Jonathan Crowe

I’m a blogger and writer from Shawville, Quebec. I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis. More about me.

My Correct Views on Everything

Review of Necessity

Book cover: Necessity My review of Necessity, the concluding volume in Jo Walton’s Thessaly trilogy, went live last night at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review. I should warn you that this review includes some self-indulgent woolgathering about series, reviews of books in series, and the ways in which the third book of a trilogy can be reviewed critically. One of the tricks about reviewing book three of a trilogy is that it invariably involves spoilers for the first two books. That’s certainly the case here; if you haven’t read the first two books in the series (The Just City and The Philosopher Kings), you should instead read the double-barrelled review of them that I wrote for AE last year.

The Seven Species of Milk Snake

At one point the Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) comprised two dozen subspecies ranging from Quebec to Ecuador, from drab, saddled snakes to brilliant tricolours, and from bootlace-sized minatures to six-foot behemoths. The difference between a local Eastern Milk Snake and a tangerine-morph Honduran Milk Snake from the pet store is pretty extreme. It had been suggested, I can’t remember where, that the Milk Snake was an example of a ring species, where neighbouring populations interbreed but the end points (i.e., Quebec and Ecuador) are too distantly related.

But the simpler answer is that these snakes are not all one species, and a recent study — an early draft of which I tweeted about in December 2013 — suggests that they are, in fact, seven species. The authors divide them as follows:

  1. Eastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), found in northeastern and central North America, includes the former Eastern (L. t. triangulum) subspecies and adds Louisiana Milk Snakes (amaura) from northeastern Louisiana and most populations of Red Milk Snakes (syspila). The Coastal Plains Milk Snake (“temporalis”), previously considered an intergrade between the Eastern Milk Snake and Scarlet Kingsnake (elapsoides), is also included.
  2. Western Milk Snake (Lampropeltis gentilis), found in the Great Plains and mountain states of the U.S., includes the New Mexico (celaenops), Central Plains (gentilis), Pale (multistriata) and Utah (taylori) Milk Snakes, as well as most Louisiana Milk Snakes (amaura), Mexican Milk Snakes (annulata) from central Texas and Red Milk Snakes (syspila) from Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
  3. Scarlet Kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides), found in the southeastern U.S., is unchanged.
  4. Tamaulipas (Mexican) Milk Snake (Lampropeltis annulata) includes Dixon’s Milk Snake (dixoni) and most populations of the former Mexican subpsecies (annulata), and is found in northeastern Mexico and Texas.
  5. Mexican Milk Snake (Lampropeltis polyzona) includes the former Jalisco (arcifera), Pueblan (nelsoni), Sinaloan (sinaloae) and Smith’s (smithi) subspecies, as well as some populations of the Conant’s (conanti) and Atlantic Central American (polyzona) subspecies. It’s found in central Mexico.
  6. Central American Milk Snake (Lampropeltis abnorma) includes the Guatemalan (abnorma), Blanchard’s (blanchardi), Honduran (hondurensis), Pacific American (oligozona), Stuart’s (stuarti) subspecies, as well as some populations of the Conant’s (conanti) and Atlantic Central American (polyzona) subspecies. It’s found from southeastern Mexico (Guerrero, Veracruz) to Costa Rica.
  7. South American Milk Snake (Lamproletis micropholis) includes the Andean (andesiana), black (gaigae) and Ecuadorian (micropholis) subspecies. It’s found in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela.

I’m no herpetologist, but to my amateur eyes this makes considerable sense, and upends a taxonomical paradigm that was clearly unsustainable. Whether this one holds, or is refined further, is anyone’s guess.

If nothing else, it’ll make things more clear in the pet trade, especially here, where Eastern Milk Snakes are a local, protected species (and lousy captives, to boot), whereas Mexican and Central American Milk Snakes are in every pet store. Strictly speaking, as (former) members of Lampropeltis triangulum, they were illegal, though in practical terms they were obviously not local snakes. Now the letter and spirit of the law can be more closely aligned.

Previously: Taxonomic Changes to Crayfish, Swamp and Earth Snakes.

Ceres’ Bright Spots Are Carbonates

Occator Crater and Carbonates

We now have some idea of what those bright spots on the surface of Ceres are. In an article published last month in Nature, scientists report that the spots’ spectral readings are consistent with sodium carbonate. (They had initially been thought to be made up of hydrated magnesium sulfate.) Sodium carbonate suggests the existence of subsurface water or ice that was brought to the surface by an impact (the bright spots are all in impact craters; the brightest are found in Occator, a crater 92 km wide); the carbonates would have been left behind after the water boiled off. JPL, Scientific American.


Previously: A Closer Look at Ceres’ Bright Spots.

Scrivener for iOS Is Finally Here

Scrivener logo Scrivener is a writing application that many authors swear by. (Word, on the other hand, is the application that many authors swear at.) An iPad version has been promised for years, but it’s been delayed by various development issues. But it’s here now: the iOS version of Scrivener finally went live at the App Store this morning; here’s the iTunes link. It costs US$20 (C$28) and uses Dropbox to sync with the desktop version.

I use Scrivener myself; buying the iOS version was frankly a no-brainer for me, as I suspect it is for a lot of other writers, who’ve been frothing at the mouth to get their hands on this for a long time. I don’t anticipate writing a novel on my iPad, but I do look forward to being able to peck away at a work in progress when I’m away from my iMac or MacBook.

My Readercon 27 Schedule

Readercon will soon be upon us once more. This year’s iteration takes place from July 7 to 10 at a new location, at the Marriott in Quincy, Massachusetts (just south of Boston).

