Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Robert Lazzaretti, Fantasy Mapmaker

Lou Anders interviews fantasy mapmaker Robert Lazzaretti, who drew the maps for Anders’s Thrones and Bones series (Frostborn, Nightborn). I can never get enough information about the process of making fantasy maps.

Previously: Mapping An Ember in the Ashes; How to Make a Fantasy Map.

Ecdysis Voter’s Packet

Ecdysis is, you may remember, a nominee for this year’s Aurora Award for Best Fan Publication. It’s available for free online, so its inclusion in the formal voter’s packet isn’t really necessary. But since making all the eligible issues available in a single download might make things more convenient for Aurora voters, I’ve put together my own little voter’s packet: a ZIP file containing the three issues published in 2014 (28.9 MB). I hope you find it helpful.

Best Saga Proposal Revised

So the proposal for a Best Saga Hugo Award (see previous entry) has since been revised: they’ve abandoned getting rid of Best Novelette, which was needlessly zero-sum, and have lowered the minimum word count. The proposal now says 300,000 words; the draft posted to File 770 at more or less the same time says 240,000. A series cannot win more than once, but it can certainly be nominated multiple times (so long as two new installments requalifies it) until it wins — I think of this as the “my favourite series better damn well win this time” provision.

I’m still not a fan: it’s going to be a popularity contest for very popular (if not always good) ongoing series. And any minimum word count is going to be exclusionary. A 240,000-word lower limit would have rendered ineligible the original Foundation trilogy — which won a one-off “Best All-Time Series” Hugo in 1966.

And as far as I can tell the amendment would still allow series to appear on the Best Novel ballot when the final installment is published, like The World of Time did last year.

Brandon Kempner tries to model what the Best Saga Hugo ballot would have looked like if it had existed: part one, part two, an imagined winner’s list.

My Readercon 26 Schedule

For the third year running I’ll be a program participant at Readercon 26, which this year takes place from July 9 to 12 at the Marriott in Burlington, Massachusetts. We’ve just been given the go-ahead to share our panel schedules, so I can now tell you where you’ll be able to see me shoot my mouth off:

Friday, July 10:

1:00 PM   It’s Actually About Ethics: Reviewing the Work of Colleagues and Friends. Jonathan Crowe, Elizabeth Hand, Jason Heller, Kathryn Morrow, Liza Groen Trombi (leader). How do we develop a culture of reviewing and criticizing writing within genre communities where everyone knows everyone else to varying degrees? What are the ethics of engagement when we’ve shared ToCs with the people we’re reviewing, or been published in the venue we’re reviewing? What about when we’re friends with the authors, editors, and publishers whose work we’re reviewing? At what point is it appropriate to disclose relationships, and at what point is it appropriate to recuse oneself from reviewing? Is full disclosure enough of an assurance of good practice? How full is full? What other considerations should we include?

Yesterday I turned in a review of a pair of books by someone I’m on friendly terms with. This is something I have to do all the time in Canadian science fiction, where I know roughly two-thirds of the people I’m reviewing. So this is a topic of great relevance to me.

5:00 PM   The Works of Nicola Griffith. Jonathan Crowe, Kelley Eskridge, Alena McNamara. Nicola Griffith was born in Yorkshire, England, but has lived in the U.S. for many years with her wife, Kelley Eskridge. She began publishing SF with “Mirror and Burnstone” in Interzone in 1987. Her novels include Ammonite (1992, Tiptree and Lambda Award winner), Slow River (1994, Nebula and Lambda winner), The Blue Place (1998), Stay (2002), Always (2007), and Hild (2013). She has also co-edited three anthologies with Stephen Pagel: Bending the Landscape: Fantasy (1997), Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction (1998), and Bending the Landscape: Horror (2001). She has published a memoir, And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes to a Writer’s Early Life (2007), another Lambda Award winner. Join us for a discussion of her work.

Pardon me while I (1) reread all the Nicola Griffith books I have in the house, (2) track down the two I don’t and (3) try to get over my nervousness about participating in a panel about Griffith with Griffith’s wife.

6:00 PM   From the French Revolution to Future History: Science Fiction and Historical Thinking. Christopher Cevasco, Phenderson Clark, Jonathan Crowe, John Crowley, Victoria Janssen (leader). Arts journalist Jeet Heer wrote, “It’s no accident H.G. Wells wrote both [The] Time Machine and The Outline of History (one of the most popular history books ever), [and] it’s no accident that science fiction writers are also often historical novelists: Kim Stanley Robinson, Nicola Griffith, etc.” For Heer, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and horror can all be grouped under the meta-genre of fantastika, and all emerged from the “epistemological rupture” of the French Revolution, which “forced us to think of history in new way, with new emphasis on ruptures and uncontrollable social forces.” Is Heer right to see these commonalities? Is it useful to think of historical fiction in fantastika terms? And how do speculative genres borrow from historical ones?

