I’ve been thinking about maps, recently, for a number of reasons. I participated in a stimulating panel discussion about them last February at Capricon 38, in which we discussed historical maps, as well as the vital necessity of maps to writers engaged in worldbuilding. From the opening credits for Game of Thrones to nearly every video game in use today, maps are key to unlocking fictional worlds.

“Game of Thrones” Main Titles from Elastic on Vimeo.

I’ve been busily engaged in developing and and refining maps, drawings, and models of Rana Station, the eight-toroid habitat space station where my XK9 novels are set, for several years. If I don’t have a clear sense of how the terraced hillsides of my characters’ home Borough on Wheel Two look, or where things are in relation to each other, how will my readers ever have a clue?

I’m still working on a post about my Ranan maps–also still working on refining the maps themselves! They’ll be a subject for a future post. No, today I just want to share some of my favorite maps from other creators’ worlds, and talk about how necessary they are.

Tolkien’s Middle Earth: so many classic places! What would a quest novel be without a map?

Not everyone likes maps, or finds them relatable. This boggles my mind, but it’s true. I know perfectly wonderful people who relate to maps about as well as I relate to trigonometry (math-challenged artist, here, which really blows when I’m trying to get “space stuff” right! This means, however, that I always try to triple-check my numbers, and have better mathematicians “check my work.“).

But for a writer–not even specifically the writer of science fiction and fantasy; I mean almost ANY writer–you need to know where things are in your fictional world, how far away they are from each other, and what they look like.

Some of my all-time favorite, Ultimate Awesome maps are the ones found in the Deborah Crombie mystery novelsLaura Hartman Maestro creates them, and while they are based on real places in the real world (where Deb really goes in person, to do her painstaking research), they also incorporate places mentioned in the story, as well as animals and sometimes humans from the story, as well.

Laura Hartman Maestro’s map for the Deborah Crombie contemporary mystery novel Garden of Lamentations.

My friend Diana J. Bailey (wife of the fantasy and sf author Robin Wayne Bailey) is a retired Geologist/Environmental Scientist with the EPA, who frequently gives map critiques to fantasy and sf writers. She has a whole, exasperated spiel about how too many people haven’t figured out that tributaries run DOWNHILL.

The Mississippi River and its major tributaries: we don’t often appreciate the strategic and economic importance this navigable river system had to the development of the United States, but my friend Diana Bailey makes a strong, eloquent case.

She also likes to point out how essential it is to understand that land-forms and water flow dictate patterns of travel, which influence commerce, which influences society, and defines “what is a strategic location?” for any given fictional world. One of her pet peeves (mine, too, and I know we’re not alone) is a fictional world that doesn’t make geological sense.

Water is a crucial resource, as my friends in Yemen will tell you from bitter experience. It defines where people (and all lifeforms) gravitate. Geography and landforms also create barriers and/or passages for travel. No matter what stage of development your world has achieved, it almost certainly has a historyIt almost certainly has an economy. And it almost certainly has had some of those elements molded and adjusted by geography.

Writers fail to learn about this, or fail to use it in their worldbuilding, at their peril.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Vimeo and Elastic for the Game of Thrones Main Titles sequence from 2011; to Gizmodo’s io9 for the Tolkein map of Middle Earth, to Deborah Crombie’s “The Maps” page for the Garden of Lamentations map by Laura Hartman Maestro; and to Mondo Trudeau’s guide to World Geography Class at Caddo Magnet High School, for the map of the Mississippi and its tributaries. I appreciate you ALL!