Forging the Mappa Mundi | Part 3

(continued from part 2)


Having covered general methods in part one and specific world-building approaches in part two, in this final series installment we shall be looking towards niche cartographic terminology which can be used to build upon cardinal directionality and which also serves to better elucidate the reader (or the forgetful author) as to the general-to-precise spatial arrangements within a given scene.


Distal and proximal: distal means furthest away from, whilst proximal means closest to. The terms are generally used for anatomical reference but can also be used to great effect in geographic spaces.

Latitude: the distance of a point north or south of the equator is its latitude. On a map, latitudes are represented by lines which ring the globe and are known are parallels (ie. the 45th parallel is 45 degrees north of Earth’s equator).

Longitude: the distance of a point on a globe which runs at right angles through lines of latitude that also pass through the poles are known as meridians of longitude. On a map, lines of longitude run north-south from a prime meridian (such as the Greenwich meridian).

Snapshot_2019-2-20_8-19-43

Planimetric: that which has only horizonticality and no verticality or that which symbolically represents horizonticality (such as a map) which does not indicate verticality. Distinct from topology due a lack of relief.

 

Topology: the underlying structure of a general area; the properties of a space that remain constant under natural or artificial depredations. Topologies primarily accentuate horizontal qualities but also suggest vertical qualities (such as through contour lines in a military map).

 

 

Forging The Mappa Mundi | Part 2

(continued from part 1)


In part one we covered the rudiments of establishing placefulness in fiction through spatial notation. In this installment we will be expanding upon our previous endeavour by focusing our attention on geographical clarity through directional signifiers.

Cardinal Directions and Landmarks

When attempting to establish geographical clarity in creative writing, think of everything directionally first, as you would with a map. Establish the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) and everything else can be made to follow.

The most obvious and immediately useful directional signifiers are landmarks; buildings, mountains, forests, oceans and celestial bodies, such as the sun, etc. The larger the landmark the easier it will be (generally speaking) to refer to it across the duration of ones text. For example, in my novella, The Silence & The Howl (forthcoming), there is a gigantic coal breaker which sits north-east of the principal setting, a small rust-belt town. The structure is introduced in the first chapter, and as such, establishes both the cardinal directions as well as a point of reference that can be continuously utilized for spatial orientation; by simply describing where the coal breaker is in relation to a given character or object, one instantly knows where north and east are and spatio-temporal orientation is established, such that, if a character moves south, one at the very least understands this is away from the coal breaker and thus away from all those described areas surrounding it.

Fictive Mapmaking

To help better remember the geography of your story, maps are quite invaluable, particularly if the world rendered is quite large and well-traveled. Yet, despite the usefulness of maps to worldbuilding, it is not a very popular practice (next time you are at a bookstore, walking through the fiction section, flip through the front and back covers and first and last pages of works on display, almost none of them will have maps of the world within the story). One of the reasons I induce that the making of maps for fiction is not widespread is that it forces the author to venture into unfamiliar territory, outside of his or her principal skillsets, however, if one finds oneself lacking in the requisite abilities, one may always use Inkscape or a similar, free image rendering program wherein manual dexterity gives way to technical, numerical specification. Of course, if one is daunted by both hand-drawn cartographies AND digitally rendered maps, then one might do well to recruit the aid of a friend or colleague who is more graphically inclined. Remember, the principal purpose of making a map, at the first, is the same reason one takes notes of character bios, landmark descriptions and dialogue; that is to say, it is a spatial note, for the benefit of the author, primarily, and need not be designed for the final work.

 

Snapshot_2019-2-7_18-12-18
Excerpt of The Ebstorf Map; c. 1235.

Forging The Mappa Mundi | Part 1

Of the essentials of a story, characters, theme, style and setting, the latter is perhaps the most difficult for new or dilettante writers to manage. Take for example this first paragraph excerpt from the short story Family Gathering by Paul Beckman from Fictive Dream (a excellent site).

