The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

During my recent rip to the local Royal Mail delivery office to collect my second copy TRAVEL BATTLE, I also collected a parcel from Germany that contained a copy of THE DICTIONARY OF IMAGINARY PLACES.

I had read a short review of this book online, and decided that for someone like me who has an interest in imagi-nations, it was an absolute ‘must have’. My copy is 755 pages long, was published in 2000 by Turtleback Books (ISBN 978 0 613 56311 6), and was compiled by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi. I opted for the edition that was produced in what is termed ‘School and Library Binding’ as this is a big book and I wanted to make sure that I would never have any problems with it falling apart over years to come.

As to the content … well as one would expect, many famous imaginary places are included within its pages (e.g. Ruritania, Nania, Middle Earth, Earthsea, Hogwarts, Utopia, Atlantis, Arkham) and some that are by no means as well known (e.g. Cacklogallinia, the island in the Caribbean). What is also interesting is what is missing. This list includes such places as:

  • Graustark, and its neighbours Axphain and Dawsbergen (as featured in the GRAUSTARK novels by George Barr McCutcheon)
  • Borduria, Syldavia, San Theodoros, and Nuevo Rico (as featured in the Tintin books by Herge)
  • Costaguana and Sulaco (as featured in Joseph Conrad’s NOSTROMO)
  • Eastasia, Eurasia, and Oceania (as featured in George Orwell’s 1984)
  • Maltovia and Lovitzna (as featured in Captain W E John’s book BIGGLES GOES TO WAR)
  • Melniboné (as featured in Michael Moorcock’s ETERNAL CHAMPION stories)
  • The nations of Hyboria (as featured in Robert E Howard’s many stories)
  • Barsoom (as featured in the science fiction stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
  • Laurania (as featured in Winston S Churchill’s only novel, SAVROLA)

Bearing in mind the date of the book’s publication, it is less surprising to see that George R R Martin’s Westeros doesn’t seem to get an entry, but I would have thought that Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld’s Ankh-Morpork might have done.

The big plus this book has for me is its maps. There are 150 of them, all drawn in black and white and all full of potential inspiration for the users of imagi-nations! One map in particular caught my eye. It was of the Karain Continent, which was situated in the South Pacific. Most of the coastal areas were under the control of the British, French and Germans, but the remainder was an independent nation populated by different tribal groups. It all sounded very reminiscent of Eric Knowles’s MADASAHATTA, a place that I know well from the year-long campaign he ran – and I took part in – many years ago.

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The Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler

As a child I was lucky enough to have THE HOBBIT and LORD OF THE RINGS read to me. (When I was a child in Junior school, teachers used to read stories to their class at the end of every day, and one year I had a teacher who read us THE HOBBIT followed by the recently-published LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.)

This early exposure to fantasy fiction rather soured my view of other books in the genre, especially after I re-read Tolkein’s books when I was at college in the early 1970s. I suppose it was a case of ‘I’ve read the best, why bother with the rest?’ I have tried reading other fantasy novels – including EMPIRE OF FEAR by Brian Stableford, which features Edmund Cordery as one of its main protagonists – but until recently most seemed to be pale imitations of Tolkein’s books.

(One book that did stand out as being an exception to this was JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke. It is set in an alternative/fantasy version of England during the Napoleonic era.)

My attitude to fantasy fiction changed when I chanced upon the short story THE PENITENT DAMNED by Django Wexler.

It was the first of his series of books that form THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series. (I understand that they classed as being ‘Musket and Magic’ fantasy books.) Since then I have read each of books in the series as they have been published:

  • THE THOUSAND NAMES
  • THE SHADOW THRONE
  • THE SHADOW OF ELYSIUM (A novella)
  • THE PRICE OF VALOUR
  • THE GUNS OF EMPIRE

The stories are set in a time somewhat akin to the end of the eighteenth/beginning on the nineteenth century, and other than the magic element (and some more adult themes that probably make them unsuitable for younger readers) they can be read as the ‘histories’ of a number of imagi-nations. There are some obvious parallels with European history at that time (e.g. a revolution against a repressive regime; the invasion of a Russia-like country and the impact of fighting during its winter) and from slightly later (e.g. a colonial campaign in an Egypt-like colony). I understand that the writer – Django Wexler – has used European history to inspire elements of the plots in his books and that he is also a wargamer … which might account for the way in which the battles that are featured in the stories are described.


