Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ July 2011

2011 Hugos: Novellas

As was the case for the novelette nominees, three of the Hugo finalists for best novella (17,500 to 40,000 words) were also on the Nebula ballot: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press, 2010), which is also available online; The Sultan of the Clouds by Geoffrey Landis (Asimov’s Science Fiction, September 2010); and the surprise Nebula winner, The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2010).

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2011 Hugos: Novelettes

Three of the Hugo finalists for best novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words) were also on the Nebula final ballot: The Jaguar House, in Shadow by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s Science Fiction, July 2010); Plus or Minus by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010); and That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010), which took the Nebula.

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On Piroxicam

Piroxicam molecule

For the first time in more than 10 years, I’m on a new drug. My rheumatologist has put me on piroxicam, an NSAID that she feels is more effective against ankylosing spondylitis. There are three NSAIDs, apparently, that are particularly good against AS: piroxicam, flurbiprofen and indomethacin. Piroxicam has a longer half-life than naproxen, and it comes in smaller doses. I only have to take one 20-milligram capsule a day, instead of two 500-milligram tablets.

Except for a one-year period a decade ago when I experimented with other NSAIDs (including indomethacin: I didn’t like the neurological side effects), I’ve been on naproxen since my diagnosis in December 1997, so this is a Big Deal. It’s too soon to say whether this stuff will work any better than naproxen, or whether there will be side effects — I just started taking it yesterday. But I thought you might be interested in knowing about the change. I’ll keep you posted.

The Thing About Readercon

Readercon 22

So Jennifer and I attended Readercon earlier this month. The thing about Readercon is that it’s not your typical science fiction convention. Some of you may have an idea of what a con is like. Readercon isn’t like that. This is usually how I explain it: “Take your typical sci-fi convention. Now take away the comic books, the movies, the masquerades, the role-playing games, and all the related paraphernalia. What you’re left with is just the books. That’s what Readercon is like.” For those of us who like science fiction and fantasy books more than anything else, Readercon is a crucible, burning away all the ephemera. It’s all meat and no gristle.

That’s what makes Readercon great. It’s also what makes it hard to attend.

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Vesta’s Northern Hemisphere

Vesta (July 23, 2011)

You’ll forgive me if I keep posting newly released images of Vesta — like this one, released yesterday, taken by the Dawn spacecraft on July 23 over Vesta’s northern hemisphere from an altitude of 5,200 km. These images are, after all, our first good look at an asteroid that was first discovered in 1807. (We’ve known about Vesta longer than we’ve known about Neptune.) Which is to say that I’ll probably be posting more of them until I get sick of them. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

On Bad Panellist Behaviour

Worth reading: Michelle Sagara’s rant about bad behaviour on convention panels. Basically, if you’re on a panel, don’t make it about yourself.

Here’s the big clue: You are not there to make every possible discussion about you and your book. Period. Full stop. If there is anyone in an audience who has not read a book by Tanya Huff, for instance, you can bet after the panel those people will remember her and will head toward the dealer’s room to check out her books. Why? She’s funny as hell. She’s incredibly entertaining. She’s not pretentious. And she is not attempting to divert all attention to herself; she gets attention as a by-product because she’s entertaining. […]
But, you say, you’re at the panel to promote yourself. Yes, you are. And do you want to promote yourself as a boring, solipsistic, and slightly desperate drone? No? Well, then. See the above comment re: Tanya Huff. You promote yourself at conventions in a slow and subtle way — by simply being an interesting panelist. Trust me; I’ve been doing this for years, and I’ve seen — from the audience — what works and what doesn’t.

Just be interesting. Simple enough.

Lenny Flank’s Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Venomous Snakes

In his Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Venomous Snakes, Lenny Flank, Jr. speaks truth to crazy.

Providing information on how to keep venomous snakes in captivity — by definition, an extremely dangerous and life-threatening activity — is a contentious thing. Even among those crazy few who think that keeping venomous snakes should be legal, even among those who keep such snakes themselves, there is a line of thought that says, don’t tell anyone how it’s done. Because you might encourage the wrong people to do it. They’ll read your book or website, buy a bunch of deadly snakes, and get themselves — or worse, some innocent bystander — killed.

