DRAWING THE LINE: Tales of Maps and Cartocontroversy by Mark Monmonier covers the kind of material I thought On the Map glossed over such as the Mercator map with its distorted presentation of the world (which he notes is not an issue in its original use for navigation), the maps of Pangea drawn as proof of continental drift, the problem of boundary maps that may not match reality (Trees are uprooted, hills wash away, rivers change course”) and how map design influences our concept of safety (“If our town is included in the map of environmental risks, we automatically assume it’s threatened.”), not to mention the specifically political uses of mapping (some Palestinian maps ignore all developments and settlements since 1948; former British colonies replace European place names with ethnic ones). Monmonier’s core argument is that maps create the illusion of objective fact even though they may be politically slanted or unintentionally skewed by subjective assessments. Very interesting.
THE CHARWOMAN’S SHADOW by Lord Dunsany (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights remain with current holder) is a remarkable little story and a quasi-sequel to his Don Rodriguez (one character is Rodriguez’ grandson). Ramon, the son of a penniless Spanish grandee goes to work for a wizard learning how to make base metal into gold, something his family needs to give his sister a dowry. When Ramon learns the wizard’s elderly charwoman (Britspeak for housekeeper) is enslaved because she sold the mage her shadow (“It used to make the grass such a tender green. It never dimmed the buttercups.”) his new priority becomes finding and freeing her shadow. Clever, beautifully written, wryly humorous in spots; I think I liked this more than I remembered.
ORLANDO FURIOSO: The Ring of Angelica was the first volume in Ballantine Adult Fantasy’s translation (courtesy Robert Hodgens) of Ariosto’s epic (regrettably none of the other volumes came out, though I have read it elsewhere). As the story is a sequel to the earlier Orlando Inamorata by Boiardo, it starts in media res as the sorceress Angelica, the knights Bradamante, Ruggiero and Orlando and various supporting players travel across Europe in engaging feats of derring-do and wizardry. Full of wonders and unlike William Morris, Ariosto’s combat scenes really move (he makes me appreciate how much Morris falls short of the people he’s modeling his fantasies on). He’s also surprisingly sex positive, which is different from the English epic tradition I’m used to. I do agree with editor Lin Carter though that the plotting is kind of random, as Ariosto’s more interested in hurling new and exciting things at us than following a mere plotline.
DOCTOR STRANGE: The Oath by Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin has the sorcerer supreme and the Night Nurse (a doctor who runs a secret clinic catering to super-heroes) begin investigating when someone steals a miracle cancer cure (Wong’s terminal) from Strange’s sanctum. What follows is not only a battle of magic, but a look at how Strange’s Hippocratic oath still shapes him — and in different ways, his adversary. The relationship with Night Nurse feels a little forced, but I’d have liked to see it continue — subsequent crossover events took Stephen in a different direction (and not a good one) Well done.