I proposed this panel. This is based on one of Jeet Heer’s famous numbered Twitter essays, which can be found here.

So that’s where I’ll be, at least officially: three closely spaced panels on Friday afternoon and early evening. Leaving me the rest of the convention to recover (I’ll need a drink or three Friday night for sure) and be sociable. Will I see you there?

(Posts about last year’s Readercon: Readercon Video: Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled; Readercon 25; My Readercon 25 Schedule.)

Some Initial Thoughts on a Couple of Hugo Award Amendments

Herewith some initial thoughts on a couple of proposed amendments to the World Science Fiction Society’s constitution that will be discussed at the WSFS business meeting at Sasquan. These amendments propose changing the rules governing the Hugo Awards.

Warning: Hugo Award rules neepery ahead.

Best Saga

One amendment proposes to eliminate Best Novelette (expanding both Best Short Story and Best Novella to cover the gap) and add a new award, Best Saga, which is defined as “[a] work of science fiction or fantasy appearing in multiple volumes and consisting of at least 400,000 words of which the latest part was published in the previous calendar year.” A saga can be renominated if at least two more books consisting of at least another 400,000 words are subsequently published — allowing for the possibility that a series can win the award more than once.

The amendment points out that most sf/fantasy comes out in series nowadays — around two-thirds, they claim — whereas Hugo voters tend to vote for standalone books. According to the proposal,

for the past decade, the Best Novel category has been dominated by stand-alone works, with nine out of the eleven winners being such (and one of the two series novels is a first book in its series). The distribution of Best Novel winners is badly out of step with the general shape of the market, even though the nominees run close to the market trend.

I’d argue that a decade doesn’t give us nearly enough data points. Over the past quarter century, the split between standalone books and series books among Hugo winners is about fifty-fifty — and I’m including the first books of eventual trilogies, such as Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (2014), Robert J. Sawyer’s Hominids (2003) and Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin (2006). Sequels to have won Hugos include Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls (2004), Vernor Vinge’s Deepness in the Sky (2000), and Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead (1987). Books two and three of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series won Hugos, as did the fourth installments of the Harry Potter and Foundation series. And that doesn’t get into the number of Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books that have won Hugos as well.

So I’m not sure that the proposal’s premise holds up.

A larger problem is the 400,000-word minimum, which disqualifies shorter series and shorter books in favour of continuing series or series where each book is hundreds of thousands of words. Many series are too short to qualify: trilogies where each book is fewer than 150,000 words (on average) include, I think, Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky, N. K. Jemisin’s Inheritance, and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch. The Lord of the Rings would barely qualify.

But even longer series don’t qualify if the books are (blessedly) short. Such as, for example, Mary Robinette Kowal’s just-completed five-volume series:

Meanwhile, the Foundation series would only qualify after Foundation and Earth, Herbert’s Dune series after God Emperor of Dune, and Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun after The Urth of the New Sun. There are so many series that would only be eligible long after they stopped being good.

On the other hand, there are epic fantasies that would be eligible after only two books, and regain eligibility after books four, and six, and so forth. Basically, it’s an award biased in favour of interminably long epic fantasies. They might as well make having a map a requirement.

And presumably the individual volumes would still be eligible under Best Novel, so standalone works would still have to compete against them. The Hugos tend to prefer having works being eligible under only one category as a rule.

As for getting rid of Best Novelette, I think the short fiction categories are Darwinian enough right now, don’t you?

Five Percent

Another amendment proposes to do away with the five-percent minimum. As it stands right now, the top five nominees (or more if there’s a tie vote for fifth place) appear on the final ballot, except that each nominee must receive at least five percent of the nominating votes for that ballot. If you finish in fourth place but don’t get five percent of the nominations, you’re left off the ballot. (The top three appear regardless of percentages.) This was, I presume, designed to prevent people from making the ballot with only a handful of votes. The amendment wants to repeal this requirement.

In recent years the short story final ballot had fewer than the usual five finallists because of this rule. In 2011 and 2014 there were four finallists; in 2013 there were only three. Had the five-percent rule not been there, the following stories would have been added:

2014:

  • “Dog’s Body” by Sara A. Hoyt, 38 votes (4.40%)

2013:

  • “No Place Like Home” by Seanan McGuire, 30 votes (4.53%)
  • “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” by Ken Liu, 28 votes (4.23%)
  • “Robot” by Helena Bell, 28 votes (4.23%)
  • “One Hell of a Ride” by Seanan McGuire, 28 votes (4.23%)
  • “We Will Not Be Undersold!” by Seanan McGuire, 28 votes (4.23%)

2011:

  • “Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi, 25 votes (4.85%)

The 2013 results indicate at least one problem with the proposal: there would have been a four-way tie for fifth place. Instead of three stories on the ballot, there would have been eight. Now a four-way tie is still possible under the current rules, if they were all above the five-percent threshold, but it seems to me that ties might be more likely when the numbers are smaller.

