Autogenerating Fantasy World Maps with Uncharted Atlas

Autogenerating fantasy world maps is now possible with an incredible online tool coded by Martin O’Leary.

Uncharted Atlas Map
An autogenerated map for a fantasy world, including slopes, borders, coastlines, rivers, cities, and territories, created with Uncharted Atlas. Coding by Martin O’Leary

Currently mainly existing to feed material to the Uncharted Atlas twitterbot, the tool and its code are available for others as well.

Says O’Leary:

“I wanted to make maps that look like something you’d find at the back of one of the cheap paperback fantasy novels of my youth. I always had a fascination with these imagined worlds, which were often much more interesting than whatever luke-warm sub-Tolkien tale they were attached to.

“At the same time, I wanted to play with terrain generation with a physical basis. There are loads of articles on the internet which describe terrain generation, and they almost all use some variation on a fractal noise approach, either directly (by adding layers of noise functions), or indirectly (e.g. through midpoint displacement). These methods produce lots of fine detail, but the large-scale structure always looks a bit off. Features are attached in random ways, with no thought to the processes which form landscapes. I wanted to try something a little bit different.”

Uncharted Atlas also generates names for cities, towns, and regions with a separate bit of code, following a set of consistent rules. For an explanation of how it works and to try your own hand at it, see the terrain notes and language notes.

As a user, I’d like to see a way to connect several of these individual maps into a larger unity, but that’s getting ahead of things—just having a free tool like this is fantastic.:) Kudos!

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Book Trailer for Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Series by bironic

Assembled from a number of different sources, none of which have any sort of connection to author Ann Leckie’s writing, we now have an amazing book trailer for her Imperial Radch trilogy:

Ancillary Justice book trailer by bironic

It was made by bironic, the creator of the goosebump-inducingly glorious video Starships! On the creation process, bironic has this to say:

“A labor of love, nine months in the making. I watched or scanned through about 50 movies and TV shows (plus endless YouTube videos) in the hunt for clips that looked like my headcanon of critical moments, places and characters from the books, while trying not to use hugely recognizable actors and actresses. Not that you’d know it from the final source list, but the research process involved reading and learning a lot about the history of black characters in Western science fiction film and television as well as a crash course in modern African SF/F independent filmmaking, both of which were fascinating.”

Make sure to read the notes for the book trailer in full.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

History, Disability, Inclusion

160822CaludiusThe Roman emperor Claudius walked with a limp, spoke a with a stutter, and sometimes experienced sudden and uncontrollable movements of his body. These effects were moderate when he was calm but became more pronounced when he was agitated. Claudius’ symptoms are well documented and modern scholars have suggested various diagnoses. Polio was at one time the preferred explanation but has fallen out of favor. More recent suggestions are cerebral palsy and Tourette syndrome.

If he lived today, Claudius could be diagnosed and receive appropriate treatment or accommodation. The systems we have now to describe various disabilities helps us to recognize an individual’s particular set of symptoms as part of an identifiable condition or disease. Knowing what to call things, where they come from, and how to treat or accommodate them makes a difference to how we handle individual cases. In antiquity, all anyone knew was that Claudius behaved strangely in ways that no one could explain.

Lack of labels and explanations does not mean that people did not live with all the same things we live with today. Some are obvious. Romans may not have been able to explain why Claudius’ distant relative, the censor Appius Claudius Caecus, went blind, but there was no doubt about the state of his vision. Other conditions are less obvious, but no less real.

We have only very recently learned to recognize the chronic traumatic encephalopathy experienced by sports players who receive repeated trauma to the head, for example, but brains are not more vulnerable now than they were in past centuries. For most of the past several thousand years, war has meant large numbers of people repeatedly hitting each other in the head, with or without helmets. CTE and the changes in behavior that go with it must have been part of the experience of pre-modern warriors, whether they knew how to identify it or not.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is also a modern diagnosis, but people have always experienced traumatic stresses, not just in warfare but from violence within families and between individuals, sexual assault, and life-threatening accidents. In any population that has experienced such stress, some individuals will experience aftereffects, whether they have a name for them or not.

Similarly, we have only recently (in historical terms) learned to diagnose autism and related conditions, but people have lived with them throughout human history. The same can be said of Alzheimer’s disease. Many people who are described in historical sources as “simple-minded,” “senile,” etc. may have been living with one of these conditions.

