Telling the Map

Christopher Rowe  - published July 2017

trade paper · 264 pages · $16 · 9781618731326 | ebook · 9781618731333

Finalist for the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award

Stories that sometimes begin in the hills of Kentucky and head out into complicated and sometimes hopeful futures.

“Precision was his watchword and his sacrament.”

There are ten stories here including one readers have waited ten long years for: in new novella “The Border State” Rowe revisits the world of his much-lauded story “The Voluntary State.” Competitive cyclists twins Michael and Maggie have trained all their lives to race internationally. One thing holds them back: their mother who years before crossed the border . . . into Tennessee.

Read an excerpt from “The Border State.”

Reviews & Previews

“Christopher Rowe’s new book of stories, “Telling the Map,” (Small Beer Press, $16), features Kentucky and Tennessee — just not the way you know them. They’re the Kentucky and Tennessee you know, geographically speaking — but they’re also places of strange occurrences, bizarre histories and technology that seems to permeate the very air molecules.”
Lexington Herald-Leader

It is no accident that Christopher Rowe dedicates his first story collection Telling the Map to fellow Kentuckians Terry Bisson and Jack Womack. It’s also no accident that Rowe, on the basis of no more than a couple of dozen stories over nearly 20 years (of which 10 are collected here), managed to gain a reputation as one of the most distinctive voices to emerge from this period. This is not only because he writes with lyricism and great precision of style, but because of his firm geographical grounding, which is reflected in all the stories here (as well as in his title), but is a key factor in several (‘Another Word for Map is Faith,’ ‘The Voluntary State,’ ‘The Border State’). This isn’t the geography of fake world-building, with all those Forbidden Zones and Misty Mountains, but rather the geography of locals who measure distances between towns in hours rather than miles, and who know which bridges you’ll need to cross to get there. It’s also a world in which agriculture and religion are daily behaviors rather than monolithic institutions. As weird as Tennessee gets in Rowe’s most famous story, ‘‘The Voluntary State’’ (and that is very weird) it’s a Tennessee we can map onto the trails and highways that are there now.”
— Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

“[T]here is one other consistent thread running through the entirety of the collection, and that is setting. In Telling the Map, Rowe has rendered Kentucky over and over again with a lush, loving, bone-deep accuracy—one that startled and thrilled me so thoroughly, as a fellow native son, that I had to read the book through twice to begin to form a critical opinion. . . . Across these stories, the drive to achieve and to exceed is a common factor. . . . Overall, though, this was a stellar set of stories that mesh well together. . . . Truly, Rowe’s skill at shifting the weirdness of the Appalachian South—the odd border state that Kentucky is—to a magic realist or scientifically fantastical future is singular and impressive. The result for a native reader is a feeling akin to awe, or perhaps just homecoming, but I suspect the result wouldn’t differ much for an unfamiliar audience either. If anything, the depth and breadth of comfort with a not-often-accessed culture and setting makes these stories fresh and engaging. It’s home for me; it might be a provocative unexplored landscape for someone else—but regardless, Rowe’s facility with language, description, and emotional arcs makes for a solid, intentional, and satisfying collection of short fiction.”
— Brit Mandelo,

“Though most of the stories in Christopher Rowe’s new collection Telling the Map are SF, its cover is reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s weirdly off-kilter illustrations for disturbingly dark children’s books. That cognitive dissonance is a perfect replication of Rowe’s style: in “The Border State,” long-awaited sequel to his acclaimed 2004 story “The Voluntary State,” Rowe pits hymn-singing, bicycle-racing teens against a nanotech-wielding rogue AI; in “Another Word for Map Is Faith,” earnest Christians remake the world in the image of holy maps — with deadly consequences. Delightfully strange, these ten stories transport readers to futures full of sentient cars pining for their owners, automated horses, and tomatoes grown to give blood transfusions — an odd and interesting and deceptively bucolic setting for the narration of some astonishing events.”
— Nisi Shawl, Seattle Review of Books

“Science fiction isn’t always about futuristic cities, as Christopher Rowe reminds us in the complex and inventive stories that make up Telling the Map, his first collection, which often take place in rural Kentucky or Tennessee. But there’s nothing rustic about Rowe’s most famous story, ‘The Voluntary State,’ set in a Tennessee ruled by an artificial intelligence that has radically altered the environment through nanotechology. Police robots appear on flying bicycles, cars have personalities and try to repair themselves, and telephones literally chase you. A story new to the collection, ‘The Border State,’ explains something of how this world came about. It’s more traditional in form, concerning a brother and sister entering a Tour de France-style bicycle race through this transformed landscape.
“One of the best stories, ‘The Contrary Gardener,’ involves the Kentucky Derby. When the title character, a girl skilled at growing vegetables, gets a ticket from her father, she soon finds herself caught up in corporate conspiracies and emerging artificial intelligences. Another story, ‘The Force Acting on the Displaced Body,’ recalls the tall-tale traditions of the mid-South, describing a wine enthusiast who saves up enough corks to build a boat for a journey from his local creek all the way to Paris. Rowe is endlessly inventive in presenting us worlds that are often dystopian, sometimes funny, but always original — and completely his own.”
— Gary K. Wolfe, Chicago Tribune Must Read SF&F for July · Chicago Review of Books: 12 Books You Should Definitely Read This July

