Read an extended preview of A.M. Tuomala’s new novel and an introductory essay by the author
IZ Digital is thrilled to present an exclusive excerpt from A.M. Tuomala’s The Map and the Territory along with an introduction by the author.
Here is what the publisher, fine purveyors of fantastic fiction Candlemark & Gleam, has to say about the book:
A riveting, sui generis apocalyptic picareque fantasy in a richly imagined, fully inhabited world, [The Map and the Territory] is equal parts Station Eleven and Emberverse, a unique retelling of the consequences of hubris – of the refusal of those with power to reconsider careless stewardship
Without further ado, A.M. Tuomala’s introductory essay, and the excerpt from her fantastic novel.
Introduction by A.M. Tuomala
Early on in The Map and the Territory, Rukha says, ‘Even if the world’s coming apart, it’s still the world. And I really love the world, and I want to know more about it.’ She has good reason to fear that she’s in the middle of a magical apocalypse – the sea has swallowed one city, gemstones have buried another, and the Mirrorlands have gone inexplicably dark. She’s far from home, with no easy way of getting back.
I’ve always been fascinated by stories of the apocalypse and what comes after. I devoured Mad Max, and I kept watching The Walking Dead long after I should’ve given up on it. Post-apocalyptic stories ask a critical question: what was foundational to the society that is in the process of being lost? What can be preserved, and what new things can be built, when the world itself becomes hostile?
In so many of these stories, the apocalypse tears away the veil of politeness that society hangs over the world’s innate brutality. This brand of post-apocalyptic survival story is about learning how to be hard enough to stay alive in a selfish world, where everyone’s out for themselves and death is always close at hand. The idea of building something that lasts is laughable; the scope of the world becomes small, focused on the hero and his (it’s so often ‘his’) chosen few. Curiosity becomes backward-looking, its only object the unraveling of what went wrong.
Maybe it’s just because I wrote The Map and the Territory between 2018 and 2021, pinballing between the climate crisis and the pandemic and the American constitutional crisis. Or maybe it’s because I’ve lived my whole life with depression, hanging over the cliff’s edge of death and contemplating how easy it would be to fall. But when I wrote this book, I wanted to tell a post-apocalyptic story where the end of the world is not the end of compassion. I wanted to write a story about people helping each other, choosing each other, even when it was dangerous and frustrating and inconvenient.
The question Rukha answers – and keeps having to answer, over and over again throughout the story – is, ‘Why do we keep living in the world, when it feels like nothing we do in it matters?’
When it feels like the world is crumbling, it’s tempting to cling to hope in its passive form. It’s tempting to sit tight and hope for a Tolkienian eucatastrophe, or an unspecified future time when the world will be better. But I have to believe in the active form of hope, which sees all that is broken in the world and rolls up its sleeves to begin the work of building anew. I have to believe that love and compassion and curiosity matter, and that we can wield them like any other tools for repairing the world.
Even if the world’s coming apart, it’s still the world. And The Map and the Territory is a book about choosing to live in it anyway, and love it anyway.
In the excerpt that follows, Rukha (traveling under the name Fern) and the wizard Eshu investigate the Mirrorlands, a between-place through which travelers pass on their way from one magic mirror to another. On an ordinary day, the desert slopes of the Mirrorlands are aglow with hundreds of magic mirrors, like windows back into their world. In the wake of the disaster, though, they struggle to find even one.
Excerpt from The Map and the Territory
‘Hmm.’ Fern looked around once again, then swung her pack off of her back and started pulling out a hammer and several sharp metal stakes.
Eshu blinked. ‘What are you—’
‘Climbing,’ she answered, and started hammering a stake into the trunk of the tree he’d just built.
‘Climbing,’ he repeated. ‘Why?’
‘I think—’ and the hammer came down ‘—if I can get high enough—’ and again ‘—I might be able to see the terrain better.’
‘I already told you that the geography here is meaningless. It’s a landscape of impressions, not—’
‘You did, but unless you have a better idea, I’m working with what I know.’ Using the stakes like a ladder, Fern scrambled up into the tree’s lowest boughs and was quickly lost to view. Now and then, he heard her hammering another stake into the tree trunk, presumably where the going had become tricky.
Without her there, the Mirrorlands felt colder and emptier. A gust of wind stirred the white sand into dancing whorls and sent it pattering against the walls of the barn.
Eshu watched the darkness beyond the lamplight, searching for that shimmer of not-quite-shadow until his eyes ached.
After what felt like a long, long time, he heard a creak of branches and a rustling of leaves. A few minutes later, Fern dropped to the ground a little way from him. ‘There’s a mirror, way over there,’ she said, and she pointed in a direction that looked the same as any other. ‘It’s in the bottom of an arroyo, but you can see it from the top of the tree. A sort of oval of light.’
Eshu wasn’t sure what an arroyo was, but Fern seemed to know, and he believed her.