A Winter-ish War: The armistice and its aftermath

Within hours of the decisive battle for Viputa, the SPUR Foreign Minister announced that it was the express wish of the Secretary of the Supreme Soviet that fighting between SPUR and Opeland should cease immediately, and that an armistice would be sought as soon as possible in order to settle matters between the two countries.

The Opelandic government agree to this, and within weeks an international conference had been called in order to thrash out an agreement between SPUR and Opeland. The negotiations were not protracted, and within days the Opelanders had agreed to hand over to SPUR the ‘disputed’ town of Viputa and its surrounding area. They also agreed that the border between the two countries would be demilitarized, and that the Opelandic Armed Forces would be reduced to half its current size. The SPUR delegates also expressed a wish that Marshal Talenheim be removed from command of the Opelandic Armed Forces as he was seen to be ‘a militarist who only saw conflict as a means of resolving problems between friendly neighbours‘. They were told that this was unnecessary as the Marshal had resigned from his position, and was now living in retirement on an estate in a remote part of Opeland.


Some weeks after the war had ended, the SPUR official newspaper published the following announcement:

The Secretary of the Supreme Soviet is pleased to announce the following military awards have been made:

  • DivCom Litvinoff: Hero of SPUR (3rd Class; posthumous)
  • DivCom Davidoff: Hero of SPUR (2nd Class)
  • DivCom Smirnoff: Hero of SPUR (1st Class)
  • Admiral Loganoff: Hero of SPUR (1st Class)
  • Marshal Zirkoff: Hero of SPUR (1st Class, with Red Banner)

The Secretary of the Supreme Soviet also wishes to express his deepest condolences to the family of DivCom Litvinoff, whose death in a car crash was announced only a few days ago.


A Winter-ish War: Day 3: The SPUR attack in the left-hand sector

During the second night of the war, the Opelandic government realised that the situation was very grave. Marshal Talenheim spelt it out in no uncertain words that the main defence line was breached, and that it was only a matter of time before SPUR’s troops would reach Viputa. He advised that approaches be made to SPUR via diplomatic channels with a request for an immediate armistice. In the meantime, he would order what remained of Opeland’s Regular Army to withdraw from the defences of Viputa.

This caused uproar in the Cabinet meeting, and several members called upon the Marshal to resign … but he refused, stating that he had always been of the opinion that Viputa was going to be impossible to defend against SPUR’s Armed Forces. Their overwhelming superiority in numbers and equipment made such a result inevitable, and he saw no reason to needlessly sacrifice Opelandic lives trying to achieve the impossible.

It was finally agreed that the defences protecting Viputa would be manned by Units drawn from the Reserve, and that the request for an armistice would be pursued with alacrity. It was also agreed that the handing over of Viputa to SPUR was preferable to the prospect of trying to fight a protracted war that Opeland would inevitably lose.

The Terrain

The Defenders
The defenders (commanded by Colonel Rolf Andersson) comprised:

  • 3 x Reserve Infantry Units
  • 1 x Reserve Anti-tank Gun Unit
  • 1 x Reserve Light Field Artillery Unit

The Attackers
The attackers (commanded by Admiral Loganoff) comprised:

  • 8 x Naval Infantry Units
  • 1 x Naval Anti-tank Gun Unit
  • 1 x Naval Light Field Artillery Unit
  • Units of the SPUR Northern Fleet

Turn 1
As day dawned, the defenders of Viputa could hear the sound of aircraft engines getting louder and louder, and this presaged the arrival of an attack by two SPUR Air Force Light Bomber Units, escorted by two Fighter Units.