“Christopher Rowe’s new collection of short fiction contains ten explorations of the surreal and the fantastical. Rowe also adds a regional dimension into his work, and volleys out questions of place, of borders, and of family along the way–a thematically rich approach to storytelling.”
Vol 1 Brooklyn

“Christopher Rowe is unique voice in science fiction, and this collection provides an excellent survey of his work. He engages with some familiar themes, such as ecological catastrophe and prejudice, but also themes that see less exploration in other genre works. In particular, he has a refreshingly original and nuanced take on faith, a comparative rarity. If you are looking for beautifully written, thoughtful science fiction that cares as much about characters as ideas, then Rowe will not disappoint.” — SF Revu

“In his inventive debut collection, Rowe bends the world we know, remaking regions of the southern United States. Appalachian settings, recurring characters, and dystopian themes of societal degradation link the stories. . . . Wild creativity, haunting imagery, and lyricism—as displayed in “Two Figures in a Landscape Between Storms”—urge readers forward . . . an immersive and original reading experience.”
Publishers Weekly

“A clutch of complex, persuasive visions of an alternative South.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A visionary writer known for writing haunting prose about people and societies with haunting problems.”
— Elizabeth Bear, author of Karen Memory

“Christopher Rowe is among my favorite authors. He writes a wild story, but his particular brand of weird is shot through with warmth and humor. His voice is addictive, his worlds astonishing. His tales lift your spirit, always needed but now in particular.”
— Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

“Extraordinary and subtle stories rooted in landscapes — real and imagined — that Christopher Rowe has charted with a telling eye and a sure hand.”
— Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

Table of Contents

The Contrary Gardener
Another Word For Map is Faith [listen]
Jack of Coins
The Unveiling
Nowhere Fast
Two Figures in a Landscape Between Storms
The Force Acting On the Displaced Body
The Border State [excerpt]
The Voluntary State

Reviews of Christopher Rowe’s stories

“Rowe’s vision of an American South, hauntingly different from the one we know, begins with an artist sketching what appear to be children floating in a body of water. But as the inhabitants of this alternate reality know, the convincing cherubs that kick and struggle in the surf are not really children at all, but highly sophisticated decoys used by submerged predators. They are ‘nothing but extremities, nothing but lures growing from the snouts of alligators crouching on the sandy bottoms.’
Rowe intends this scene, and its suggestion of swimmers enticed to their deaths by a Spielbergian impulse to save youth at all costs, to be taken literally. But as a metaphor, it is an extremely potent representation of the science-fiction and fantasy community’s complicated relationship with the idea of nostalgia — a dynamic simultaneously defined by an inextinguishable yearning to search for lost time, and by an eternal vigilance for the dangers that even a quick glance in the rearview mirror can pose to forward-looking genres.”
— Dave Itzkoff, New York Times Book Review

“Imagery, actually, is Rowe’s great talent, and he keeps refining it — witness ‘The Force Acting on the Displaced Body’, which is a model of what an imaginative writer can accomplish.” — Matt Cheney, The Mumpsimus

“Wonderfully weird and challenging; always a half-step ahead of my complete understanding of what was really going on…. Fascinating imagery (like the flying Tennessee Highway Patrolmen) and high-concept ideas (like mind-control and sentient cars) made this story seem fresh and filled with a sense of wonder.” — SF Signal

“Rowe’s stories are the kind of thing you want on a cold, winter’s night when the fire starts burning low. Terrific.”
— Justina Robson, author of Glorious Angels

“As good as he is now, he’ll keep getting better. Read these excellent stories, and see what I mean.”
— Jack Womack, author of Going, Going, Gone

“If you’ve read and enjoyed any speculative fiction, then you probably come across Rowe’s great short stories.”

“… an archetypically Southern viewpoint on life’s mysteries, a worldview that admits marvels in the most common of circumstances and narrates those unreal intrusions in a kind of downhome manner that belies real sophistication.”

“As smooth and heady as good Kentucky bourbon.” — Locus


July 11, 2017: Launch Party, Joseph Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY
Nov. 2-5: World Fantasy Convention, San Antonio, TX

Christopher Rowe  (@ChristopherRowe) has published a couple of dozen short stories, and been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards. His work has been frequently reprinted, translated into a half-dozen languages around the world, praised by the New York Times Book Review, and long listed in the Best American Short Stories. He holds an MFA from the Bluegrass Writer’s Studio and works at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. Rowe and his wife Gwenda Bond co-write the Supernormal Sleuthing Series for children, and reside in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky.


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