They set out together over the sands, Fern enthusiastically speculating on the minerals that composed the black ridges and the way the silver trees might have spread and sustained themselves. ‘It’s obvious that there’s a spring somewhere in the mountains, or possibly several springs,’ she said. ‘My guess is that this black rock is just porous enough to let water drain through, and there’s a major aquifer somewhere below our feet—’
‘It’s a dreamscape,’ said Eshu. He wished he didn’t sound quite so desperate. ‘You can’t just apply science to it.’
‘Then explain the arroyos. They’re all more or less perpendicular to the mountains. I wonder what the rain is like here.’
‘It never rains here. The sun never rises. It’s a void beyond time and space.’
‘It’s hydrologically interesting.’
Despite himself, Eshu took some relief in the bickering. The cold and darkness of the desert seemed much less terrible when Fern was darting ahead to collect rock and leaf samples or pausing to correct the scale on a hand-drawn map. She seemed to love the eccentricities of the Mirrorlands, and not to be unsettled by them. She made them seem like a place that could be known.
After what felt like an hour or two of walking, the faint gully they were following opened into a valley of black gravel and low stands of silver trees. There was water here, just a trickle almost too small to call a stream, and Fern stoppered a little in a glass vial. ‘I might find a microscope eventually,’ she said, when Eshu gave her a look. ‘I want to see if there are tiny creatures in it.’
At the end of the valley, on a stone that jutted up from the gravel bed, there hung a mirror that shone with a cool, silvery light. Eshu’s heart leapt at the sight of it. ‘There’s no cognitive locus,’ he said, more to himself than to Fern. ‘No way of knowing where this leads.’
‘Well, then we’ll just have to walk through.’
‘Is walking how geographers solve all of their problems?’
‘Anything we can’t solve with trigonometry!’ she said brightly. Then, visibly nerving herself up, she stepped through the oval of light and into the world beyond.
A hungry wind hissed through the boughs of the silver trees. Eshu cast an anxious look around at the valley – the arroyo – and then followed Fern through.
He emerged into a crystal-lined cavern, so cramped that he had to stoop to keep from hitting his head on the rocks hanging down from the ceiling. The mirrorlight shone on massive gemstones that erupted from every surface in cracked cubes and angles, all of them swirled with violet and blue and deep, translucent green. Amethyst? he thought. No – fluorite. He could dimly remember attending a guest lecture once on the magical properties of crystals, but in Usbaran, his cohort had regarded that sort of thing as superstitious quackery. He’d never bothered to learn whether fluorite had any uses.
‘Eshu?’ said Fern. She pointed to a square on one wall where the crystals glowed with a strange, bright light. ‘I think that used to be a window.’
And as soon as she said it, the topography of the cavern snapped into focus – the ledge of a writing table piled with books, the striations of shelves lining the walls, the narrow passageway that must have been an open door. An armchair, so crusted with crystals that it had fused to the wall behind it. A small rise not far from the exit, about the size of a human lying down.
This had been someone’s study, once. Probably a wizard’s study. Eshu might’ve spoken to the person under the crystal, once; they might’ve crossed paths at a party, argued some trivial point of rhetoric or technique, and forgotten each other immediately after they’d reached an understanding.
A crashing sound roused him from his troubled thoughts. Fern had taken out her hammer and stakes again and started smashing through the crystals blocking the window. They were only loosely fused together, and she cleared them quickly. A breeze swept through, warm and tinged with the salt smell of the sea. ‘No glass in the windows,’ she said, unrolling a blanket and laying it over the broken crystal. ‘And it’s hot outside. Probably somewhere to the north. Come on – I want to figure out where we are.’
She slid out with the blanket to protect her skin. The crunch of her boots on the other side said she’d landed on more crystals.
Eshu knelt beside the wizard encased in a crystalline tomb. Just a mannequin of meat, he’d called the human body only a few nights ago. It felt so stupid, now – an arrogant rhetorical flourish, meant to prove that he had the luxury of not caring. Now, as he passed his eyes over the bend of a knee or a smooth curve that suggested a skull, he was conscious that something had once inhabited this flesh, and that it was lost beyond recovery.
He bent down to kiss the shining rock. ‘Peace at your journey’s end. Brother. Sister. Whoever you were. I hope you’ve gone on to somewhere better.’ Then he climbed to his feet again and scrambled out the window after Fern.
As soon as he got halfway through the gap, the heat hit him like a wall. Ras Kir’uun had drowsed at the height of late spring, and even on a cloudy day, Sharis had felt like a city that never grew cold. But here, the sun climbed toward high noon with a righteous fury, and the crystals encasing the city only reflected it back in a blaze of light and heat.
All around him, towering spires of fluorite and fools’ gold clawed toward the sky. Downhill, where switchback streets led inexorably to the sea, shards of quartz gleamed like knives from every roof and balcony. Blood-brown garnets lay beneath the ruins of merchants’ awnings, which hung in shreds over heaps of broken stones. Temples wept icicles of some thick, green stone swirled with black.
Whatever this city had been before, now it was a wasteland of glittering rock.
‘Where are we?’ he asked. There are people somewhere under there, he thought. I wonder if anyone survived.
