Thursday, June 25, 2015

Interview: Bruce Munro

Bruce Munro is someone I featured or given a honorable mention to on countless Map Mondays. His maps aren't just detailed and imaginative, they are also funny. He is perhaps one of the most influential alternate cartographers on AlternateHistory.com and I was very happy to ask him some questions:

Who is Bruce Munro?

Bruce Munro is a middle-aged person a bit shocked to find himself so thoroughly middle-aged, a man with too much education and too little regular career, an artistic dilettante and devoted bibliophile, someone with more books than dollars and more imagination than practical sense, more George Costanza than Rock Hudson by looks but more easygoing than either, a man who roots for the mad scientists and furnishes his brain with far more weird junk than Sherlock Holmes would have approved of.

What got you interested in alternate history?

It arises from my general interest in science fiction, encounters with early Turtledove works such as Agent of Byzantium and A Different Flesh, stimulated by Sliders (and my certainty that AH could do better than some of their crappy episodes) and the lists of alternate history novels and alternate history sites on Uchronia when it was still skatecity, and burst into full fervent fixation with my encounter with the soc.history.what-if Google group in the late 90s. (Alas, for it has fallen on hard times).

You are known for taking "implausible" fiction and creating your own realistic and highly-detailed scenario. What inspired you to make these?

That’s an old habit of mine – back in the early 80s I was already rewriting episodes of Justice League in my head (or was it Justice Friends?) to make them less lame and fancier, with more colorful detail, bigger giants, fancier machines, cooler uses of the character’s powers. I suppose I am a touch Annie Wilkes obsessive, too – I dislike a story with big logical holes in it or weak worldbuilding and I want to fix it. In some ways it also, I am afraid, plays to a weakness of mine – I fear failure in being genuinely original, so I find it easier to pimp out other people’s works than create something entirely my own.

When did you start creating alternate history maps?

Back in the 1990s. I first started with making Xerox copies of blank world maps obtained from the UNM bookstore, and drawing new worlds atop of them. I didn’t start doing digital maps until the 2000s, I think – my memory of these things is a bit iffy, and the oldest thing I have on my computer dates to 2005.

Many people have tried to imitate your style of map-making. How would you describe your style of map-making to someone who may not be familiar with it?

I prefer starting with a blank PNG map of the world, usually with existing national borders and sometimes rivers or states to act as guides so I know where things are, and gradually modifying them. I hand-draw lines with the map magnification at least 400%, erasing or modifying as I go, occasionally using patches from other maps or sometimes basemaps for a certain year created by others. I tend to provide a full color key of all important countries, and I add descriptive detail with a mass of notes. Said notes and country descriptions are often victims of my at times annoying sense of humor, although I understand there are people who like it. I often add autonomous regions, internal borders, etc. but I rarely do it for all countries since I find that not just time-consuming but overly fussy looking.

“Too talky” probably describes my maps as briefly as possible: they are often as much “travel guides” as maps.

Why do you think people like maps of alternate worlds?

I think people have varied reasons for enjoying alternate history maps. Some who are interested in history are very often conscious of how history depends on many often fine turning points, and no doubt enjoy the working out of things visually. Some are more appreciators of maps as art and creative efforts rather than as plausible historical speculation. Others have regrets about the way history turned out and how some countries have been screwed over by the course of history, and enjoy seeing a good Ireland Victorious or American Indian Nations or Surviving Ottoman Empire scenario portrayed. Others treat it more as an amusing form of fantasy that is still rooted in actual history.

What programs do you use to create your maps?

Basic Microsoft Paint. I keep telling myself I need to learn photoshop or gimp, but I have a peculiar aversion to taking up intellectual challenges which might make me feel stupid, and the user interface for Gimp baffled me so badly that I fled in terror two years ago and have yet to reexamine it.

Where can people go if they wanted you to commission a map from you?

If they don’t hang out on AlternateHistory.com, I hang out on Deviantart under the handle QuantumBranching.

Which of all the maps you have created do you consider your favorite?

My favorite? I have a number of ones I like, but it’s hard to pick just one. I do like the one I did for the GURPS Aeolus scenario, my French Canada wank, my map of Kamandi’s world, my map for Mumby’s “Broken America”, my cover of “Strong West Wind”… I’ll need to think about it to narrow it down.

Any other map makers you would like to recommend?

Iainfluff (unfortunately a lot of his stuff went bye-bye with Imageshack), Rvbomally, ToixStoryReagentAH, SRegan, ImDeadPanda, 1BlommaSapiento, edthomasten, Laiqua-lasse and MarcosCeia. Less technically brilliant, but extremely productive and creative: RoyalPsycho and Silas-Coldwine.

(There are others I like, but I could just go on and on… )

Any other projects that you are working on now?

I am currently working on a map/scenario for the aftermath of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Footfall SF novel. After that, I have a commission for a cover of one of the maps/scenarios on the alternate history wiki.

What books are you reading?

I am currently reading the retro-SF collection Old Venus, Alan Smale’s Romans-meet-tech-wanked native Americans AH Clash of Eagles, and a book by Simon Winchester called The Professor and the Madman, about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and one of its major (and majorly odd) contributors.

Any advice for aspiring alternate cartographers?

My advice? Get some good books of historical geography (the Penguin atlas series is great for Europe, for the world the Times Concise Atlas and the Haywood Atlas are both useful, and if you can get a used copy of the old William Shepherd atlas there are some quite fine maps for the middle ages and early modern era), know your history, draw your lines one pixel thick (unless you are using a vector program where that doesn’t matter) find good basemaps (AH.com has some useful resources) and make sure to save your maps to the right format, or you’re in deep doody.

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