How do you find somewhere that is figuratively in the middle of nowhere? Even worse, what if the place in question is also literally nowhere, except in the pages of the book?
As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth, by Charlotte Perkins is a comically disastrous travelogue. The journey kicks off in the town of New Pêche, where 16 year old Ry - on his way to summer camp- arrives after mistakenly getting off the train in the middle of the Montana wilderness, setting off an escalating series of travel misadventures.
I scoured the map, but couldn’t see any town in Montana by that name. Perkins' observation that Pêche is French for Peach is a red herring, as further sleuthing revealed that it’s also French for fishing. And there IS a town called Whitefish in Montana….
Searching for places gets a bit trickier in speculative fiction. Place names, and sometimes even the geography, can change, but these locations can still be teased out.
District 12 of The Hunger Games is located somewhere in the Appalachian region of what is currently the United States. In the film versions, a full-scale version of the district was created in Henry River Mill Creek, North Carolina. Like Harry Potter, this has resulted in an adjunct tourism industry, complete with tours and camps (I don’t know that this would be my idea of a relaxing vacation). If you’re really keen you can even buy it!
The New Orleans described in Ship Breaker is, to date, a far cry from the city as it exists now. The hulking shells of freighters that fill the shoreline can be found in other locales, however. A landscape that author Paolo Bacigalupi may have envisioned currently exists in Chittagong, Bangladesh and was documented in a stunning series by photographer Edward Burtynsky.
The precise terrestrial location of Zone Seven in the tyrannical 'Mother Land' is left vague in Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon. The lunar landscape, on the other hand, is described in vivid detail as the regime celebrates the imminent moon landing. The fate of this landing and those of Standish and his friend Hector become increasingly intertwined in this tense and heartbreaking book.