There are other amendments, and I have thoughts on them, but I’ll save that for another post.

iMac Hard Drive Replacement Program

Apple has announced a hard drive replacement program for some 27-inch iMacs with three-terabyte hard drives that were sold between December 2012 and September 2013. I entered my serial number at the link and it turns out that my iMac, which has a three-terabyte Fusion Drive, is included in the program. So at some point in the near future I’ll have to have its hard drive swapped out. (I wonder if my iMac’s periodic Weird Internal Noises can be attributed to this. Will find out soon enough.) More at AppleInsider, TidBITS and The Verge.

The Changing Definition of ‘Slow’

Our car, the Subaru XV Crosstrek, goes from zero to sixty in less than nine seconds with the manual transmission (Car and Driver, Motor Trend). Thirty years ago that would have been considered quite sporty, but the usual line in online discussions about the car is that it’s dog slow. Which I’ve always thought was a bit unfair. The XV is a ruggedized compact hatchback tuned for fuel economy, not a sport compact: think Corolla, not WRX. But sometimes the rhetoric is a little over the top: one YouTube commenter (I know, I know) called the XV “very dangerous to drive in the highway due to pathetic power and torque on the CVT, and pathetic power and torque in the manual, coupled with insufficient gears.”

Thirty years ago, that very same highway would have had on it cars like the Chevrolet Chevette/Pontiac T1000, a car I remember well, because it was more or less the first car I ever drove. 65 horsepower. Four-speed manual or three-speed automatic. Zero-to-sixty? With the automatic, thirty seconds.

How times have changed, if a car can be three times as quick off the line as this but still be considered so slow as to be “very dangerous.” Those of us who learned to drive in the eighties have to laugh.

The Pharmacy War Ends

Pharmacie R. Filion

For much of the last year, Shawville has had two pharmacies instead of just one, but now we’re down to just one again.

From what I understand, here’s what happened. After the death of pharmacist Richard Filion in an auto accident a year ago, his pharmacy, the Proxim-affiliated Filion & Laflamme, was put up for sale. Ahmad Hassan, who’d been working at the pharmacy for the past few years, offered to buy it, but the estate refused his offer and sold it to three other pharmacists. (As I understand it, pharmacies must be owned by a pharmacist.) Hassan then opened his own pharmacy down the street under the Uniprix banner, taking a number of the Filion staff and clientele with him (Hassan is well-liked in this community). A lawsuit followed, alleging that Hassan had interfered with the sale of the Filion pharmacy. That lawsuit, as well as the two-pharmacy situation, ended at the end of May, with Hassan buying out and closing the Filion pharmacy. The Filion building is now vacant; Hassan’s pharmacy is now expanding to the rest of its building.

Filion closure noticePharmacie A. Hassan

RIP Yahoo Maps

Citing changing priorities, Yahoo announced today that Yahoo Maps is among the products that it will be shutting down; it’ll go dark at the end of this month. “However,” says Yahoo chief architect Amotz Maimon, “in the context of Yahoo search and on several other Yahoo properties including Flickr, we will continue to support maps.” Business Insider, TechCrunch, VentureBeat.

For a few years Yahoo Maps got frequent upgrades and improvements. The current map platform launched in May 2007; it replaced a Flash-based map engine that first debuted as a beta in November 2005 and became the default map a year later, replacing an even older map service that, if my memory serves, was like the pre-Google Maps MapQuest. Since then Yahoo Maps has stagnated — but for a while there, before Google Maps became the dominant juggernaut it is today, it could have been a contender.

Palladium in the Pontiac

Not at all surprised to hear that exploratory drilling for palladium is taking place on Grand Calumet Island (CBC News, Ottawa Citizen). This area has a history of small-scale mining for heavy and precious metals (the Pontiac Archives has a lot of material on the subject), though not recently; the past decade has seen a lot of worry about the possibility of uranium mining. It’s a mineralogically interesting area, apparently.

Older Entries

Nikon 810A Reviewed
Conservation Through Identification
The Short Fiction of Peter Watts
Mapping the California Sea Floor
Mapping An Ember in the Ashes
Google Apologizes for Offensive Map Search Results
John Lanzendorf’s Paleoart
Aurora Award Nomination
The Martian
Clichéa
Google Map Maker Program Suspended
Approaching Ceres
Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba
The Great Snake Weigh-in of 2015
Review: My Real Children
Taxonomic Changes to Crayfish, Swamp and Earth Snakes
‘1491’ Is Becoming a TV Series
Google Maps Edits Cause Embarrassment
Map of Canada Changes Depiction of Arctic Sea Ice
Valentina Lisitsa and Artists’ Social Capital