to be loooong... so I'll split it up.  Just three maps here, and three to come later.

Back in the summer, I posted about my childhood obsession with UFO pulp magazines of the 1970s.  "Weird, wild stuff," to paraphrase Johnny Carson.  Looking back through them, I did find one interesting alt-history-ish map of an antediluvian world that hosted the lost continent of Atlantis, as well as... the land of Oz...?

Click on all these for bigger versions.

The article, from Ancient Astronauts Special (Summer 1978), was called "Atlantis Reawakened."  I can't quite find an author byline for the article, but the map contains an artist's signature on the lower left that I can't quite make out.  The story talked about Dogma, the doomed daughter of King Chronos of Poseidonis (also doomed).  Concerning the map itself, I'm a little scared to ask why northern Africa was called "Teutonia," but I'm fascinated by them placing the "Land of Canaan" up near Hudson Bay.  Still, calling Atlantis "Poseidonis" is quite poetic, don't you think?

An interesting bookend to the above is Jack Kirby's future world of Kamandi.  I didn't read those comics back in the 1970s... nor have I read them since... but they seem like a crazy ride:

On the heels of the success of the Planet of the Apes franchise, DC Comics was looking for a similar post-apocalyptic story with humans in the beleaguered minority.  But one simply doesn't give Jack Kirby the job of doing a knock-off story.  What he gave them was orders of magnitude weirder.  I wonder if this far-future world was an influence on the world of "Ooo" in Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time.

Speaking of DC comics, I clearly remember this map of Superman's home planet of Krypton from the comics of the Silver Age:

I simply do not accept any more recent revision of the planet Krypton that doesn't contain the Gold Volcano, the Jewel Mountains, or the Glass Forest.

Whoops, none of my own maps made it into this post.  Stay tuned!  :-)

Monday, October 24, 2016

She's wayfinding

Long-time readers will remember frequent commenter Suze, whose blogs were the stuff of legends and lore.  She's got a new online home now, and I'm still figuring out how to get it to appear in my Blogger Blogroll of Bloggerifficness.  (I think it's working now...)  Two weeks ago was the launch of her first published book, Kyle Finds Her Way, with Harry Potter publisher Scholastic!

The author herself pegs the recommended age range as 1 to 92.  If you like earnest slices of life from a middle schooler learning how to navigate life's starry expanse, while not getting into too much (or too little) trouble along the way, this book is for you.

I was privileged to read Kyle's story in draft form back in April 2013, back when I got the email saying that
First draft of the first book of my Middle Grade series now complete at 42,989 words.  Pop-Rocks-covered strawberries for everyone, on me -- the next big thing in Junior High libraries the galaxy over.
Never underestimate an author who likes pop-rocks-covered strawberries, people.  And I just realized where my extra copy is going.

I still haven't finished reading the final published version, but I went back to my email archive to find out what I said about that first draft.  I can quote snippets such as "warmed my heart" and "wonderful story" and "Hooray for Devil's Dinner!" (though I'm not sure that part survives into the final book).  I can't find any words from 2013 that really do proper justice to this kind, thoughtful story, but maybe I'll edit this post once I come up with some new ones.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pop Head Canon

You're familiar with this "headcanon" thing, right?  It's just the idea that there are some stories and characters that we love so much, we can't resist filling in the gaps a bit.  Who among you doesn't have your own private little story about what Luke Skywalker was doing between Cloud City and Jabba's palace?  Or what Kermit and Miss Piggy's kids might look like?

For as long as I can remember, I've done this for pop songs.  They pack so much emotion into 3 or 4 minutes, but not a lot of detail.  I heard an old song today that reminded me of this, because sometimes the headcanon takes over the reality.  In all my desire for a happy ending, I forgot that Dave Loggins' Please Come To Boston doesn't end with him going back to Tennessee like he really, seriously, oughta.

Other times the headcanon is just me imagining specific people (real or fictional) as the protagonist of the song.  Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down came out around the same time as some other stirring world events, and the two are linked in my head.  On a lighter note, I can't help but thinking about fictional Al & Peg Bundy whenever Meatloaf's Paradise by the Dashboard Light is on the radio.  More recently, I realized that that the lyrics to that silly "cups" song is actually the perfect accompaniment to Clara Oswald's departure from Doctor Who last year... even including the "long way round."

Sometimes the stories from songs and TV shows are explicitly intertwined.  I'm sure virtually nobody will remember Christopher Cross' Swept Away, but it always makes me wonder whether, after the final episode of Growing Pains, Mike Seaver eventually fell out with whats-her-name and got on a plane back to Hawaii.