The bombers ignored the Opelandic defences, and dropped their loads on the town of Viputa, setting many buildings on fire.

Meanwhile, out of sight of land, a SPUR Naval task force consisting of the newly-renamed Armoured Artillery Ship (AKA Battleship) Krasny Viputa (Red Viputa) and two landing barges was sailing towards the coast of Opeland.

Turn 2
The SPUR Naval Light Field Artillery Unit and the Opelandic Reserve Light Artillery Unit both fired at each other …

… and both inflicted casualties on the other.

The SPUR Naval Infantry Units edged forward so as to threaten but not actually attack the Opelandic defences.

At sea the SPUR task force turned towards Viputa and Krasny Viputa‘s smoke became visible to the inhabitants of the town.

Turn 3
The artillery exchange between the SPUR Naval Light Field Artillery Unit and the Opelandic Reserve Light Artillery Unit continued …

… but neither side’s fire was on target.

In Viputa the fire spread unchecked, and the whole town seemed to be engulfed in smoke.

At sea, the SPUR task force sailed closer and closer to Viputa …

Turn 4
The artillery duel between the SPUR Naval Light Field Artillery Unit and the Opelandic Reserve Light Artillery Unit continued ineffectively, but out at sea the Krasny Viputa was now clearly visible, as were the two landing barges. The latter had detached themselves from Krasny Viputa, and could be seen to be approaching the coast.

Turn 5
The guns of the Krasny Viputa opened fire on the Opelandic defences …

… with devastating effect!

The SPUR Naval Light Field Artillery and Naval Anti-tank Gun Units also fired at the Opelandic strong point closest to the coast …

… and wiped out its occupants!

The Opelandic Reserve Light Artillery Unit switched targets and fired at one of the oncoming SPUR Naval Infantry Units …

… but failed to inflict any casualties on it.

By this time the resolve of the Opelandic Reserve troops was beginning to waver, and already some Units were considering falling back. Colonel Andersson managed to keep those Units in the front line for the moment, but reported to Marshal Talenheim that the situation was dire, and that retreat was becoming inevitable. In reply Marshal Talenheim asked him to hold on for as long as possible, but that if it became obvious that the SPUR forces were going to prevail, to retreat in order to preserve the lives of his men.

Turn 6
Krasny Viputa fired on the Opelandic defences for a second time …

… and wiped out the Opelandic Reserve Anti-tank Gun Unit …

.. and inflicted casualties on the Opelandic Reserve Infantry Unit occupying the remaining strong point.

Fire from the SPUR Naval Light Field Artillery also targeted the Opelandic Reserve Infantry Unit …

… and caused even more casualties.

Realising that all was lost, Colonel Andersson ordered his remaining Units to retreat.

As they did so the SPUR landing barges arrived, carrying four additional SPUR Naval Infantry Units.

The battle for Viputa was over! SPUR had prevailed!


A Winter-ish War: Day 2: The SPUR attack in the right-hand sector

Overnight the SPUR troops in the right-hand sector had moved into position so that as the sun slowly rose in the east on the second day of the war, they could immediately begin their attack the Opelandic defences.

The Terrain

The Defenders
The defenders (commanded by Brigadier General Stig Larsson) comprised:

  • 3 x Regular Infantry Units
  • 1 x Regular Anti-tank Gun Unit
  • 1 x Regular Field Artillery Unit

The Attackers
The attackers (commanded by DivCom Smirnoff) comprised:

  • 6 x Rifle Units
  • 2 x Tank Units
  • 3 x Heavy Artillery Units

Turn 1
The SPUR attack began with a massive barrage of artillery fire from the SPUR Heavy Artillery Units on the centre of the Opelandic defences …

… and by the two SPUR Tank Units on the foremost – and very exposed – Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit.