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Gardner Dozois: When the Great Days Come

Book cover: When the Great Days Come At Readercon (more on which anon) I discovered, to my delight, that a new collection of short stories by Gardner Dozois, one of the convention’s guests of honour, had just been published. When the Great Days Come (Prime Books, 2011) collects most of Dozois’s significant short fiction over his 40-year career.

Now, Dozois is best known as an editor. He edited Asimov’s Science Fiction between 1987 and 2004, and continues to edit the Year’s Best Science Fiction series of anthologies. He’s won 15 Hugos for his editing. But his friend (and frequent collaborator) Michael Swanwick likes to point out that Dozois is a better writer than an editor. Though not a prolific one, especially during the years he edited Asimov’s, what stories he has published — I count 56 of them in the shorter lengths1 — are beautifully crafted and are often filled with a terrible purpose. (The world comes to an end on more than one occasion.) He’s won Nebulas for two of them — “The Peacemaker” and the heartrending “Morning Child,” both of which are reprinted in this book — but none of his stories are a waste of reading time. (An argument could be made against “A Cat Horror Story,” but that one is still fun.)

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2011 Hugos: Short Stories

I’d better hurry up and blog about this year’s short fiction Hugo Award nominees: the voting deadline for Worldcon delegates is July 31, and it’s likely that several stories that have been made freely available online for the voting period will be taken down once it’s over, so I should do this while you can still click through to the stories. (The voting deadline doesn’t mean anything to me: I’m not even a supporting member. This is an exercise in reading and saying something about the nominated works, not voting for them.)

Let’s start with the short story category.

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Orbiting Vesta

Vesta (Dawn spacecraft image)

The Dawn spacecraft is now in orbit of Vesta (see previous entry). Above is an image taken on July 17 from a distance of 15,000 km; a closer image has since been released, but I like this one better. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Book cover: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin is the second book in my reading of the 2010 Hugo Award nominees for best novel. It’s a fantasy novel, the first book in a trilogy, but it’s not your standard fantasy — it went in directions I did not expect. Nor, though it features a female protagonist who has relationships with supernatural beings (gods, in this case), is it anything like a paranormal romance. It’s something quite different, and quite original.

The Arameri are a family who rule the world from their city of Sky, where they serve their god, Itempas. In a war between the gods thousands of years ago, Itempas banished or killed the other gods, who now serve as slaves to the Arameri. Yeine, the granddaughter of the head of the Arameri, is summoned to Sky on the death of her mother, who was estranged from her family, only to discover that she has been named one of her grandfather’s three heirs. This puts her in considerable peril, and she must navigate palace intrigues, family politics, and captured gods in order to survive.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a pleasant surprise: a novel so fluidly written, so gripping, with world-building and mythology that are first-rate. It’s hard to believe it’s a first novel — in fact, it just won the 2011 Locus Award for best first novel. It was a Nebula nominee too, and now it’s a strong contender for the Hugo. You should probably read it.

Neptune’s Anniversary

Neptune anniversary, Hubble images

The Hubble Space Telescope took these images of Neptune to coincide with Neptune’s first anniversary — in Neptune years, that is, which are nearly 165 Earth years long. In other words, Neptune has now made one complete revolution of the Sun since it was discovered in 1846. In these images, taken approximately four hours apart, methane clouds that reflect near-infrared light appear pink. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Davide de Martin, Astroimage Processor

Davide de Martin: M33

Davide de Martin takes raw data collected by professional observatories and processes them into awesome space photos. The incredible results can be seen on his website, Skyfactory. His most recent work, above, is of M33, the Triangulum Galaxy, using raw imagery from the four-metre Nicholas Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak. Via Bad Astronomy. Image credit: KPNO, NOAO, AURA, Dr. Philip Massey (Lowell Observatory). Image processing: Davide De Martin.

The Chocolate War

In his 3,750-word review of Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa by Órla Ryan, David Ralph says quite a bit himself about how troublesome cocoa production in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire is, and how difficult it is to improve the situation. Here’s a hint: buying fair trade chocolate isn’t enough. Via The Dish.