Then there are the ones that I'm convinced have some secret backstory, but I don't know what it is.  Do you know there are 2 seemingly unconnected songs, released 11 years apart by completely different artists, that both: (1) mention the River Seine in France, (2) are sung in an admonishing way to a listener who better stop doing something bad, or else, and (3) are positioned as the second to last track on the B side of their respective albums.  So, were Billy Joel ("Somewhere Along the Line") and Don Henley ("Drivin' with Your Eyes Closed") sending out a coordinated message to the same person, across the years?!

There are some songs, of course, into which I have to put myself as the protagonist, but no need to mention those.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Hey, do you remember when I was doing the April 2015 A-Z on Fiery Manifestos?  Nearly every day I was struck by the dichotomy in these things... some were championing the right to be independent and

"do your own thing,"

and others were all about the interdependency of a world in which we all ought to

"be kind to one another."

My mind was reeling, going back and forth between these seemingly incompatible utopian goals on a daily basis.  It's also easy to see them in the eternal war of words between opposite sides of the political spectrum.

However, on the drive home from work yesterday, I think I figured it out.  You want to find your purpose?  Your True Will (or maybe the Will of God)?  Find yourself the path through the forest of life that maximizes both goals.  Forget about trying to meet in the mushy middle between the two.  Build up both sand-castle peaks as high as you can.

(Enough metaphors for ya?)

Once you find that maximizing path and start walking along it, you'll not only be independently doing your thang, but you'll also be in service to others and making their lives better.  You know, in that way that only you can do?  If you're building up only one of the two sand castles, and not the other, you may not be on that path yet.

I think this could be a sublimely practical compass.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Assyrian Ancient Astronauts?

Once again, I'm caught between two conflicting desires.  On the one hand, I want to write about something weirdly oddball and unique -- something special to me, something that seems to have no other home on the internet that I can find.  On the other hand, I don't want to make it look like I'm making fun of this strange little cultural artifact.

(Above, I said "once again" because I've done this dance before.  I'm still not sure I should have written about the infamous Alphabet of Neptune.)

Sigh.  I'll proceed, hopefully with enough caveats to show that I don't want to belittle anyone's beliefs or put down the creativity of a hardworking writer.

What's this all about?  The UFO craze from the 1950s to the 1980s led to some interesting publications.  As a teen growing up in northern New Jersey, we saw a lot of colorful pulp magazines from New York City that I'm not sure made it to other parts of the country.  I couldn't get enough of "Official UFO," which often contained long-form treatises about how to spot hidden aliens, Elvis' posthumous life in hiding, and all forms of visitations and abductions.  But something in the April 1980 issue of spinoff magazine "Ancient Astronauts" caught my eye...

See that blurb at the bottom?  "Cosmic mystery of the Assyrian poem!"  The article inside talked about a recently discovered clay tablet, translated by esteemed archaeologist Irwin Wilson (of whom the internet has no memory), and which proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the ancients had astronomical knowledge only obtainable from contact with space-faring beings.

I'm being snarky.  Apologies.  My teenage brain kind of believed it (i.e., really wanted to believe it), while simultaneously realizing it must be a pure fake.  I kept the hopeful dissonance alive for several years.  As a result, it's been firmly lodged in the back of my mind for three decades.  Seeing it nowhere else on the web, I feel the need to preserve it.  Like a clay tablet buried beneath the shifting sands, maybe?  I won't reproduce the whole article, but I will show a scan of the first page, then transcribe the actual poem with some astronomical commentary on each part.

Click to enlarge

The "poem" is a list of ten children and their characteristics.  The idea is that they're metaphors for the planets in our solar system.  There were things there that ancient humans couldn't have known, but were only discovered "recently" (by 1980).  The kicker would be to find things in the poem that weren't known in 1980, but are now.  Let's search!

The first child, fleet and warped, shall by his mother be consumed in flame.

Mercury is the fastest moving planet.  I don't think it's particularly "warped" in shape, but its orbit is modified by the gravitational warping of spacetime so near the sun.  We're pretty sure that in 5 billion years or so, it will be the first planet to be engulfed by the dying sun.  All this was known in 1980.  :-)

The second child, though known as beauty, shall be found a cursed thing. Poison and strangulation shall lie under her diaphanous gown. Liar is her name.

A little harsh on poor Venus, don't you think?  Sure, its atmosphere turned out to be dense and highly toxic.  But before that, all we had was Edgar Rice Burroughs and his phantastical dreams of a tropical paradise under all those clouds.

The third child, brother to them all...

Interesting choice for Earth to be gendered male, while the Sun is female.  Note that this line tags the word "brother" to refer elsewhere to humanity and its home.

The fourth child, angry eye of war, shall be a disappointment. No kin of kin to brother after long hope. His face is broken, four boils shall wash his face with tears.  Yet, he shall one day be known as hope.