The fire from the SPUR Heavy Artillery Units was accurate, and casualties were inflicted on one of the Opelandic Regular Infantry Units that was occupying a strong point.

The SPUR Tank Units were even more successful, and reduced the exposed Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit to 50% of its original strength.

The Opelanders returned fire, and their Regular Anti-Tank Gun Unit …

… hit and damaged the nearest SPUR Tank Unit.

The Opelandic Regular Field Artillery Unit also fired at nearest SPUR Tank Unit …

… but although its fire was on target, it did no damage.

Turn 2
Having learnt from the experiences of DivComs Litvinoff and Davidoff, DivCom Smirnoff was in no hurry to take on the Opelandic defences with an immediate all-out assault. His plan was to bombard and weaken the Opelanders before mounting a major attack … and this is what he proceeded to do.

The SPUR Heavy Artillery Units continued to target the centre of the Opelandic defences …

… whilst one of the SPUR Tank Units continued to engage the foremost Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit.

Although the SPUR Tank Unit’s fire was very effective and inflicted even more casualties on the Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit …

… the SPUR Heavy Artillery Units failed to achieve the same effect on the centre of the Opelandic defences, although some of the fire hit the minefield and cleared part of it as a result.

The Opelandic Regular Anti-Tank Gun Unit engaged the nearest SPUR Tank Unit … and missed … whilst the Opelandic Regular Field Artillery Unit’s fire was on target, but ineffective.

The SPUR Tank Unit that had not fired now advanced and attacked the exposed Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit …

… which it destroyed! The SPUR Tank Unit charged forward so that it could engage the Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit that was occupying one of the two strong points …

… but the Opelanders mounted a counter-attack that drove the SPUR Tank Unit back.

Turn 3
Before the SPUR Heavy Artillery and Tank Units could open fire yet again, the sound of aircraft was heard overhead. This presaged the arrival of two SPUR Air Force Light Bomber Units, escorted by two Fighter Units. They flew over the Opelandic positions, and the Light Bombers dropped their lethal loads …

… and inflicted casualties on both the Opelandic Regular Field Artillery and Regular Anti-tank Gun Units!

The SPUR Heavy Artillery and Tank Units then opened fire. The SPUR Heavy Artillery Units continued to fire at the centre of the Opelandic defences …

… and the Tank Units engaged the Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit in the nearest strong point.

The fire from the Heavy Artillery Units was very effective … and caused terminal casualties upon the Opelandic Regular Anti-tank Gun and Field Artillery Units!

The Opelandic Regular Anti-tank Gun and Field Artillery Units did manage to return fire before they were destroyed … but even where they hit their target, they did no damage.

Brigadier General Larsson now only had the two Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit with which to resist the SPUR invaders …

… and one of these was almost immediately reduced to 50% effectiveness by the fire from the SPUR Tank Units.

DivCom Smirnoff was now confident that he had broken the back of the Opelandic defences, and ordered his Rifle Units to begin to move forward.

Turn 4
The SPUR Heavy Artillery Units continued their bombardment …

… and caused further casualties upon the Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit closest to Lake Vigoda.

DivCom Smirnoff now ordered a general advance across the whole sector. This immediately brought some of the leading SPUR Units into contact with the Opelandic defenders. The leading SPUR Tank Unit attacked the much depleted Opelandic Regular Infantry Unit …

… and destroyed it.

On the other side of the sector, a SPUR Rifle Unit entered the forest and immediately ran into the other Opelandic strong point.

The fighting was intense … but Brigadier General Larsson’s men were unable to withstand the attack and fell back, leaving the final strong point to be occupied by SPUR’s troops.

Turn 5
DivCom Smirnoff was determined to push forward as quickly as he could, and his leading Units set off in pursuit of the retreating Opelanders. Unfortunately the pursuit proved fruitless, and DivCom Smirnoff had to content himself with the knowledge that he had succeeded in his mission to break the Opelandic defences in his sector.