The laughers come first. They always arrive early and announce their early arrival to the hostess who isn’t ready yet for company. They think the hostess will laugh along with them but she won’t. She hasn’t finished cooking, dressing, or putting on makeup. She tells the laughers this and they respond with guffaws. Guffaws are infuriating to the hostess. Meanwhile the host has his first drink of many. The laughers are his wife’s family, not his, and drinking is how he tolerates them.

Though the prose is good, never once does one get a sense of place — one understands that ‘the laughers’ and ‘the hostess’ abide in a house, but we have no idea what the structure is like in anywise. We are not told whether the house is big, small, old new, black, white, brown or purple, classical, neoclassical, modern or experimental; nor do we know what rooms are where nor how they are laid out. All that we know is that some people arrived at a house. The rest of the text is similarly vague as pertains to spatiality. It should be noted that carto-spatial descriptions within a text are not intrinsically necessary; for example, in a poem, wherein the chief aim is to stir some specific passion or passions, one need not delve into particularities of geography; the same goes for something like a hallucinatory scene or dream sequence wherein reality is “off.” However, in a story, particularly in a longform story with a specific setting, it is absolutely pertinent to establish some kind of definitive geographic layout otherwise all movements will be rendered indecipherable.

Compare the previous paragraph to the flash composition The Crossing by Philip Scholz:

“Buenas tardes,” the guard said.

“Hello,” he replied, not ready to try his Spanish. Which greeting was the guard using?

“What is your business?” the guard asked.

“Vacation.” He had no intention to return.

“Your passport, please,” the guard said, holding out his hand.

He handed over the fake one, hoping his shaking hand wasn’t noticed. This was the test. He had to stay calm.

The guard reviewed the passport without a word. Finally, he flipped it closed.

“Welcome to Mexico.”

Exhaling, he took back the passport and kept driving, now a country away from the wife whose throat he’d slit.

Whilst this piece is far shorter, is establishes geography far more quickly and decisively and, most importantly, without going out of its way to do so, by which I mean, at no point in the text does the narrative flow stop for geographic descriptors, rather, they are woven into the narrative in such a way as to maintain it and drive it forward to its terminus. In the latter piece, the author accomplishes placeness through “passport” and “guard,” as well as “Welcome to Mexico” all without ever saying “airport” — which is a testament to the fact that the general cartospatial shape of things is all that is fundamentally needed (in conjunction with some slight induction and deduction from the reader) to establish the mappa mundi — the map of the world.

Synnefocracy_Abstract.2

“I want to tame the winds and keep them on a leash… I want a pack of winds, fleet-footed hounds, to hunt the puffed-up, whiskery clouds.” ‒ F.T. Marinetti.

♦ ♦ ♦

Cartography of the Cloud

 It would be pointless to discuss synnefocracy in any further depth without first defining what The Cloud actually is. Briskly, The Cloud is both a colorful placeholder for a particular modular information arrangement utilizing the internet and a design philosophy. Clouds always use the internet, but are not synonymous with it. The metaphor illustrates informational exchange and storage that is not principally mediated through locally based hardware systems, but rather ones wherein hardware is utilized locally, but accessed remotely. The Cloud is what allows one to begin watching a film on one’s laptop and seamlessly finish watching on one’s tablet. It is what allows one daily access to an email without ever having to consider the maintenance of the hardware upon which the data in the email account is stored. The more independent and modular one’s software becomes from its hardware, the more ‘cloud-like’ that software is. It is not that The Cloud is merely the software, but that the storage size, speed and modularity are all aspects of the system-genre’s seemingly ephemeral nature. Utilization of a computer system rather than a single computer increases efficiency (and thus demands modularity) creating a multi-cascading data slipstream, the full geopolitical effects of which have, up til now, been relatively poorly understood and even more poorly articulated, chronicled and speculated upon, both within popular and academic discourse (and I should add that it is not here my purpose to craft any definitive document upon the topic, but rather to invite a more robust investigation).

