"The Edge of the Map" by Ian Creasey — story background

Susanna listened resentfully to the helicopters spraying nanocams over the foothills.  She kept her gaze locked on the plantation, rubbing her tense neck as she waited to get the shot.  It was a long time since she'd filmed her own footage.  She fiddled with the controls on her ancient glasses, practising framing the scene, zooming in, panning back for a wide angle.

"How long will this take?" asked Ivo.  "This isn't what I'm here for.  We need to head off soon."  In her peripheral vision, she saw him twitch restlessly as he kept glancing in all directions, like a nervous bird in a garden full of cats.

"I want to film a few things before I'm finally obsolete," Susanna said.  "It shouldn't be long now."  She saw no sign of movement downhill.  The cannabis plants, which had grown four metres tall in the African sun, might still harbour a few defiant hippies.  Should she move along the ridge for a better angle?

A bar of green light split the sky in two.  The crack of ionised air rolled across the mountain like a manmade thunderbolt.  Susanna adjusted her glasses, zooming in to focus on the flames.  The smell of burning cannabis rose up the hillside.

This story arose when I went through a phase of reading the magazine Fortean Times, devoted to strange phenomena.  My mental shorthand for all this stuff is "the weird" — UFOs, cryptids, ghosts, timeslips, pixies, Them, and far too many other areas to list.  Fortean Times is an admirable publication because it's neither an uncritical "aliens walk among us!" hypesheet, nor a reflex debunker of anything that can't be measured.  Instead the magazine simply sets out the evidence, or lack of it, and allows readers to make up their own minds.

When you see a lot of this stuff, certain patterns emerge.  Weird things tend to happen in remote areas.  Photographs are never quite definitive, and evidence is always elusive.  Of course, this could be because the Weird doesn't actually exist... but where's the fun in that?  Instead, for story purposes, I formed the concept of the Weird as something that by definition cannot be captured on camera, something that exists only in the liminal spaces at the edge of the map.  Retreating from the growth of civilisation and its attendant surveillance, the Weird has been pushed back and back.

I imagined a near-future scenario in which, due to the threat of terrorism, the world is subject to constant monitoring via "nanocams" that float in the air and knit together into a network, downloading their footage onto the Internet.  One consequence of this is that old-style journalism becomes obsolete: there's no need to send reporters out into the field when bloggers can select and comment on footage while sitting comfortably at home.

But the nanocam coverage is not yet complete — there remains one shrinking Blind Spot in the remotest corner of Africa.  The protagonist of "The Edge of the Map" is Susanna Munro, a journalist determined to chase one final old-fashioned scoop before she's superseded by the nanocams.  She ventures into the Blind Spot with Ivo as her guide.  Ivo believes that if there is any Weird left in the world, this is where it will be.

Susanna and Ivo featured in earlier stories of mine: "The Hastillan Weed" and "A Sordid Boon" respectively.  This story isn't a direct sequel in plot terms to either of the previous ones; I simply preferred to work with existing characters, rather than create new characters with similar traits.

When our heroes reach the centre of the Blind Spot, what do they find?  The story hints at an answer, but without describing it in forensic detail.  Some readers liked this ambiguity, while other readers found the ending underwhelming: they appeared to want an extravaganza of wacky stuff.  But to me the very essence of the Weird is that it only exists in the shadows: as soon as you bring it onstage into the light, its weirdness diminishes.  The Weird can't be captured on camera — if it could, it wouldn't be weird.  The text of the story itself is metaphorically a camera, recording events, so the story cannot directly show the Weird, but can only document its disappearance.

Susanna Munro subsequently appeared in another story, "Cut Loose the Bonds of Flesh and Bone", set much closer to home.

Page last updated: 22 May 2015