Generation X, Divorce and the Housing Bubble

In an excerpt from her memoir, In Spite of Everything, published in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Susan Gregory Thomas argues for a connection between the high divorce rates of the 1970s and the housing bubble of the 2000s — essentially, that Generation X has been scarred by divorce and is throwing their resources into stable homes and too-involved parenting.

Orphans as parents — that’s not a bad way to understand Generation X parents. Having grown up without stable homes, we pour everything that we have into giving our children just that, no matter how many sacrifices it involves. Indeed, Gen-X’s quest for perfect nests drove us to take out more home equity loans and to spend more on remodeling, per capita, than any generation before it, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Via MetaFilter, whose commenters aren’t buying it, largely because Thomas is drawing so much on her own experience.

A Scold of Jays

Juvenile Blue Jay

For the past few weeks I’ve been woken up by the cries of young birds every morning. It took me a while to figure out which birds were responsible, and it turns out that young blue jays are the culprit. We have a whole family of them nearby — I counted at least five today — but it’s only in the last couple of days or so that I’ve seen any juveniles. They must have fledged relatively recently. I managed to photograph one of the post-fledge juveniles this morning at the feeder. I like blue jays, but man, their kids are too loud.

Saturn’s Encircling Storm

Storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere

A storm in Saturn’s northern hemisphere, first detected by Cassini last December, has grown so large that it has circled the planet, the head of the storm passing the tail. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

I’m Thinking About Some Vínarterta

A Winnipeg Free Press article that tries to define Winnipeg’s signature dish came up with the impossibly fusion pancit with kubasa and goldeye, which I think is entirely too earnest, but also mentioned that several readers suggested vínarterta.

Ah, vínarterta. It’s been five years since I was last in Manitoba, and examples of my homesickness continue to manifest themselves, one of which is a craving for vínarterta. If you’re from Manitoba, you probably know what this is; if you’re not, you probably haven’t, unless you’re of Icelandic extraction and can pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull” without batting an eye.

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The Dervish House

Book cover: The Dervish House (Ian McDonald) First up in my reading of the 2010 Hugo Award nominees for best novel is The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. This is the first novel of his that I’ve read, though he’s written more than a dozen of them. That’s a shame, and something I’m going to have to rectify shortly, because The Dervish House is a masterful, beautifully written book that thoroughly deserves its Hugo nomination.

Set in a near-future Istanbul, a few years after Turkey joined the EU, the novel whirls around the inhabitants of the so-called dervish house (a square in an Istanbul neighbourhood). Over the course of a week, it shifts between six point-of-view characters and multiple storylines — a terror attack on a tram, a scheme involving a gas pipeline, the search for a man entombed in honey, among others, all within the context of a world thoroughly infused with nanotech. It’s a little hard to follow in the beginning, but the seemingly disparate threads do come together, and make for a satisfying conclusion. And the characters — a motley collection that includes a retired Greek economics professor, a nine-year-old boy with pet robots and a heart condition, and a man who thinks he sees djinni — are wonderful and lively. This is an impressive piece of science fiction on so many levels.

Note: the Kindle version (U.S./Canada, UK) uses images to render the Turkish letters “Ğ” and “Ş” — with ugly results.

The VLT Survey Telescope and the Omegas

VST: Omega Nebula, M17 (ESO) VST: Omega Centauri (ESO)

ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile has a new telescope: the VLT Survey Telescope (VST), which consists of a 2.6-metre telescope and a 268-megapixel camera designed to survey the skies quickly and at high resolution. For the VST’s first publicly available images, released last month, ESO has gone to the Omegas: Messier 17, the Omega Nebula (left); and globular cluster Omega Centauri (right), an image that ESO says “may be the best portrait of the globular star cluster Omega Centauri ever made.” Believe me when I say that you want to see these at high resolution. Image credits: ESO/INAF-VST/OmegaCAM. Acknowledgements: OmegaCen/Astro-WISE/Kapteyn Institute; A. Grado/INAF-Capodimonte Observatory.

More coverage: Bad Astronomy, LiveScience, Wired Science.

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Online

The third edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction will be published online later this year and be available free of charge. Here’s the site; here’s the press release. About three quarters of the final product will be available to start with, with the rest coming in monthly increments through 2012. Via Paul Di Filippo.