Cloud computing architecture offers a number of benefits over traditional computing arrangements, namely in terms of scalability, given that anytime computing power is lacking (for instance, if one had a website that was getting overloaded with traffic), one can simply dip into a accessible cloud and increase one’s server size. Since one never has to actually mess about with any of the physical hardware being utilized to increase computing power, significant time (which would otherwise be spent modulating and setting up servers manually) and money (that would be spent maintaining extra hardware or paying others to maintain it for you) is saved. The fact that one (generally speaking) pays only for the amount of cloud-time one needs for their project also saves money and manpower (in contradistinction to traditional on-premise architecture which would require one to pay for all the hardware necessary, upfront) is another clear benefit.

This combination of speed, durability, flexibility and affordability makes cloud computing a favorite for big businesses and ambitious, tech-savvy startups and, as a consequence, have turned cloud computing itself into a major industry. There are two distinctive types of cloud computing: the deployment model and the service model. In the deployment model there are three sub-categories: public, private and hybrid. The best way of thinking about each model is by conceptualizing vehicular modes of transportation. A bus is accessible to anyone who can pay for the ride; this is analogous to the public cloud wherein you pay only for the resources used and the time spent using them and when one is finished one simply stops paying or, to extend our metaphor, one gets off the bus. Contrarily, a private cloud is akin to a personally owned car, where one pays a large amount of money up-front and must continue paying for the use of the car, however, it is the sole property of the owner who can do with it what he or she will (within the bounds of the law). Lastly, there is the hybrid cloud, which most resembles a taxi, where one wants the private comfort of a personal car, but the low-cost accessibility of a bus.

Some prominent public cloud providers on the market as of this writing include: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM’s Blue Cloud as well as Sun Cloud. Prominent private cloud providers include AWS and VMware.

Cloud service models, when categorized most broadly, break down into three sub-categories: On-premises (Op1), Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS), and, Software as a service (SaaS).

The impact of cloud computing upon sovereignty, particularly, but not exclusively, of states, is scantly remarked upon, but it is significant and is bound up within the paradigm shift towards globalization, however, it is not synonymous with globalization which is frankly, a rather clumsy term, as it does not specify what, precisely, is being globalized (certainly — within certain timescales, to be defined per polity — some things should not be globalized and others should, this requires considerable unpacking and, as a consequence shall not be expounded upon here).

Given that the internet is crucial for national defense (cyber security, diplomatic back-channels, internal coordination, etc) and that the favored computing architecture (presently – due the previously mentioned benefits) is cloud computing, it is only natural that states would begin gravitating towards public and private cloud-based systems and integrating them into their operations. The problem presented by this operational integration is that, due the technical specificity involved in setting up and maintaining such systems, it is cheaper, more convenient and efficient for a given state to hire-out the job to big tech corporations rather than create the architecture themselves and, in many cases, state actors simply do not know how (because most emerging technologies are created through the private sector).

The more cloud-centric a polity, the greater the power of the cloud architects and managers therein. This is due to several factors, the first and most obvious of which is simply that any sovereign governance structure (SGS) of sufficient size requires a parameterization of data flows for coordination. It is not enough for the central component of an SGS to know and sense, but to ensure that all its subcomponents know what it senses as well (to varying degrees) and to have reliable ways to ensure that what is sensed and processed is delivered thereto; pathways which the SGS itself cannot, by and large, provide nor maintain.

Here enters the burgeoning proto-synnefocratic powers; not seizing power from, but giving more power to, proximal SGSs, and in so-doing, become increasingly indispensable thereto. Important to consider, given that those factions which are best able to control, not just the major data-flows, but the topological substrates upon and through which those flows travel, will be those who ultimately control the largest shares of the system.


1Op is not a common annotation. Utilized for brevity. However, IaaS, PaaS and SaaS are all commonly utilized by those in the IT industry and other attendant fields.