A Winter-ish War: Day 1: The SPUR attack in the right-centre sector

At exactly 8.00am, troops from SPUR’s Armed Forces began to move forward to attack the Opelandic defences in the right-centre sector.

The Terrain

The Defenders
The defenders (commanded by Colonel Erik Karlstad) comprised:

  • 2 x Regular Infantry Units
  • 1 x Regular Anti-tank Gun Unit

The Attackers
The attackers (commanded by DivCom Davidoff) comprised:

  • 6 x Rifle Units
  • 1 x Mortar Unit
  • 1 x Anti-tank Gun Unit
  • 1 x Light Field Artillery Unit

Turn 1
DivCom Davidoff had a reputation for being careful, and his plan of attack reflected this. He moved his entire force forward en bloc with the intention of probing and testing the Opelandic defences, finding the weak points, and then concentrating his efforts there. He divided his Rifle Units into two forces, one on the left and one on the right, with Anti-tank Gun Unit in support of the former and his Mortar and Light Field Artillery Units supporting the latter.

Turn 2
Whilst using the Mortar and Light Field Artillery Units to engage the right-hand Opelandic strong point, Davidoff ordered his Rifle troops to probe forward. Those on the right soon discovered that their way forward was blocked by a minefield and barbed wire, and began the process of removing both.

On the left it was soon discovered that the forest gave the advancing units some cover from any Oplelandic artillery fire or counter-attacks.

At this point Colonel Karlstad received orders from Marshal Talenheim to send the Anti-tank Gun Unit to support the Opelandic forces defending the left-hand sector of the ‘Talenheim Line’, as the sound of tank engines had been reported as being heard coming from that direction.

Turn 3
The SPUR Mortar and Light Field Artillery Units continued to bombard the right-hand Opelandic strong point. They repeatedly hit it … but failed to inflict any casualties on the defenders.

On the right one of the SPUR Rifle Units removed the barbed wire that had hampered its progress, and this enabled it to assault the Opelandic strong point …

… only to be repulsed after suffering 25% casualties.

On the left the SPUR Rifle Units cautiously advanced …

… and the leading Rifle Unit began to remove the barbed wire that was in its way.

Turn 4
A further barrage of fire from the SPUR Mortar and Light Field Artillery Units missed the intended target and landed in the nearby minefield. This set off a number of the mines … and reduced the task of clearing the minefield from five to thee hours!

On the right …

… and the left …

… SPUR Rifle Units assaulted the Opelandic defences.

Whereas on the left neither side prevailed, …

… on the right the ferocity of the attack reduced the Opelandic defenders to 50% of their original strength.

Turn 5
The lack of any artillery support was being felt by the Opelanders, who could not reply when the SPUR Mortar and Light Field Artillery Units continually bombarded their strong points. The latter were finally beginning to have an effect, and the Opelanders in the strong point they were firing at began to suffer casualties.

The two leading SPUR Rifle Units continued to attack the Opleandic strong points …

… but both were unable to capture their objectives.

DivCom Davidoff was particularly pleased to read a decoded radio transmission from Colonel Karlstad to Marshal Talenheim to the effect that the Colonel’s troops were exhausted, but would continue to fight to the last man to defend Opeland.

Turn 6
The SPUR artillery barrage continued … but had no effect.

The minefield in front of the Opelandic strong point was finally cleared, and this enabled yet another SPUR Rifle Unit to join the assault on it.

Both sides suffered casualties on the right, …

… but on the left the Opelanders came off worse in the fighting.

Turn 7
The proximity of their own side’s troops to the Opelandic strong point ensured that the SPUR Mortar and Light Field Artillery Units fell silent.

In the meantime, the assaults by the SPUR Rifle Units on the Opelandic strong points continued.

On the right, the results of the fighting was indecisive, …

… but on the left the Opelandic Infantry Unit in the strong point …

… was wiped out and the SPUR Rifle Unit was able to occupy it!

The ‘Talenheim Line’ had been breached!

