Google Maps hack turns book into geo-novel
In its current incarnation, Christoph Benda’s first novel requires that you a) be able to read German and b) have an internet connection.
Benda’s work, Senghor on the Rocks, is a geo-referenced electronic novel in which the text is combined with an embedded map mash-up from Google Maps on a website.
The map, which is fixed in the “Satellite View” mode, moves as the location changes in the novel and every page of text is accompanied by a corresponding map.
The geo-novel is an adaption of a book written by Benda, a former advertising copywriter now working at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and is based on his travels in the African nation of Senegal.
“For me, the project always has been related to a map in a certain sense. Only that it wasn’t hi tech, online satellite imagery but the rather worn out paper map I had carried with me throughout all my time in Africa,” says Benda who wrote the book between 2002 and 2005.
Set in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, the story takes place on the day in 2001 when the nation’s jubilation over its first qualification for football’s World Cup is overshadowed by news of the death of Leopold Sedar Senghor, the republic’s legendary first president.
The novel’s main character is an Austrian camera assistant called Martin “Chi” Tschirner, who arrives in Dakar on a promotional job for the soft drink giant Coca Cola.
“It’s a fast paced adventure that starts as a job, develops into an involuntary journey and culminates in a reflection about the possibilities and limits of cross-cultural understanding,” explains Florian Ledermann, a software engineer at the Vienna University of Technology, who worked with Benda on the project.
Benda and Ledermann began collaborating to “geo-annotate” Benda’s novel began about one-and-a-half years ago.
“We wanted to add something to the story that helps readers – especially as the story is set in an unfamiliar environment – to envision the mood of the story without illustrating it,” says Ledermann.
“The satellite images provided by Google Maps do not constrain the reader’s imagination but are capable of actually triggering imagination by giving a rough impression without too much detail.”
Benda says that as a newbie author, the project to geo-annotate Senghor on the Rocks appealed to him because of the experimental nature of the format.
“I am pretty sure that we met a much wider audience – in terms of media coverage as well as readers or at least interested people – than we ever could have found with a ‘classical’ print publication,” he says.
The launch this year by Amazon of the internet-connected Kindle electronic book reader, means that it may not be too long before geo-referenced publications hit the mainstream.
Google Maps hack turns book into geo-novel, Sydney Morning Herald