Even when people couldn’t name or explain the disabilities and conditions they lived with, their experiences of life could be profoundly shaped by them. Claudius’ family considered him an embarrassment and kept him out of public view. He himself reportedly exaggerated his symptoms and avoided the public sphere when he was a young man to keep himself from seeming like a threat to the rest of the dynasty, which may have helped him survive the murderous palace intrigues of the early empire. When he unexpectedly became emperor after the assassination of Caligula, though, his lack of experience in public business made his claim to the title precarious. To improve his reputation, he initiated the Roman conquest of Britain. Claudius’ condition, whatever it was, ended up affecting the lives of thousands of people.

Thoughts for writers

Historians and writers of speculative fiction are in a similar position: we spend our time thinking about a world in terms that the people living in it would not, perhaps even could not, think of themselves. No historian can suppose that Romans simply didn’t experience post-traumatic stress disorder because they didn’t have a word for it. Writers have a similar responsibility.

Of course, in speculative fiction, anything is possible. We can imagine worlds with magic, or warp drive, or both. We can imagine worlds without gender, without water, without music. All of these are valid artistic choices, but we have to recognize them as choices and take seriously the causes and consequences of those choices.

It’s entirely plausible to construct a fictional world in which people don’t have a word for autism or don’t recognize cerebral palsy as a physical condition, but those conditions exist and affect people whether their culture acknowledges them or not. An ancient Roman could not have explained the laws of gravity, but things still fell down. To create a fictional world in which such conditions simply do not exist is a choice. If we make that choice as writers, we owe it as much serious thought as if we created a world without gravity. Creating a world in which people do not understand disabilities is no excuse for creating a world in which no one experiences a disability.

(Author’s note: I have tried, to the best of my understanding, to use the current accepted terminology to refer to the various symptoms, conditions, and disabilities I have mentioned in this post, but if I have made any mistakes, I welcome corrections in the comments and will update the post accordingly.)

Image: Portrait head of Claudius, photograph by Cnyborg via Wikimedia (currently Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen; 1st c. CE; marble)

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Making Rangers’ Rations

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s Rangers’ Rations.

The menu

  • Ham
  • Fruit sauce
  • Cucumber salad
  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • White wine

erikchef1Like the Hobbits’ dinner at the Prancing Pony in Bree, we get a pretty clear description of what the rangers of Gondor eat at their camp in Ithilien and it all makes a lot of sense for people who are stuck out in the wild away from supply lines living off rations. Ham, dried fruit, butter, and cheese are all preserved foods that keep well long-term. (4.5) Not all breads keep well, but there are many kinds that do. I’ve stuck to this description with a couple of adjustments.

First, I added a cucumber salad for the sake of some more vegetables. This particular salad uses vinegar and salt, not unlike a pickling brine. While this salad wouldn’t last as long as a proper pickle, the brine does help it keep a little longer.

Second, I made a softer bread rather than the hardtack Faramir’s troops would probably have had for their regular rations. Since Ithilien has olive trees and other characteristically Mediterranean vegetation, I’ve used a basic Mediterranean-style dough that can be baked in many different ways. (4.4)

Dinner8 Ithilien Pared Down

The thinking behind these adjustments (other than I wanted a vegetable and didn’t feel like making hardtack again) is that Faramir broke out the good stuff for his honored guests. (Remember we’re going by the novel here, not the Peter Jackson movies—which were mostly great but turned Faramir into a total jerk.) Cucumbers and soft fresh bread may not be much of a luxury to most of us, but for weary travelers they could be a welcome change from waybread and forage.

Continue reading

Dining in Middle Earth: Rangers’ Rations

“After so long journeying and camping, and days spent in the lonely wild, the evening meal seemed a feast to the hobbits; to drink pale yellow wine, cool and fragrant, and eat bread and butter, and salted meats, and dried fruits, and good red cheese, with clean hands and clean knives and plates. Neither Frodo nor Sam refused anything that was offered, nor a second, nor indeed a third helping. The wine coursed in the veins and tired limbs, and they felt glad and easy of heart as they had not done since they left the land of Lórien.”

LotR Dinner8

The rangers of Gondor in Ithilien offer a simple but satisfying dinner for two hungry Hobbits. For this month’s meal, we have a version following Tolkien’s description (with the addition of a salad, just to have a vegetable on the table). We served up ham with dried fruit sauce, a cucumber salad, bread, butter, and cheese, and a cup of wine to go with it.

LotR Dinner8 Main

A makeshift narrow trestle table holds brown glazed pottery as well as plain wooden bowls and serving plates, closely resembling the rangers’ base. Butter is served from its own little green ceramic bowl and bread is accessible from a fabric-covered basket. Hunks of cheese can be cut on the same small wooden cutting board that it’s served on.

LotR Dinner8 Alt Setup

Check out what’s it about in the introduction, or read the how-to!