Fern pulled out her enormous map and spread it out on the ground, using a few chunks of broken fluorite to weigh down the edges. ‘Hmm,’ she said, consulting her compass. ‘Probably somewhere on the north coast. Unless this is Lake Sura to the north of us; that’s a salt lake. But I don’t think it is. These mountains are too high.’
While Fern talked herself through it, Eshu began to hum under his breath, seeking the tune for a song of finding.
‘Does time pass differently in the Mirrorlands?’ Fern asked. ‘Or is it just that we’ve traveled a long way?’
‘A little of both, I think,’ said Eshu. ‘We walked a long time, behind the mirror.’
‘Right. That’s going to make it harder.’ After a moment, she picked up Eshu’s song and hummed along, slightly off-key. ‘If we assume that time passes only a little differently, and I know that’s a big assumption, then my best guess is that we’re in Zumera. It’s the capital of the principality of Lidh. Exports, fruit and grain. Well, they used to be, anyway.’
‘Still in Nanjeer,’ Eshu hazarded.
‘Oh, definitely still in Nanjeer. You can sort of see the architecture under all of this.’ She waved at the gem-studded streets around them. Eshu could just barely make out those now-familiar Nanjeeri verandas and arcades through sheets and clusters of crystal.
He began undoing his outer robe, then slid it off of his shoulders. Beneath the robe, his own body smelled foul to him; he’d never gone so long without washing. To her credit, Fern didn’t so much as wrinkle her nose at the smell. ‘We’re a long way from Sharis, though,’ Eshu said, after a moment. ‘How far?’
Fern pointed to a labeled dot at the tip of a bay on the western coast. ‘Here’s Sharis. Or where Sharis used to be. And here’ she swept her finger over to the northern coast ‘is Zumera. It’s about as far from Sharis as Kondala City is from Usbaran. Probably two days by airship – there’s an idea.’ Tilting her head, she turned to survey the peaks to the east and west.
Eshu soon saw what she was looking for. A broad white stair wound up the western slopes to an airship landing, like a broad circular plaza carved into the mountainside. At least from here, it looked as though the platform had escaped whatever had happened to the city.
Maybe the airships were still running, and they could get a ride to Kondala City. If nothing else, they’d have a good view of the entire city from above. If there were any people here, they’d see them.
Fern was quiet while they walked. Sometimes, she’d pause and throw a hand out in front of Eshu, and they’d stop and listen to the sound of the wind or the faint creak of houses settling. Then, always, she set out again with a pensive look on her face.
As they reached the outskirts of the city, the encrustation eased a bit. Rose bushes still bloomed under a dusting of peridot-like raindrops; cats sunned themselves on the flat faces of massive pieces of quartz. Fountains still sang in courtyards and gardens, even with sapphires choking the basins. But there were no people in the houses here, although Fern knocked on doors and called out hopeful greetings.
Once, they passed a man rotting on a spike of tourmaline. His swollen flesh buzzed with flies. A coin purse lay beneath his hand, untouched. ‘We—we shouldn’t leave him like that,’ said Fern softly. ‘What an awful way to die. We can’t leave him here.’
She swallowed hard, then heaved the man off of the spike in a rain of writhing maggots. Eshu had to turn and lean his head against a door frame until he stopped feeling like he was going to pass out.
He thought Fern carried the man into a house. Maybe she laid him on a bed, shrouded him in a blanket, said whatever words Nanjeeri people said for their dead. Eventually, though, he felt her hand on his elbow. ‘There’s a fountain over there,’ she said. ‘Maybe wash your face.’
‘Right.’ Eshu lurched over to the fountain she’d pointed out, which lay at the heart of someone’s orchid garden. He washed his hands and face, then sat for a long time with his eyes closed on a dark wooden bench and let the sun soak into his bare skin.
When he opened his eyes, he found Fern was sitting on the edge of the fountain with her boots off, washing her feet.
‘How do you stand this?’ Eshu asked. Fern looked up and over her shoulder. ‘How do you keep caring about hydrology, taking samples of rocks, when the whole world’s coming apart?’
It was the first time either of them had said it, but he thought they’d both been thinking it for days. This wasn’t one disaster. It wasn’t even a series of disasters. Whatever had happened, it was happening everywhere at once, which had to mean that there was some kind of mind behind it.
Fern rubbed her feet with the hem of her shirt to dry them. ‘Even if the world’s coming apart, it’s still the world. And I really love the world, and I want to know more about it. That’s all, I guess.’
‘You love people,’ said Eshu.
‘People, rocks, plants, rivers, the sky – I love it all so much that it hurts sometimes. It’s beautiful,’ she said. ‘But not exactly beautiful. It isn’t just that I like looking at the world. I like that it keeps ticking on, like some enormous engine. I like how all the pieces fit together and move each other. And I like that I’m one of those pieces, looking for where I fit.’
A.M. Tuomala lives in western New York, somewhere between Niagara Gorge and the Eternal Flame. In addition to hiking those sublime landscapes, Tuomala enjoys researching eighteenth-century science, collecting rocks, and building new worlds.
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