Should Math Be Taught in Schools?

Above, a searing response to the Miss USA pageant, which asked its bimbos contestants whether evolution should be taught in schools, adapting the contestants’ own answers for evolution to math. Via GRRM.

Bill Maher on Real Time: “New Rule: Stop asking Miss USA contestants if they believe in evolution. It’s not their field. It’s like asking Stephen Hawking if he believes in hair scrunchies. Here’s what they know about: spray tans, fake boobs and baton twirling. Here’s what they don’t know about: everything else. If I cared about the uninformed opinions of some ditsy beauty queen, I’d join the Tea Party.”

The Decline of the Symphony Orchestra

“Any competent historian would tell you that the crunch has been a long time coming.” Norman Lebrecht in Standpoint, writing about the dire state of symphony orchestras around the world, many of which are facing the loss of state funding or even bankruptcy. Via @followingtheninth.

New Research on Chronic Pain

Carl Zimmer on recent studies into the nature of chronic pain. “Most remarkably, unfolding research shows that chronic pain can cause concrete, physiological changes in the brain. After several months of chronic pain, a person’s brain begins to shrink. The longer people suffer, the more gray matter they lose.” At the same time, there is research that focuses on the involvement of a particular enzyme in chronic (rather than regular) pain, and some hope that that could lead to better treatment.

Canada Day in Shawville

Fireworks

Canada Day in Shawville — a town that takes its patriotism very seriously — is always a big deal. This year’s was pretty much the same as it’s always been since we came here. Here are my photos of the parade, which had many of the same participants as past years (compare with 2010 and 2006), though there seem to have been more horses involved this year. And of course there were fireworks: I have photos of those as well (which you can compare with those from 2007).

Tycho Crater Close Up

Tycho's central peak

Stunning new images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter were released this week; they show the central peak of Tycho crater in exquisite detail. Hint: the above image is not the most detailed view even at full resolution. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

Jennifer’s Website Updated

A new version of Jennifer’s website, designed by yours truly, went live this morning. It’s a simple one-page site that points to her various presences online, and replaces her long-defunct blog (she never really took to blogging).

The History of the Space Shuttle in Pictures

Nice collection spanning the entire history of the space shuttle program, from the design stage in the 1970s to last month’s penultimate landing, at The Atlantic’s In Focus (which is where Alan Taylor, who founded the Big Picture, can be found nowadays).

The Map Room Closes, Another Door Opens

I announced last night that I’m wrapping up regular blogging on The Map Room, after eight years and 4,055 posts. For the details, read the announcement. While there will probably be a few more posts on map-related subjects — possibly as many as three book reviews in the near future, for example — I’ve ended the regular, near-daily grind of blogging about maps.

This is so I can free up some space in my head to write other things. Writing those things will probably require me to disappear inside my head for weeks at a time, and I could never allow myself to do that while The Map Room was an ongoing project — one to which, to a certain extent, I had to give priority. Now I’m free to go nuts. If all goes well, I’ll have some interesting announcements to make. Not right away — these are big projects. Suffice to say, awesome things are in the works, and I’m excited to have the time to do them.

I know I’m being vague. At the appropriate juncture. In due course. In the fullness of time.

The Car Needs a New Air Conditioner

The Subaru needs a new air conditioner. Not exactly a surprise, because the car’s AC has been cutting out after only a few minutes for some time, but Jennifer had it into the dealership in Ottawa — local garages not being able to deal with exotic Japanese cooling technology — and had it confirmed. It’s going to cost a fair bit to replace, but we can afford it.

We’ve had this car — a 2004 Subaru Forester — for three years, and this is the first serious mechanical problem we’ve had to deal with. Our previous car, a 1998 Mazda Protegé, also had its AC flame out on us, so I’m now more or less expecting cars to require a new AC at some point in their lives. That Protegé also had a number of other things that needed fixing, including its exhaust system (twice), alternator, windshield wiper pump, headlight wiring … compared with that, the Subie has been a tank. The only other significant repairs we’ve had to deal with have been as a result of damage: a cracked windshield, a broken-off rear window wiper.

In any event, we should have the new AC installed before we head off to Readercon later this month.