Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Reviews Update

Book cover: The Philosopher KingsBook cover: The Just City This morning my review of The Just City and The Philosopher Kings, the first two books of Jo Walton’s Thessaly trilogy, went live at AE. I don’t have the background in classical history and literature to get all the references, but as I argue in my review, that’s not at all necessary to enjoy these books.

I’m also happy to announce, now that I’ve signed the contract, that my essay on the short fiction of Peter Watts will appear in translation as an afterword to a French collection of Watts’s short stories. The as-yet-untitled book will be published by Éditions du Bélial’ in 2016. So a landmark of sorts: my first reprint and my first translation.

Three Books on WWII Maps

  1. Great Escapes: The Story of MI9’s Second World War Escape and Evasion Maps by Barbara Bond (Times Books, October 2015): history of the escape maps produced for prisoners of war. Pre-order at Amazon (Canada, U.K.).
  2. Mapping the Second World War by Peter Chasseaud (Collins, October 2015): a collection of historical maps; follow-up to Chasseaud’s 2013 book Mapping the First World War. Pre-order at Amazon (Canada, U.K.).

  3. Mapping the Second World War: The Key Battles of the European Theatre from Above by Michael Swift and Michael Sharpe (Conway Maritime Press, November 2014). Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.).

Previously: Two Books on WWI Maps.

Actually, It’s About Ethics in Book Reviewing

As I mentioned in a previous post, I appeared on a panel called “It’s Actually About Ethics: Reviewing the Work of Colleagues and Friends” at Readercon. That was last weekend. Scott Edelman recorded video of that panel, so you can see me in all my questionable glory. As you will see, I have a few suggestions about who you should and should not review.

The ethics of writing book reviews seems to be a topic of the moment. I have a number of links. Let’s start with my friend Natalie Luhrs and her comprehensive article on the subject in Uncanny Magazine. That’s a good starting point.

Jonathan McCalmont is concerned about reviewers’ critical agency and has some sharp observations about the role reviewers play: “Why do so many bloggers make it look as though they are working an extra job as unpaid interns in the entertainment industry?” The truth about book reviews is that while they’re ostensibly for readers, the audience that cares about them most is the publishing industry: booksellers, librarians, publicists — and most of all authors, who are the ones who do most of the linking to and retweeting of reviews.

I’m very mindful of the fact that reviewing is a cog in the literary-industrial complex, and that it takes great force of personality to resist falling into line with the demands of publicity. For an example of such force of personality, see James Nicoll, who has enough of a problem with reviewers taking money from authors (he does sponsored reviews on his website, but, critically, not from the authors of the books) that he’s leaving Romantic Times over their for-pay RT Review Source.

The ethical book reviewer, it seems to me, has to be prepared to act against their own pecuniary and social self-interest — giving a friend a bad review, turning down money, losing social capital or access to advance copies — in favour of the integrity of their reviewing. But the ethical book reviewer will not suffer if authors and publishers are also ethical. Ethics in book reviewing, in other words, isn’t only about reviewers.

Child of a Hidden Sea

Book cover: Child of a Hidden Sea Alyx Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea (Tor Books, June 2014) is the kind of fantasy adventure novel you used to see a lot more of — not technically YA, but certainly something my 14- or 15-year-old self would have had no trouble reading. But do not make the mistake that this is some kind of throwback. It’s a delightful portal fantasy that brings the form up to date in several important ways.

Twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa, fresh off a difficult first contact with her birth mother, suddenly finds herself floating at sea, desperately trying to save the life of an aunt she’s just met. It turns out that she’s been swept away to Stormwrack, a richly developed fantasy world of island nations and dashing sailors. She is promptly sent back, but manages to return, bringing her brother Bram with her. Adventures naturally ensue.

There are many ways in which this take on portal fantasy is so refreshingly modern. As fantasies age, the real world acquires its own layer of strangeness: for modern readers, the Pevensies’ England is as uncanny as Narnia. Not so here. Sophie and Bram are normal adults who have natural and recognizable responses to their fantastic surroundings. Those responses are not sentimental or unquestioning: they actively interrogate Stormwrack, Bram trying to figure out its location, Sophie arriving with a truckload of modern technology and studying its biota.

Stormwrack too comes across as real: it has wildlife, and politics, and economics. People exist and have agency. (And sex.) Also, gay people exist (as does homophobia). It does not exist to be an adventurers’ playground, though adventures certainly occur.

Fantasy frequently separates children from their parents so that they may go on and have adventures without adult supervision. There are lots of orphans, children sent to the countryside, living with distracted uncles, unloving step-parents and so forth: reasons, in other words, for escape.

But such scenarios are also as uncanny as the Pevensies’ England; that’s not what we do with children nowadays. Sophie is adopted; her story is very much about encountering her birth parents — a very modern concern for adoptees. Jennifer, who devoured this book, is adopted as well; she cannot recall ever reading a book whose protagonist mirrors her own background. Of such small details are books made important.

Buy Child of a Hidden Sea at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

History of Cartography Project’s Sixth Volume Now Out

History of Cartography Volume 6 (book covers)

The sixth volume of the massive History of Cartography Project, Cartography in the Twentieth Century, is now available. Edited by Mark Monmonier, it takes two physical volumes and nearly two thousand pages to cover mapmaking in the twentieth century — and lists for an eye-popping $500 (U.S.), though it’s a bit cheaper on Amazon.

Volumes one through three are available for free download. Volumes four and five, covering the European Enlightenment and the nineteenth century, respectively, are still in development.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

Previously: History of Cartography Project Co-Founder Dies.


The New Yorker’s Elements blog has a piece about mapcodes. These are short alphanumeric codes assigned to every location on the planet, with short codes reserved for areas of high population density. It’s meant to be a substitute for latitude and longitude, and aimed at parts of the world where there are no formal addresses (which makes directions somewhat interesting): give someone a mapcode, and you’re giving them a very precise location.

The Peace Tower in Ottawa, for example, has an Ontario mapcode of 09W.YK (mapcodes exist within country and state/provincial contexts).

The main problem, as I see it, is that while the Mapcode Foundation is trying to make mapcodes a standard, it still relies on data tables to produce the code, which is to say that there’s some computational overhead. Whereas something like Universal Transverse Mercator coordinates can be derived from topo maps (which have UTM grids on them).

The Best Map of Pluto Ever (Until Some Time Later This Month)

New Horizons Map of Pluto

The New Horizons spacecraft’s rendezvous with Pluto is next week, folks, but we’re already getting better views of our favourite dwarf planet than we’ve ever had before. NASA has assembled images taken between June 27 and July 3 into the above map, which despite its relatively low resolution shows some intriguing surface features: the so-called “whale” and “donut.” (Of course, low resolution is relative: this is already much better than the Hubble-based maps of Pluto released in 2005 and 2010.) Image credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI.

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.

Older Entries

My Readercon 26 Schedule
Some Initial Thoughts on a Couple of Hugo Award Amendments
iMac Hard Drive Replacement Program
The Changing Definition of ‘Slow’
The Pharmacy War Ends
RIP Yahoo Maps
Palladium in the Pontiac
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
Google Map Maker Program Suspended
Approaching Ceres
Historical Highway Maps of Manitoba