Nonstandard Geographic Directions YKTTW Discussion

Nonstandard Geographic Directions
Worlds that don't have the same cardinal directions as ours.
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(permanent link) added: 2013-07-27 18:35:27 sponsor: Larkmarn edited by: Lythande (last reply: 2015-06-16 23:04:41)

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For the most part, because things are Like Reality Unless Noted, no matter what a work of fiction does to change money, animals, or languages, cardinal directions on a Fantasy World Map will still be North, East, South, and West. It's something so fundamental that even many space-based works still use a close variation on the system with directions like "galactic north" (and with the addition of up and down).

However, occasionally in speculative fiction the cardinal directions are replaced by new directions. Often this is a result of the world not functioning like our maps - the world not being a sphere, or not having a single reliable sun to judge direction by - but it's occasionally just a matter of the author using different terminology to make a culture seem more alien.

For other fantastic changes that make a world more obviously not this Earth, see Alien Sky, Fictional Zodiac, and fictional Constellations.


Comic Books
  • In ElfQuest the Wolfrider elves refer to "sun-comes-up" and "sun-goes-down" only, until they meet more sophisticated elves who use the standard cardinal compass points (and even then sometimes go back into their old habits when talking amongst themselves).

  • In Discworld the cardinal directions are Hubwards (towards the center), Rimwards (towards the edge), Turnwise (the direction the disc rotates), and Widdershins (against the disc's rotation)note .
  • Incandescence by Greg Egan uses "shomal" and "junub" (essentially North and South), "garm" and "sard" (toward and away from the center of the orbit) and "rarb" and "sharq" (toward and against the direction of the orbit).
  • The Integral Trees, by Larry Niven, is set in the "Smoke Ring", a vast torus of breathable air around a star. The ring orbits the star, so due to the Coriolis effect and the fact there's no up or down due to microgravity, the inhabitants instead use "Forward takes you out, out takes you back, back takes you in, and in takes you forward."
  • Directions on the Ringworld are spinward (towards the rotation of the ring), starboard, antispinward, and port.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe uses a 3D coordinate system for hyperspace navigation, with (0,0,0), colloquially "Triple Zero," being the Coruscant System. This is about as arbitrary as the assignment of north and south on planets, since Coruscant isn't at the geographical center of the galaxy.
  • Classic Traveller, Supplement 8: Library Data (A-M). The Third Imperium uses four directions for interstellar travel. Rimward is toward the outer rim of the galaxy, and Coreward is toward the center of the galaxy. Spinward is in the direction which the galaxy is spinning (similar to "clockwise"), and Trailing is the opposite direction. These are used in names as well: the most Spinward section of the Third Imperium is called the Spinward Marches, and there's an interstellar transport company called Rimward Lines.

Tabletop Games
  • In the interior of the planet Mystara, the Hollow World setting uses the same names for directions, but with East and West flipped (i.e. North, West, South, East, going clockwise).
  • Role Master, Spacemaster Privateer campaign setting. The ISC (Inter-Species Confederation) uses Terra's Galactic Coordinate System. The map is centered on the Sol system. Positive X coordinates lead toward the galactic center and negative X coordinates head toward the rim. Positive y coordinates head anti-spinward, while negative Y coordinates go spinward (in the direction that the galaxy is spinning). Positive Z coordinates go toward the top of the galaxy, while negative Z coordinates go to the bottom.

Video Games
  • Late in Halo: Combat Evolved Cortana states that the Spirit of Autumn crash-landed several hundred kilometers "up-spin" from where she and the Chief are.
  • Inverted: The X-Universe games arbitrarily assign north, south, east, and west to the up to four jumpgates in a given sector.

Web Comics
  • Schlock Mercenary: the ship and crew are inside a giant hollow sphere, and thus have made up directions like "Up East" and "Down North".

Real Life
  • On the Hawaiian islands, directions are often given in terms of "mauka" and "makai" (away from, or toward the ocean). e.g.: "On the makai side of the street."
  • Mathematicians use "ana" and "kata" as the fourth-dimensional analogues of "up" and "down".

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