Images by Eppu Jensen

Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!

Quotes: I Don’t Need Characters to Be Likeable

Author Chuck Wendig shared a list of reasons that will make him put down a book he’s reading. Number 16 includes this bit:

“I don’t need characters to be likable. I do, however, need them to be livable — meaning, I need to find some reason to want to live with that individual for 300+ pages. Some things are dealbreakers, though, and a character who is too vile or somehow unredeemable by my own metric… then I just can’t stay in the story.”

– Chuck Wendig

Hear, hear. Well-written characters can save an awkward plot or shoddy pacing, or make an otherwise outdated novel from the 1800s enjoyable. But even a detailed and rich world suffers if there are only unpalatable or cardboard-thin individuals inhabiting it.

Fiction—or non-fiction, for that matter—is at its best when readers form an empathic connection with one or more characters. Depend upon it, readers will notice if authors treat their cast merely as a walking, talking plot delivery system.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Representation Is for Everyone

Monday is when I write, from a historian’s perspective, about some interesting or useful tidbit for writers, especially writers of genre fiction. I’m doing that again today, but from a different angle. Today I want to talk about representation, specifically the representation of people who are not straight white cis men in books, television, movies, games, and other media.

First things first: I’m a straight white cis man with no significant mental or physical challenges. I am a native-born citizen of the country in which I live and a native speaker of its majority language. I am financially secure and socially comfortable. I am not, as far as I know, heir to any titles of nobility, but other than that, if a privilege exists in the world, I’ve probably got it.

Yeah. I’m about to talk about representation. If anyone wants to get off this ride, now’s the time.

When creators and fans talk about adding representation to popular media, the refrain from people who look like me is often: “Why do we have to have X in this story? What do you mean you can’t identify with the characters? Why can’t all you Xes identify with people who aren’t exactly like yourselves?”

I understand where this response comes from. There are white guys all over the place in popular media, but I’ve never identified with a character just because he was a white guy.  There are so many of them that I couldn’t identify with them all if I wanted to. When I look at a character and think Hey! That’s me! it comes from traits other than outward identities. Here are some of the characters I’ve felt connected to over the years:

Spock (Star Trek), Guinan (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Brother Cadfael (Cadfael novels and Cadfael tv series), Minerva MacGonagall (Harry Potter novels and films), Gil Grissom (CSI), Sister Monica Joan (Call the Midwife), Mr. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Cora Crawley (Downton Abbey), Tuvok (Star Trek: Voyager)
Spock (Star Trek), Guinan (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Brother Cadfael (Cadfael novels and tv series), Minerva MacGonagall (Harry Potter novels and films), Gil Grissom (CSI), Sister Monica Joan (Call the Midwife), Mr. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Cora Crawley (Downton Abbey), Tuvok (Star Trek: Voyager)

They’re not all the same gender, race, age, or even species as I am. Two of them are members of a religious order, and I’m not religious at all. Most of them don’t even (fictionally) live in this century.

What can we learn from this collection? (Other than that I have a thing for Vulcans and a rather inflated sense of my ability to dole out wise advice to young ‘uns.) That representation is an aspect of privilege even when you’re not being represented. Having white guys all over the place frees me to look at the characters in my media and identify with them not based on the outward categories they fall into but because they’re thoughtful, introverted, curious, even-tempered, and passionate about knowledge.

On the other hand, I am a member of a very small minority who is rarely represented in media, and then usually in a dismissive, stereotyped, even offensive way: history professors. According to most books, movies, and tv shows, we are boring, joyless pedants in tweed jackets with elbow patches who obsess over minutiae and care only about names and dates.

“Easily the most boring class was History of Magic, which was the only one taught by a ghost. Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he fell asleep in front of the staff room fire and got up the next morning to teach, and left his body behind him. Binns droned on and on while they scribbled down names and dates, and got Emeric the Evil and Uric the Oddball mixed up.”

– J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone Ch. 8

We always wear period clothes and are at best dimly aware of what century we actually live in, if not actively in denial about it.

Professor Dwayne Cravitz from Rizzoli and Isles s. 2 ep. 6 “Rebel Without a Pause”

(Not to mention that we make our (black) graduate students do unpaid labor so that they can have the “authentic slave experience.”)

Oh, and if we’re medieval historians, we’re indistinguishable from renfaire performers. (I can’t find a link to it now, but the memory is seared in my mind of an NPR interview with a scholar attending the annual medieval studies conference in Kalamazoo which made it clear the interviewer thought it was basically a fantasy convention.)

