CC: A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica

This week‘s story is pretty unquestionably awesome.  It was nominated for the World Fantasy award, reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies, and exemplifies Valente’s ability to destroy structure by giving you a story built entirely out of auction item descriptions.

We’ve done enough analyzing how a story gets told inside an unusual structure that I want to focus instead on the way she leverages this particular structure to sneak in extra details and commentary in the story.  The first, most obvious of these, is in the pricing of the items.  The story is very clearly on Maldonado’s “side” which it telegraphs pretty blatantly by giving his vision the last word, but it’s reinforced throughout the story.  Despite everything right up to the last paragraph making it clear that Maldonado is a fantasist, not a legitimate cartographer, and one who lured people to their rather horrible deaths, his maps sell for significantly more than Acuña’s.

The other comparison in the meta-data I find interesting is in how the lots are named.  The first two pairs have identical names with distinguishing parentheticals.  These parentheticals do a great deal to distinguish the different characters of the maps.  Acuña’s is designated “The Seal Map” which is very down-to-earth and practical.  Maldonado’s is “The Sun Dog Map.”  They’re both named after animals used as important markers on the maps, but rather than opting for the compass rose on Maldonado’s map, which would have been a fantastical creature that played no further part in the story, they opted for referencing Skell and Grell.

The next pair does a similar thing, except that Acuña’s map gets no parenthetical specifier whereas Maldonado’s does.  This is a hint, early on, of the divergence in the careers of the two cartographers.  Acuña is the staid academic, but Maldonado is capturing imaginations already and his work is getting popular nicknames, his maps taking on importance outside the academic sphere.

Then, of course, there are the ship names.  Proximidad, the ship the two captains were on together, means “closeness.”  Anamnesis is the rediscovering of knowledge contained within ourselves.  These ships were named with purpose.  Little details like that are how to force the story to keep telling you the story, even when it’s pretending to be doing something entirely unrelated to story telling.

Next week: Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland.

Then: The Veldt by Ray Bradbury.

Followed by: Where are you Going, Where Have you Been by Joyce Carol Oates.

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