Category Archives: Reading

Writers, maps, and a cool coincidence

Yesterday I started reading Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (2004). It’s been on my radar for a while. I love maps–I’ve written several books about cartography–and was curious about how Turchi would handle the metaphor of the book as map. The immediate catalyst for getting Maps of the Imagination from the library was seeing it cited in Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife.

I am finding it a satisfyingly chewy read. Here’s an early example:

Discussing the idea that a story is unexplored before it is written and thus presents  overwhelming opportunities, Turchi notes, “This explains why it can be so difficult for beginning writers to embrace thorough revision–which is to say, to fully embrace exploration. The desire to cling to that first path through the wilderness is both a celebration of initial discovery and fear of the vast unknown.”

The last thing I did last night was glance at Turchi’s afterword, which describes the genesis of and influences on the book. He mentions “the work of Edward Tufte,” which rang  a bell. I had come across a reference to Tufte quite recently, but where and what?

I looked at the facing page, which is the last past of Turchi’s bibliography, to see if Tufte were cited. When I saw a citation for Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information I remembered that my friend Magda had tweeted last week about finding an online edition of that work.

Then I happened to glance up the page and saw my own name. Turchi included my Young Oxford Guide to Maps and Mapmaking (Oxford University Press, 1995) in his biblio. Made me proud.

Maps and Mapmaking was the longest nonfiction book I’ve written to date, 900+  pages in manuscript, and one of the most challenging, but also one of my favorites. Advances in cartographic technology have rendered out of date the parts of the book that deal with contemporary mapmaking. The sections on the history of cartography and on important maps and mapmakers, though, were near and dear to my heart.

I just ordered a copy of Maps of the Imagination for my shelves. From Powell’s, not Amazon. I had to add a bunch more books to the order to meet the $50 threshold for free shipping, but that, alas for my budget, is never a problem.

Writing, watching, soon reading

Must . . . finish . . . book . . .

Nova Swing is waiting.

After my major work interruption of last June through February, during which I missed a ton of deadlines, I renegotiated all those deadlines with my publisher. The result was a tight but doable schedule that would push me through the overdue mss. and then on to new work. But of course I am already falling behind that optimistic schedule. I had hoped to have finished a ms. on Forensic Anthropology (part of a series for middle-school-age kids) by now. Or by last Thursday or Friday. It’s a wonderful subject with lots of fascinating details and anecdotes, but my work habits are, er, rusty.

But now I am motivated to finish, and that right swiftly. Such as maybe by Tuesday. Not only do Zach and I have plans for later in the week, including a big dinner party for an out-of-town guest on Saturday, but my copy of Nova Swing arrived yesterday. I want to read it but can’t in good (or even mediocre) conscience do so until I have turned in at least one piece of work!

I loved Light but somehow, inexplicably, never got around to reading this follow-up novel. I don’t expect it to have the same impact on me as Light, but I’m expecting a damn fine M. John Harrison read.

On another note, we rashly invested two hours last night in another Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie. When will we learn? By 8 or 10 minutes into Star Runners, Zach and I were competing to call out references/homages/ripoffs. We agreed that despite hints or liberal doses of Resident Evil, Pitch Black, and many more, the most numerous and obvious “echoes” were of Firefly and Serenity. Was this thing seriously intended to come off as being set in a corner of the Firefly universe, one that Joss Whedon and company just never got around to visiting? Whatever. After a day spent writing (me) and doing heavy yard work (Zach) our exhaustion was such that it went down pretty easily, helped along by some Yamhill Valley pinot noir.


I just saw on the morning news crawl that J.G. Ballard has died. A sad loss to speculative fiction and to the world of words. I’ve read and liked (or loved, or been baffled by, or been challenged by) many of his works over the years, but what stands out most clearly in memory is the sense of wonder and dread and possibility I felt when first reading books like The Drowned World and Vermilion Sands way, way back in the day.

Thanks and goodbye.

Last Watch

Just finished this fourth volume in the Night Watch series. I posted it at and am copying that post here:

Last Watch would be fairly confusing to anyone who hadn’t read Night Watch, Day Watch, and Twilight Watch. Even though I’ve read and enjoyed the whole series, I had some trouble remembering who was who among the minor characters; details of what happened in the earlier books, often mentioned in this one, were also a bit fuzzy. Still, I enjoyed this a lot. The protagonist, Higher Light One Anton Gorodetsky, remains a fresh, wry, and occasionally surprising voice, and the intersections of the magical and real worlds continue to be weird, clever, and often violent or amusing. I found this story sketchier but also more poignant than the earlier episodes in Anton’s career; there are echoes of Arthurian (or Merlinian) legend and The Tempest woven throughout. Overall, not as strong as the first two entries in the series, when Lukyanenko’s world-building was new and startling, but satisyfing.

To those who know the Night Watch series only through Timur Bekmambetov’s sensational films, the original story line of the books is different from that of the movies and is worth exploring. But the films are dazzling, and I adore them. 

Fantasy vs. SF? Near the end of Last Watch, in a conversation between two of nonhuman characters about the future of the world, Lukyanenko–who has published lots of both sf and fantasy–tosses off a few observations about the two genres. One character speculates about the appeal of fantasy worlds, magic, etc. to human readers. It’s a brief interchange, not a dissertation, but readers and writers of both genres may find it entertaining.

Word Smith

Missed deadlines are piling up around me like the leaves of Vallambrosa, only less picturesquely, and I’m scrambling to catch up with my writing and fend off the wrath of my publisher. Until the current write-a-thon ends I have only small chunks of time, far apart, in which to read for pleasure. It’s a time for short stories.
So I turned to a purchase I had made some while back but not yet cracked–the first three of Night Shade Books’ handsome new five-volume set of the collected fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith. It’s been many years since I’ve read more of Smith than the oft-anthologized greatest hits: “The Return of the Sorceror,” say, or “A Rendezvous in Averoigne.” I’m enjoying the strangeness.

Stap my vitals, but that man could sling a thesaurus. He makes HPL look like Hemingway. I rarely have to resort to a dictionary while reading for pleasure, but by a third of the way through the first volume I had had to look up the following words:


A profound obeisance and a complimentary OED to anyone who knows the meanings of all five without looking them up. (Just kidding about the OED, unfortunately.)