Turn 8
With night now fast approaching, DivCom Davidoff pushed his left-hand Rifle Units forward to secure the area behind the ‘Talenheim Line’ …

… whilst his right-hand Rifle Units continued to assault the remaining Opelandic strong point …

… and achieved a notable victory!

All the Opelandic Units that had been defending the right-centre section of the ‘Talenheim Line’ had been destroyed, and as night fell DivCom Davidoff moved his troops forward to occupy that section of the former border.

Like DivCom Litvinoff, DivCom Davidoff was also summoned to Marshall Zirkoff’s Headquarters that night … but anticipated a somewhat different reception.


A Winter-ish War: Day 1: The SPUR attack in the left-centre sector

At exactly 8.00am, troops from SPUR’s Armed Forces began to move forward to attack the Opelandic defences in the left-centre sector.

The Terrain

The Defenders
The defenders (commanded by Colonel Ore Jonasson) comprised:

  • 2 x Regular Infantry Units
  • 1 x Regular Mortar Unit

The Attackers
The attackers (commanded by DivCom Litvinoff) comprised:

  • 6 x Rifle Units
  • 1 x Mortar Unit
  • 1 x Anti-tank Gun Unit
  • 1 x Light Field Artillery Unit

Turn 1
At precisely 8.00am, the leading SPUR Rifle Units (accompanied by a Mortar Unit and an Anti-tank Gun Unit) advanced up to the border …

Turn 2
… and then crossed into Opeland.

Turn 3
SPUR’s Mortar Unit fired at the nearest Opelandic strong point, but although its shells hit the strong point, the Opelanders inside it suffered not casualties.

Both the left and right-hand SPUR Rifle Units advanced into the minefields in front of them …

… with disastrous consequences for each of them as both suffered casualties.

The central SPUR Rifle Unit moved through the forest and was confronted by barbed wire, which stopped any further advance for the moment.

In the fighting that ensued …

… the left and right-hand SPUR Rifle Units were forced to retreat, …

… whilst the central one was unable to take part as it was trying to clear the barbed wire.

It did come under attack from both Opelandic strong points, and was forced to fall back into the forest.

Turn 4
An artillery duel took place, but the fire from the SPUR Mortar and Anti-tank Gun Units failed to do any damage to the Opelandic strong points.

The Opelandic Mortar Unit did manage to hit the left-hand SPUR Rifle Unit, causing it further casualties and reducing it to a quarter of its original strength.

The central and right-hand SPUR Rifle Units attempted to attack the Opelandic strong point again …

… but both fell foul of the minefields and suffered casualties.

The fighting around the strong points was fierce, but yet again the SPUR Rifle Units failed to break into the Opelandic defences, and were forced to withdraw.

Turn 5
Both sides continued the artillery duel, but their fire was generally ineffective and neither side suffered any casualties.

The second wave of SPUR troops arrived (three Rifle Units and a Light Field Artillery Unit), and advanced towards the Opelandic defences.

Turn 6
The arrival of the Light Field Artillery Unit added considerable weight to the fire directed at the Opelandic strong points, and for the first time the Opelanders suffered casualties.

The exchange was not all one way, and the left-hand SPUR Rifle Unit was hit by Opelandic Mortar fire and destroyed.

The newly-arrive SPUR Rifle Units charged forward, and two of them entered the Opelandic minefields …

… which resulted in both Units suffering casualties.

They were not deterred by these loses, and assaulted the Opelandic strong points. In one instance this resulted in further Opelandic losses, …

… but the other assault was a catastrophic failure …

… which resulted in the total destruction of the attacking SPUR Rifle Unit.

Turn 7
At this point it became very apparent that the human wave attacks that were being used were doomed to failure. The Attacking Units were exhausted, and withdrew to position that were just inside the border.

As night fell DivCom Litvinoff was summoned to Marshall Zirkoff’s Headquarters to explain why his attack had failed. It was not an interview that he looked forward to having.