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the objects it loves

25 June 2011 one comment

In working on a map of an entire world, one runs into the problem of scale.  If you know (or have created) your world as roughly twenty-five thousand miles ’round, and you have the lines that encompass the lands and all they contain, how, then, do you place two people on that map that are merely a day’s horsed ride from each other?  How far do the rivers run? Where are the mountains? Where are the Fields?  How far from the city does the King of Lenkolkelem actually rule?

I once saw a show about the super-deserts that would have lain in the center of the great continents of former epochs – Pangaea, Rodinia, Columbia – and what mechanisms would have driven their creation.  On the scale of our own planet, we see deserts formed by several factors.  The rain-shadow of the Gobi Desert is caused by the height of the Himalayas and connected ranges cutting off the Indian Ocean monsoons. The Atacama is the driest place on Earth due to the effect of the Humboldt Current in the southeastern Pacific. The Sahara is merely vast; the moisture from the surrounding bodies of water simply can’t make it into the interior.  With that said, on my planet I drew a continent that was roughly twice the width of the North American continent, but about as “tall.”  In our continent, we have the plains that run westward all the way to the Rockies, but the elevation increases steadily.  Our interior regions receive varying amounts of rainfall.  Still, however, we call much of that region the “Breadbasket of America.”  My goal with my drawn continent, which is named (in the local language) the “Fields of the Gods,” is for it to be a hyper-agrarian society, with great emphasis placed on farming and animal-raising.  However, the midsection of this continent is roughly two thousand miles from a major sea.  The coastal areas to the south will receive annual monsoons and seasonal cyclones based on the heat from the water currents that will flow around my other land masses at the equator.  Those rains will only penetrate the climate so far north.  Where, then, do major cities and outposts stop? Where do we begin to find mere scatterings of hard-living tribes eking out what may be subsistence-level lives?  And further, as this is meant to be a fantasy world, what dangers lie near those tribes?

Another quandary I ran into was the placement of tectonic boundaries.  On my initial drawing (back in 2005), I envisioned a major mountain range that split the planet virtually in half – or, more accurately, joined it – but I didn’t want to create one big landmass.  So, I envisioned the mountains trailing off into the aforementioned mid-latitude sea, connected by a deep underwater subduction zone.  My original thought was that every so often, the trench at the bottom of the sea would eventually thrust under the overlying layer, and generate a huge story-inducing tsunami.  What I hadn’t learned yet was that in every convergent boundary on Earth, our planet builds mountains.  Some of them are just rocks thrown skyward in great piles (the Himalayas), but most are volcanic (the Andes, the Cascades).  Or, if the boundary is deep enough underwater, the fractures the pressure causes in the crust will issue forth enough magma to form an island arc (the Aleutian Islands, Japan, practically all of Indonesia).  So, it was going to be tricky to have all this open water in between continents.

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham

I converted my drawn map to a vector image, so the edges would scale smoothly as I increased the magnification (no huge square pixels) and overlaid a grid of twenty-five squares wide on top.  I still haven’t figured out how to accurately scale my map onto something like a Mollweide or Mercator projection yet.  Subsequently, I scaled the map up to where only one square was on screen.  There was only one piece of shoreline, and that was it.  I still had no sense of scale.  Here was a nearly blank square, yet four Englands wide could fit into it.  I guess the next step is to keep breaking down each habitable square into tenths.  That should give me a total of (doing quick calculation… oh, jeez) twenty-five thousand maps to work with.  Minus hundred-square mile gaps of open ocean – but remembering where islands are supposed to go.  And I haven’t calculated, but I think I have more than 30% landmass.  Wee-hoo.

I have also realized that one language isn’t going to be enough.  I’ve started on another, and I should go ahead and plan for a total of at least five.  Inventing a language that dragons speak is going to be a challenge – that’s a varied set of vocal physiology.  But building a language is one of the more intellectually enjoyable things I’ve ever done – downloading a copy (210 pages on Legal paper) of the Proto-Indo-European lexicon was helpful in understanding etymologies.  Plus, some words invent themselves.  A word for “mother” (at least as far as mammalian species go) is likely to resemble sounds made by a nursing baby – most of the ones on this planet do.  Creating the alphabets, too, is a treat.

I’ve been working on this (at varying speeds) for six years, now.  I started when my mom was still alive – we didn’t even know she had cancer at the time.  She always wanted me to have kids, ostensibly to “carry on the name,” or some such.  That desire sailed away long ago.  But when I put pen to paper, or sit down at the keyboard to write more about this magical world, it makes me feel like I’m actually creating something.  Something that feels like it may last.  Maybe I’ll eventually do what I long to do and write a (hopefully) publishable story out of it.  Maybe follow in Gygax’s footsteps and create a game system.  Maybe an MMORPG.  Who knows?  But the ground underfoot feels really fertile, and there are thousands of miles – and thousands of years – of lands and lore to fill.

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

Elizabeth Bishop

photo credit: Dirk Delbaere

One Comment »

  • Emily said:

    This makes me smile.

    And you are Brilliant.