Thursday, June 11, 2020

what a state to get yourself into

A couple of things I meant to mention at the end of the Spares book review: firstly I see I mentioned in the Never Let Me Go review the similarity of some of the plot points to the plot of the 2005 film The Island; well obviously the same goes for Spares. Since The Island and Never Let Me Go came out in the same year the film must have been well into production before the book was published, so it's on the whole unlikely that one was a rip-off of the other. The situation with Spares is a bit more interesting, though, since the film rights were purchased some time after its publication in 1996 by DreamWorks Pictures, the same company responsible for The Island. Coincidence, OR IS IT, et cetera. Michael Marshall Smith evidently felt it wasn't worth getting embroiled in a big legal battle about it, or, if he were being honest with himself, would have recognised that while the basic idea was his the film actually pursued the plot strand(s) that he toyed with in the early stages of the book but eventually abandoned in favour of exploring some different (and, arguably, less interesting) ideas.

The other thing worthy of mention about Spares is that it's set in Virginia, the same state in which House of Leaves is largely set (i.e. in that this is the state in which the Navidson house is supposed to reside). It could be argued that Mortal Causes and Lanark share some settings as well since some of Lanark (book 4, principally) appears to be set in a highly fictionalised version of Edinburgh.

Back to Virginia, though: I had occasion to consult a large-scale map of the USA while trying to set some questions for an online pub quiz some friends organised a couple of weeks ago and got to thinking about points where several states meet (or nearly meet). The famous one of these is of course at Four Corners, where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. None of this resulted in a usable quiz question (although I did cash in the one about Pierre, South Dakota from here), but it set me thinking: what is the shortest straight line you can draw on a map which crosses four states? Depending on your point of view the answer could be zero, if you consider the quadripoint at Four Corners to be simultaneously in all four states. If you don't deem that to be an acceptable answer I think a strong candidate is the north-south line joining Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, as below. Google Maps reckons it's around 18 miles; you could walk that in a day.


Obviously you can extend that question to larger numbers of states: I haven't considered all the numbers but I'll offer you the following theoretical 5-state journey of a little over 60 miles visiting (going NE-SW) Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Needless to say others have considered this question (or very s,light variants of it) and, I'm happy to say, come up with the same answer. The only comparable one I could find is the line of just under 80 miles which connects Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas.


Finally, the pièce de résistance: a 10-state journey of just over 400 miles taking in (let's go SW-NE this time) Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Again, others seem to agree that this is the right area, although note that they're asking (and answering) a subtly different question.



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