I guess the Viking missions to Mars in the late 1970s were a bit of a let-down to baby boomers, for whom the terms "space alien" and "Martian" were almost synonyms.  The 1970s also saw the first detailed maps of Martian geography, which included the Tharsis plateau and its four huge volcanos (boils).  "Hope?" Nah, he shall one day be known as Mark Watney.

The fifth brother, lost to his brother, was by his mother most joyously born. All blessings and gladness did he receive and he shall be long remembered by _______ (The name or term cannot be translated -- I.W.) He is broken now and his body has been eaten by his kin -- to their delight or despair. His memory shall one day return.

Now it gets interesting.  The fifth brother seems to be the putative progenitor of the asteroid belt, which some used to call Phaëton.  Trouble is, the astronomers have pretty much come to universal agreement that the asteroids were never all joined into a single planet.  They just are remnants of the original "planetesimals" that were there at the start of the solar system.  Maybe asteroid mining will someday help bring all this rapturous joy back to the brother!

The sixth child is father to the mother and will rage like her. His children offer much hope to the brother, a link to _______. In the years he will feed his brother. He shall wear a crown but lightly, a mock to brother next. He apes his mother and so he must burn.

Big burly Jupiter is often thought of as a "failed star," but it's really nowhere near massive enough to "rage" like the sun.  The Voyager probes visited Jupiter in 1979, and found all sorts of surprises on its moons -- from ice floes on top of water oceans (Europa) to the most active volcanos in the solar system (Io).  Voyager also discovered a faint, dinky ring system.  Nothing in comparison to Saturn's crown, of course.

The seventh child, both fat and squat, bears a glorious crown and shall be loved by his brother for his first child. The child is faith to brother and will give up treasures to all. Blessed be the child of the seventh! He shall quench the angry eye of war and melt the tarnished sword.  The seventh keeps his child warm.

Saturn is the most oblate (slightly hamburger shaped) of the known large planets.  But what's all this about its first child, Titan?  Our Assyrian friends heap so much praise on this little moon!  In the 1970s we knew about its thick atmosphere, but it wasn't until 2004 that its liquid hydrocarbon lakes and rivers began to be mapped.  What it's got to do with Mars (the angry eye of war), I have no idea.

The eighth child, merriest of them all, shall turn his bald pate to his mother. Tipsy, he shall dance with his children where he lays.  He shall be crowned, but lightly.  His name shall be mystery.  Beyond sight of brother ... to follow his turning to the right star.  Immortal is his form.

Oh, come on.  Uranus is just merry because of the infinite puns made about its name.  It does orbit around an axis tilted at roughly 90 degrees from where it ought to be -- and it's got a faint set of rings -- but we knew that stuff in the 1970s, too.  Uranus was the first of the "modern" planets discovered via telescope, so it's only "beyond sight of brother" to the naked eye.

The bits about "to follow his turning to the right star," and immortality, intrigued me a lot.

The ninth child, terrible is his name, is the step but last to infinity. Lost of crown, lost of son, he shall be eclipsed by child stolen by broken kin. At his end shall be found by brother the new beginning...

The ninth is Neptune, and his "lost son" is probably meant to be Pluto.  I'm pretty sure the idea that some cosmic collision resulted in Pluto's ejection from Neptune's gravity was being talked about prior to 1980.  Pluto's weird orbit sometimes takes it closer to the sun than Neptune.

"Lost of crown?"  Nope, it turns out Neptune does have a faint ring system like the other gas giants.  Wikipedia says it was first discovered in 1968, but I don't think it was widely known until much later.

The tenth child, cold be his name, is slow and blind.  No heat there is for him.  Tiny are his children.  He wears no crown.  For many ages unknown will he be to brother.  He throws combs at his mother for her ingratitude. His brother shall know him when he takes his eyes from his face.

Here's Planet X.  Or, maybe Planet IX now that we've renumbered.  In the last year or so, there have been some tantalizing hints that there really may be a massive planet way out there, though the idea of it has been in circulation for almost a century.  If it exists, it may alter the orbits of some other asteroids, but it's not the same thing as the Oort Cloud (which does appear to send "combs" into the inner solar system).  "Eyes from his face" may refer to space telescopes?

The eleventh child...  (Here the manuscript breaks off.)

Oh, those Assyrian teases.

In hindsight, yes, this was hokey and silly.  It doesn't really pass the basic test of predicting things that weren't known in 1980 but are known now.  If only it talked about hexagonal clouds on Saturn, dried river beds on Mars, heart-shaped blemishes on Pluto, or pillars of salt on Ceres!

However, I've got to give it to the writer (listed as "Mark Matthews," but I wouldn't doubt pseudonyms were common) for assimilating so many contemporary astronomical discoveries into the world of myth.  This helped my teenage mind soar into the outer heliosphere, that's for sure!