Brought to you by OBS reviewer Angie.

  • Be sure to read our review for “A Cartographic Analysis of the Dream Statehere at OBS.

Angie: What is your connection to cartography?

Pat Murphy: It’s not the making of maps that fascinates me. Rather, it’s people’s relationship to maps. So many people have a deep trust in maps – they seem to believe that a map is a true picture of the world.

I don’t trust maps, and yet I am very fond of them. That fondness rises, in part, from the ambiguity of what maps are.  As Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski pointed out long ago, the map is not the territory.  It’s a representation of one view of the territory. Maps and mapmaking are an attempt to codify and tame the unknown.

I am particularly fond of the old maps that admit to their awareness of what is unknown – and perhaps unknowable. “Here be dragons,” those ancient mapmakers wrote in the blank places on the map. Of course!  What else would hide in the shadowy corners of the world but fabulous and potentially dangerous beasts?

You asked about cartography, but not about the other half of the title – the dream state. Maps try to tame the unknown; dreams embrace, explore, and amplify the unknown. I am fascinated by the juxtaposition of the rational and the irrational, of control and chaos, of logic and dreams. This story, in which cartography and dreams overlap, comes from that fascination (as does my World-Fantasy-Award-winning story, Bones).

Science fiction, like those ancient mapmakers, embraces the unknown. The most interesting places are at the edges of the map – where knowledge is fuzzy and dragons live. Those are the places I like to write about.


Angie: What research did you do into Cartography before writing this story?

Pat Murphy: I did some research into cartography – learning about the importance of jumping truck in mapping subterranean features and the like. More important, perhaps, I did research about Mars.  When I’m not writing fiction, I write about science. I spent twenty plus years as a writer and editor at the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s museum of science, art, and human perception, and I take the science in my stories very seriously.


Angie: Do you see this as a story about strong women doing what is typically seen as “mans work” or did it just happen to have a female cast?

Pat Murphy: Both. These are strong women doing what could be seen as “man’s work.” It does also just happen to have an all female cast. I don’t see the two as in opposition.

But since you mention women’s roles, I’ll mention that I’m one of the co-founders of the James Tiptree Jr Memorial Award, given out each year to a work of speculative fiction that explore and expands gender roles. I feel that the first step in creating any social change is imagining a world that is different. That’s where speculative fiction comes in. SF writers imagine new versions of the world – and unintended consequences to technological and social changes.  The Tiptree Award rewards those authors bold enough to imagine social changes in gender roles.  You can find out more about the award at 


Angie: I love that you wove the past with the future by combining a centuries old story with futuristic space exploration. Where did the inspiration come for this story?

Pat Murphy: Inspiration? It’s always a mystery where a particular story comes from, but I’ll try to explain the general process in all its chaos.  

My mind is a great swirling mass (or should that be mess?) of ideas and characters and locations and textures and sounds and emotions and smells. Every now and then, some of those bits will collide and stick together. Two treks I took in the Himalayas inspired thoughts of yeti. While writing about the Martian environment for science article, I imagine what it might be like to cross the Martian polar cap. While editing a magazine focusing on maps, I consider the many ways in which the map is no the territory. While reading about women explorer, I consider how they might behave differently than men in the same environment.

All this stuff swirls about and ideas sticks together – and I shape it into a story. For me, a story is a way of figuring out how all these bits go together to make an interesting whole. I write, in part, to figure out what I’m thinking about and where a particular set of thoughts is going. The process of shaping a mass of ideas and thoughts and sensations into a story involves asking myself a series of questions. In the end, the answer to all those questions is the story.


Angie: I’m still curious about whether what Sita saw was real or a hallucination…. Care to share?

 Pat Murphy: What a lovely and tricky question that is! You tempt me to begin one of those twisty and endless discussions of the nature of reality. 

But I will resist.  Sort of.

I mentioned earlier that I worked for more than twenty years at the Exploratorium, a museum of science, art, and human perception. My work there made me realize that what we generally call reality is in fact a construction of each human brain.

Consider, for example, the world that you see. Have you ever been to one of those tourist attractions designed to mess with your view of reality? In Santa Cruz, California, there’s the Mystery Spot. En route from San Francisco to Seattle, there’s the Oregon Vortex. 

In these places, balls appear to roll uphill; people change height; you seem to be standing at a slant even when you feel like you are standing up straight.

Yes, these are optical illusions. But knowing that does not prevent you from seeing these things. Are they hallucinations? A different way of interpreting the world? Another view of reality?

I’ll stop there, lest I go down the slippery slope into a long discussion of reality and perception, metaphors and maps, and the secret places where dragons and yetis dwell.


Angie: Do you listen to music when you write or do you prefer quiet? What kind of music do you enjoy?

Pat Murphy: I find that other people’s word can get in the way of my own. So when I’m writing, I listen to music without words – or music with words I can’t understand. A broad range of music in other languages – from Algerian pop to European bluegrass. 


Angie: What people, living or dead, would you invite to your fantasy dinner party? What would you serve your guests? What would be the main topic of discussion?

Pat Murphy: Does it have to be a dinner party?  I’d much rather have a tea party. I had a tea party a month ago and made many fussy little watercress sandwiches. Many interesting women came over and we consumed all the sandwiches and drank much tea and talked and talked and talked.  I’ll have to do that again sometime.

 So let’s say I had a fantasy tea party. I think I’d just have to make it a literary tea and invite Jane Austen and my friend Karen Joy Fowler who wrote the Jane Austen Book Club. Just so it doesn’t get too serious I’d invite Edith Nesbit who wrote some fabulous British children’s books (like Five Children and It) and G.K. Chesterton (author of The Man Who Was Thursday) and the contemporary Spanish novelist Javier Marías who also happens to be the King of Redonda, a small island off of Antigua (long story there) and French writer Alfred Jarry who invented pataphysics (another long story) and Edward Eager, playwright, lyricist, and author of fabulous (in all senses of the word) children’s books like  Half Magic and The Time Garden. Oh, yes – and I’d also invite Frank Oppenheimer, the amazing physicist who founded the Exploratorium. I had the good fortune to work with Frank for a few years, and he loved a good party.


Thank you to author Pat Murphy for a great interview!