I’m on programming again this year. The preliminary program schedule is now online; barring any last-minute changes, here is where you’ll find me, at least officially:

Friday, July 8

12:00 PM   The Works of Catherynne M. Valente. Jonathan Crowe, Gillian Daniels, Liz Gorinsky (leader), Kathleen Howard. Catherynne Valente has been a professional fortune teller, telemarketer, private tutor, librarian, waitress, bartender, actress, and statistician, but she is best known as a novelist and poet, having published over two dozen novels and poetry collections. She has been nominated for or won every major award in science fiction and fantasy: the Hugo (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014), the Nebula (2013, 2014), Locus (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), and the World Fantasy Award (2007, 2009, 2011, 2014). In the Night Garden (2006) won the James Tiptree Jr. Award; The Orphan’s Tales (2006-2007) won the Mythopoeic Award; “The Seven Devils of Central California” won the Rhysling Award (2008); Palimpsest won the Lambda Award (2010). In 2010, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making became the first self-published work to win a major literary award, winning the Andre Norton Award. The sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, was listed by Time Magazine and NPR as one of the ten best books of 2012. The New York Times has called her “an incandescent young star.” Join our panelists in a discussion of her work.

1:00 PM   Nonfiction for Fiction Writers. Matthew Cheney, Jonathan Crowe (leader), Keffy Kehrli, Tom Purdom, Rick Wilber. Sometimes we need to do specific research on science, historical events, or perspectives on lives and eras far removed from our own for the stories we want to tell. What are some of the best nonfiction works the panelists have read? Biographies, histories, essays, blog posts, studies or even the backs of cereal boxes: what inspires and informs you? Where do you turn when you need accurate, obscure information?

2:00 PM   Welcome to Readercon. Jonathan Crowe, Rose Fox, Emily Wagner. New to Readercon? Not new, but curious about what might be different this year? Our program chair and other Readercon regulars will give you some peeks behind the scenes and suggestions about all the cool not-to-miss stuff. We’re nice. Come hang out.

Three panels in a row: that ought to fry me good. But it also means that I’ll have the rest of the convention to see people, and chat, and attend the rest of the programming. Do say hello: it’s not often I leave my village and emerge into the wider world, so I don’t get many chances to see in person the people I interact with online.

Review of Company Town

Book cover: Company Town In my latest review for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, I look at Company Town, the new standalone novel from Madeline Ashby.

My incorrigible need to place all things in their proper context has asserted itself again: in this review I see Company Town as one of several recent science fiction thrillers written by up-and-coming authors. The thriller mode, I argue, has implications for how a tale is told and what it focuses on. See what I mean in my review.

Route 303 Closure

Quebec Route 303 highway sign Another spring, another sinkhole, another road closure — though this time it’s on another highway. I’ve been seeing reports on social media of a sinkhole erupting on Route 303 between Portage-du-Fort and Shawville near the intersection with Front Road. (There was a washout at roughly the same spot a few years ago.) Quebec 511 now says that the highway is closed for repairs. Don’t know yet for how long, but meanwhile the detour is via Routes 148 and 301.

Ethics in Opera Reviewing

A relevant screencap from Citizen Kane

The latest contretemps concerning ethics in reviewing comes not from science fiction or computer games, but opera.

Earlier this month, the National Post pulled their review of a Canadian Opera Company performance of Rossini’s Maometto II after a COC public relations manager, Jennifer Pugsley, wrote the Post to complain about a couple of points in the review. Rather than standing by their reviewer, freelancer Arthur Kapitainis, or making the corrections requested, features producer Dustin Parkes apologized and pulled the review.

Kapitainis quit (inasmuch as a freelancer can do so); his review was reprinted at Musical Toronto before being restored, sans an offending sentence, at its original location.

In the email exchange between Pugsley and Parkes (reprinted here), Parkes noted that performing arts reviews “simply get no attention online, and almost always end up as our poorest performing pieces of digital content.” (He went on to ask about getting tickets. Ahem.)

As for the news coverage of this incident, the Washington Post focuses on the role, and importance, of arts criticism in journalism, whereas Maclean’s piece looks at the economics of arts reviews in leaner, meaner times: reviewing the performing arts in mainstream publications has never been viable; it’s just that newspapers used to have money enough to subsidize it.

As I see it, critical integrity is beside the point in cases like these. I suspect that performing arts coverage has always been filed under civic boosterism (the tickets are part and parcel): covering the event, rather than critiquing it, is what’s important. No one, after all, wants to read that the local orchestra can’t play worth a damn — what good would that do?

Puppy Count (Again)

Even though twice as many people nominated for the Hugo Awards this year versus last year (4,032 vs. 2,122), the Rabid Puppies slate managed to take more than three-quarters of the nomination slots. How did this happen?

Using statistical models, Rocket Stack Rank’s Greg Hullender and Chaos Horizon’s Brandon Kempner estimate the number of Puppy supporters at around 200 (Hullender) or between 250 and 480 (Kempner). Roughly the same as last year, and between five and ten percent of the total ballots cast. It seems counterintuitive that the same number of Puppies could dominate a ballot with double the total number of voters, but it’s quite possible: last year they had so many more votes than they needed (see the last year’s Hugo Award statistics, especially the nomination statistics beginning on page 18) that even if you were to double the votes received by the non-slate candidates, the Puppy slates would still have dominated — though a few more non-slate candidates would have made the final ballot. Which is probably what happened this year. We’ll see in August, when the counts are released.

Previously: Puppy Count.

Too Like the Lightning

Too Like the Lightning At the final Farthing Party in the fall of 2013, Tor managing editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden read the opening from a book, the first of a four-part series, that he had just acquired. We the assembled multitudes were impressed, because it sounded fantastic, and also a bit annoyed, because we knew we’d have to wait some time before the book came out, and we wanted it now.

Our wait is now almost — finally — over, because that book, Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, comes out in two weeks from Tor Books. I have read it, and I have thoughts.

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