Come on by my history class sometime. I won’t be wearing a costume or droning on about names and dates. I’ll be deep in conversation with my students about social structures, economic forces, multicultrual interactions, source analysis, and all the other interesting parts of history.

Now, history professors are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a historically oppressed or marginalized group. I know how aggravating it can be to be badly represented even as a comfortably privileged middle class white man, but I can’t really imagine what it must be like to be, say, a Native American woman, or a gay man who uses a wheelchair, or a Muslim teenager with Asperger’s, and have to deal with not only the weight of the social disadvantages that come with that and seeing people like myself so rarely and poorly portrayed in media.

Of course we can all identify with people who aren’t like us. That’s not the point. The point is that, no matter who we are, we all deserve to see enough people outwardly like ourselves in books, television, movies, and other media that we don’t have to identify with them just to feel like we’re there.

Images: Spock via Memory Alpha; Guinan via Memory Alpha; Cadfael via Heroes Wikia; Minerva MacGonagall via Harry Potter Wiki; Gil Grissom via CSI: Wiki; Sister Monica Joan via PBS; Mr. Bennet via Jane Austen variations; Cora Crawley via Downton Abbey Wiki; Tuvok via Wikimedia; Rizzoli and Isles “Rebel Without a Pause” via Sidereel

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Facebook Wants to Translate Laughter

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why machine translation isn’t going to replace human translators in a hurry:

FB Translate Heh Heh Heh

Apparently Heh heh heh was too much for the Facebook language algorithm. No, thanks, I don’t need it translated. Granted, I use FB with three languages (Finnish, English, Swedish) with any regularity. All of my settings are in English, however.

And the real irony? The above screenshot comes from an English-language conversation.

Some things are just too silly not to share!

Apparently Now I Must Get into The Expanse

Browsing Tumblr the other day, I ran into what looked like stills from a scifi series. My immediate reaction was “What is this? Who’s she? I wanna see it!!”

EW Bobbie Draper 000230444-the-expanse-0005

Turns out they were indeed scifi show stills. The pictures come from an article by Dalton Ross on Entertainment Weekly. He talked with The Expanse showrunner Naren Shankar about a new character introduced in season 2, and shared these photos.

EW Bobbie Draper 1739082-frankie-0006

The commanding presence that drew my eye is marine Roberta “Bobbie” Draper from Mars, played by New Zealand actress, model, and boxer Frankie Adams.

Mr. Shankar talked about casting Ms. Adams for the role:

“When you ask a casting director to find a 6-foot half-Polynesian, the response is usually one of stunned silence, like, ‘Really?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, really.’ We’ve been very conscious about maintaining the ethnic identity of the characters in the book as much as humanly possible. And we were really intent on doing that with Bobbie.

“We actually looked in the U.K., Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Hawaii, and New Zealand. And when [co-author] Ty Franck saw the first casting tape on her, he said, ‘That’s her, that’s her,’ right away. She’s a professional boxer, as well as being a model and so she had the physicality and a very interesting, unusual kind of face you rarely see on television. She’s awesome and we couldn’t be more delighted to have her on the show.”

EW Bobbie Draper 17390800-arm-wrestle-00007

I have to say that the third shot (above) reminds me a lot of the 2004 Galactica reboot. I’ve only seen the pilot for The Expanse, though, and that streamed over a very hiccupy connection. It looked interesting, but for some reason or another I never got back to it.

I seriously hope that Bobbie won’t just be another case of Strong Female Character syndrome. Kick-ass female characters can be awesome, and they are definitely an improvement over women as mothers or love interests. But I’m done with women written as one-dimensional beings, be it demure damsels in distress or forceful fighters.

I want the people in my entertainment to be complex and three-dimensional regardless of their gender. Whether The Expanse delivers or not will remain to be seen, though. (Haven’t read the books that it’s based on, so I’ve nothing to go on there.) Apparently I now must check out season 1 in order to see season 2 when it comes out.:)

Images Rafy / Syfy via Entertainment Weekly

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Hogwarts Dueling Club Tablecloth Transformed into Wall Hanging

Alicia Sivertsson took a close look at the props for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and re-interpreted a table cloth as a narrow wall hanging:

Alicia Sivert harry_potter_duelling_club_moon_rug_10

Isn’t it fantastic? It’s adapted from the huge blue table runner that shows phases of the moon in gold from the Harry vs. Draco dueling club scene.

Alicia Sivert harry_potter_duelling_club_moon_rug_4

A very beautiful and neat smaller scale version. Jättesnygg! Kudos!

Visit Alicia Sivert for more photos and video clip from The Chamber of Secrets with views of the table cloth. (NB. In Swedish.)

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

Images by Alicia Sivertsson

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.