Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #333: The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide by Terry Pratchett & the Discworld Emporium

Here's a question: is it easier or harder to map a city that doesn't exist?

You want to say "easier," of course -- it's the obvious response. But the answer probably is more dependent on that word "exist," and that's much more of a continuum than it seems to be at first. Mohenjo-daro doesn't exist. 18th century London doesn't exist. And Ankh-Morpork doesn't exist. But all three have definite landmarks that the map-maker has to take into account, and all three have a certain number of interested parties who will note strongly if a map is wrong by their lights.

There have been previous attempts to map Terry Patchett's great fictional city of Ankh-Morpork, including a standalone map as part of a series about notable places on Pratchett's Discworld (including Lancre, the land of DEATH, and a large map of the Disc itself). But I suspect The Compleat Ankh-Morpork City Guide will be the definitive one from this point forward: it's large and detailed, and it nails down this fake city as tightly as any real one.

The City Guide is a package: inside an outer portfolio sit a 128-page hardcover book, the Guide proper, and a gigantic double-sided map, suitable for framing or tacking onto a wall or just trying to look at if your arms are long enough to hold it. Like all of the best fake non-fiction, it purports to be an artifact from the Disc itself, a book to be used by tourists, commercial travelers, and anyone else making a first journey to that world's largest and most vibrant city.

The book is laid out like an old-fashioned tourist's guide, covering inns and hotels, taverns and restaurants, laws and cultural notes, the religious and commercial life of the city, plus listings of streets and some shorter sections about opportunities for fun and other activities. It's well-illustrated throughout, is laid out in two or three columns, depending on the content of each particular section, and is printed on a yellowish-brown paper to give the impression of an already aged book. The map has the city within the walls on one side, with all major roads and points of interest labeled, while the other side has a more pictorial representation of the city and suburbs from the air, with fewer features pointed out.

There are plenty of real-world cities that don't have a guide with this much time and effort put into it; the City Guide is full of sly wit and carefully hidden references to the events of many of Pratchett's novels. It is obviously only a book for fans, but there are a lot of fans of this particular city. And it's also, incidentally, a testament to what physical printing can do -- an iPad app is promised, but it would be difficult to be as impressive as a gigantic map.

The City Guide is credited to Pratchett and "the Discworld Emporium," which is made up of four people (Isobel Pearson, Rob Voyce, Bernard Pearson, and Ian Mitchell). Presumably, one or more of them drew the map, but the book isn't clear on who that was -- though it does credit "additional illustrations by Peter Dennis," but not which illustrations those are. But, then, your real-world travel guides have similarly vague credits; Ankh-Morpork is just following in a long and hallowed tradition.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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