View Full Version : Mapping style for aliens?

08-16-2012, 09:30 PM
I've recently come up with the idea of mapping an alien world (no humans). It seemed like an interesting idea to try and map something from an 'alien perspective'. This would mean something different than we are all used to (unless they develop their cartography along convergent lines). But, what could this 'different' be? That's what I'm here asking for help with. Ideas for an alien mapping style. I wasn't really wanting to go so far as to change the spectrum of light the aliens use (resulting in a map of wierd colour combos).

08-17-2012, 01:58 AM
I'm not sure what you're planning to map (a world map versus interplanetary space) but one idea came to mind.
One of the most famous UFO cases involved a couple returning from a trip in New Hampshire. They were allegedly taken aboard a UFO and recalled the incident later under hypnosis. Betty Hill remembered being shown a map by the alien commander who had examined her. She had a difficult time describing it because she had never seen anything like it. She described the commander pulling something down the way one pulls down a window blind and there on the 2D surface was a 3 dimensional window showing travel and exploratory routes between stars.
What might be interesting is to use 3D software (I use Bryce Pro 7.1 but you could go with others) and model an interstellar map. A few slightly different camera angles would reveal the spatial relationships between the "stars". If you really want to get fancy, you could animate the camera.
I can't think of anything very different in 2D mapping unless you go with a different language/writing system.


08-17-2012, 05:31 AM
Another idea, relating to a map of an actual world: think about what we put on a map, and what we leave off. An alien intelligence would probably consider different things important -- so you could include things on the map that we would normally consider too trivial to include, and leave things off that we would consider too significant to omit.

08-17-2012, 12:50 PM
Like having the cities of Earth labeled "Ore Deposits"?

08-17-2012, 02:34 PM
Maps based on senses other than sight... but that would be hard to represent.

08-17-2012, 05:11 PM
@waldronate: it's all a matter of perspective :D

@rdanhenry -- or, they could have sight similar to ours (and hence reason to create a visual representation), but ALSO senses we don't have. Or rely on senses in ways we don't rely on them. So magnetic fields, phermone trails, radiation levels, depth of the bedrock, age of the topsoil, ley lines, or the presence of various mineral deposits become important navigational aids.

08-17-2012, 10:12 PM
Pheromone trails are not permanent features and therefore not suitable for mapping; unless the point is ephemeral aliens mapping on a very short time scale, which has some promise as an idea. All the other suggestions will appear, and have appeared, on appropriate human maps. Choice of features simply is not a good way of making a map genuinely "alien", because pretty much any feature humans can identify which is mappable, has been humanly mapped.

08-17-2012, 11:25 PM
Sorry I haven't replied. Been a bit busy trying to choose a new piece of software.

Anyway, here is where I was coming from. I can vaguely remember one of my high-school teachers telling me (many, many moons ago) that the chinese(?) used to make maps that weren't showing the land from a birds eye view but rather what the traveller would see as they were travelling. I then combined this with a notion from a Piers Anthony novel (Of Man and Manta) in which a species of alien see by LADAR (LASER RADAR) and thus have a very, very narrow field of view. That is just one alien form of perception that might be interesting to translate to maps. Then there is the obvious of maps with based on SONAR.

I really like the idea of mapping pheromone trails. But as rdanhenry pointed out they aren't permanent. Sort of pointless to map them unless the maps were being constantly updated.

08-20-2012, 09:09 PM
How about mapping by thermal landmarks? The species could be temperature sensitive, and developed its mapping system according to general temperature changes over the landmass. Perhaps combined with some form of topographical element.

08-21-2012, 03:00 AM
I think part of the problem is most maps are depicted how humans best use them. Issues to consider...

Have you seen the movie Contact with Jodie Foster? In that movie, the initial alien information sent to Earth could not be read until the scientists realized that the data image was not meant to be read in 2d, in fact 'markers' in the data text itself proved to be overlap points when viewing the content as a three dimensional tube or sphere, instead of flat surface. So our assumption that a map is a top down birds-eye-view of a 2D map might be incomprehensible to an alien mind.

Humans have binocular vision. Many animals like horse or squid have eyes on the opposite sides of their head - what such an animal reads in what it sees cannot be identical to beings of binocular vision. What about 3 eyed aliens, how would they view the world. Maps created for use by these 3 different visual arrangements would be perceived differently by all 3 types. And of course these are just suppositions on 3 ways of viewing the world - there could perhaps be an infinite number of perceptions based on whether a being uses eyes at all.

Like your Piers Anthony reference, you need to decide how your aliens perceive the world around them and go from there to cartographic composition.

This concept could be so complicated that our feeble, binocular-based vision mind-set can't effectively conceive. Pick a point of view and then 'wing it' to base the science behind it and go from there...

08-21-2012, 10:42 AM
In the old novel The Wizardry Compiled, residents of the world with magic couldn't make representative maps due to the law of similarity. The map would start to have an effect on the world and vice versa. Their technique for navigation was to use lists of descriptive waypoints rather than to make visual/spatial representations of the area of interest. Of course, there is one point in the book where a map is produced, but it's produced by direct visual feeds and so presumably doesn't have any significant distortion of the world by its mere presence.

08-21-2012, 11:05 AM
I loved Glen Cook's series 'Wizardry'. Such an interesting concept. To be able to create programs of magic. Regarding the maps effect reality, it is similar to the thaumaturgy magic in Lyndon Hardy's 'Master of the Five Magics' novel. Like effects like.