Reading an epic fantasy novel can be an arduous task. Not just because of its length or its flowery, archaic language, but because every five seconds you’re flipping back to the first page, before the title and copyright info, to consult the map of the fantastically foreign world you’re being transported to. Having a visual representation of a novel’s landmarks can help center you in the story and give you a better understanding of what the characters are going through. Exactly how far is it from Weathertop to Rivendell? Which major cities does the Great Stone Road Of Temerant run past? Where the hell is Braavos?
If, for some reason, you’d rather experience the joys of analyzing fictional maps without the cumbersome burden of plot and world building, there’s a Twitter account you may be interested in. Uncharted Atlas randomly generates a completely made-up landscape every hour, each of which would like right at home at the front of a 1,000-page tome about elves and dwarves. Using a program created by glaciologist Martin O’Leary, the bot can create potentially infinite variations of mountains, coastlines, river valleys, and rolling plains, all outfitted with Tolkien-esque names from O’Leary’s language generator.
“Essentially, I generate a random bumpy surface so the program has something to start with,” said O’Leary in a recent interview with the oddity experts at Atlas Obscura. “And then I run an erosion simulation over that.” That’s what gives the maps their realistic feel. Rivers and coastlines aren’t just drawn haphazardly but rather evolve the way they would in the natural world, making each new iteration feel like a place that could exist. “They’re not 100 percent geologically accurate though,” admits O’Leary, clearly a stickler for details.
Given that there is another bot out right now randomly generating complete fantasy languages, it’s only a matter of time before entire epic tales, complete with George R. R. Martin-level lore, are created whole-cloth by a team of robots. On the bright side, they’d probably be able to finish the series within a realistic timeline.