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
↳ Science Fiction & Fantasy

Not So Much, Said the Cat

Book cover: Not So Much, Said the Cat It’s hard for me to review Michael Swanwick’s latest collection of short stories, Not So Much, Said the Cat (Tachyon, August 2016), without coming across like a total fangoober. That’s partly because, when it comes to Swanwick’s work, I am a total fangoober, and have been for decades. He’s one of my favourite writers and a literary hero of mine, so I’m primed to like a collection of his — I always have. But it’s also because Not So Much, Said the Cat is such a good collection — far better than any book of its kind has any right to be.

Not So Much, Said the Cat includes most of Swanwick’s short fiction production from 2008 onward — the only exceptions I’m aware of are the collaborations with other authors, the miniatures he’s written for his wife’s Dragonstairs Press project, and the Mongolian Wizard stories, which presumably will get their own volume (though the fourth story in the series, “House of Dreams,” is included here). Which is to say that it’s one of those short story collections that are iterative and reasonably all-inclusive: here, these collections say, are the stories that have appeared since the author’s previous collection — in this case, The Dog Said Bow-Wow (Tachyon, 2007).

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Ghost Talkers

Book cover: Ghost Talkers First, a caveat. I’m a (lapsed) historian; for me, reading historical fantasies and alternate histories unavoidably sets of alarm bells in the positivist/materialist corners of my brain. That’s largely my problem, not the genre’s. Mary Robinette Kowal’s new novel, Ghost Talkers (Tor, August 2016),, her first since wrapping up her five-volume Glamourist Histories, is, like that earlier series, a historical fantasy, and an engaging and readable one at that. But the fact that it’s a historical fantasy set during the Great War, which was one of my areas of focus during my studies, means that I brought more than the usual baggage to this book when I read it. My take on it is more complicated than the typical reader’s would be.

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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.

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.

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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The Winged Histories

Book cover: The Winged Histories Sofia Samatar’s debut novel, A Stranger in Olondria (Small Beer, 2013), won the British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards. Her second novel, The Winged Histories (Small Beer, March 2016) does not function as a sequel to that earlier book, though it too is set in the Olondrian Empire during the same time period, and there is some overlap in characters. The density and richness of Samatar’s world is profoundly intoxicating, to say nothing of her prose, and fans of the first book will welcome a return to it. A prior familiarity is not strictly required (a good thing for me: A Stranger in Olondria was 115 books ago and my memory of it was poor).

Instead of the first book’s Bildungsroman we have a book that very much lives up to the noun in its title (the adjective is more subtle): these are histories — chronicles told by four women who play key roles in a many-layered civil war that splits along familial, regional, ethnic, religious and even interspecific lines. These are tales about the margins of empire, and colonial relationships, and things that are hidden and not spoken of. Each of them ends much too soon, leaving the reader hungry.

The reader will stay hungry, too: news that this book marks the conclusion of Samatar’s Olondria project (which she “always envisioned as a two-book adventure”) will no doubt be disappointing, though mad props for the integrity of her decision (other authors would have written their secondary worlds into the ground, with all-too-familiar results).

I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

On the Aurora Ballot Again

Aurora Nominee The finalists for the 2016 Aurora Awards have been announced. For the second year running, my fanzine Ecdysis has been nominated in the Best Fan Publication category.

A big thank-you to those who felt that our work was worthy of a nomination. We only published two issues in 2015, but I’m rather proud of those issues: they represent some of our best work.

They’re available as part of the Aurora voter’s package and (of course) on the Ecdysis website. If you’d like to download the Ecdysis voter’s package file, it’s available here (30.6 MB PDF). You can also download and read the individual issues, naturally.

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Quantum Night

Book cover: Quantum Night My review of Quantum Night, Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel, went live this morning at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.

I had a very strong reaction to Quantum Night; my first response was actually “This is a horrible book!” Horrible doesn’t mean bad; I simply found the book’s implications so disturbing. Find out why in my review.

Links to the 2015 Nebula Short Fiction Nominees

The Nebula nominees were announced last weekend, which means that a lot of people, Nebula voters and otherwise, have some reading ahead of them. (I’m not a SFWA member, but I like to read what’s on the Nebula ballot — if nothing else, it helps inform my Hugo nomination ballot.)

Most of the stories are available online for free, but many of the posts announcing the nominations omitted direct links to the stories themselves. For my own reference purposes as much as anything else, here they are with those direct links. If a story is not available to read online but there’s an ebook for sale, I’ve linked to that.

Cover art for Nebula nominees for Best Novella

Novella (17,500 words to 40,000 words)

Novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words)

Short Story (under 7,500 words)

If I’m lucky and organized I’ll have something to say about the nominees once I’ve had a chance to read them all.

Rattlesnakes and Men

Magazine cover: Asimov's Science Fiction (February 2015) Michael Bishop’s “Rattlesnakes and Men,” which appeared in the February 2015 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, is one of six finalists for the 2015 Nebula Award for Best Novelette. (The nominees were announced over the weekend.)

It’s a story that imagines a Georgia town where rattlesnake ownership is mandatory, where people wear pit vipers on their belts for protection, and where death by snake bite is carefully hushed up. “Rattlesnakes and Men” is a transparent parable for the out-of-control gun culture in the United States, and some readers and reviewers have found its allegory a bit obvious and heavy-handed.

But given that Bishop’s son Jamie was one of 32 people killed in the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, I think he’s earned the right: this story can properly be read as a primal scream of frustration. In March 2015 the Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked to Bishop about his story and the gun control advocacy that was born of his loss.

(“Rattlesnakes and Men” is not online at the moment. Publishers frequently make award finalists available to read online, though, so check the Asimov’s website in a few days.)

(Update, March 8: It’s now available online.)

The Semi-Secret Life of Andrew J. Offutt

Book cover: My Father, the Pornographer Andrew J. Offutt was a well-known figure in the science fiction and fantasy field. Though he never quite levelled up to the top tier of writers, his stories and novels were well-regarded, he was a frequent presence at sf conventions, and he served two terms as SFWA president. Less widely known was the fact that most of his writing was pornographic novels for men — a genre that more or less disappeared with the advent of home video in the mid-1980s. Offutt published hundreds of them, under a variety of pen names, using a system that enabled him to write them in a few days.

When Offutt died in 2013, his son, the writer Chris Offutt, inherited his father’s papers, including the smut, both published and unpublished (the latter including four thousand pages of an erotic comic called Valkyria). Going through those papers has resulted in the younger Offutt’s memoir, My Father, the Pornographer, out this week from Atria Books.

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Radiance

Book cover: Radiance When reading a novel by Catherynne M. Valente, it’s important to pay close attention to what she’s doing — and then to take an even closer look. Her novels are like v�narterta: dense, many-layered, and can take a while to digest. Last week as I read Radiance (Tor, October 2015), her first novel for adults since Deathless (2011), I realized that this was not just a book that would reward rereading; it practically demands it.

In Radiance Valente does several things at once, all of which I approve of. It’s set in an alternative-retro solar system that would have seemed like the future to someone at the end of the nineteenth century: the planets are all habitable and colonized by the various Great Powers; space travel is undertaken by means of cannons of the sort Jules Verne described in From the Earth to the Moon. Filmmaking is king, but takes place on the Moon rather than Hollywood; for patent reasons the silent era persists for decades (talking pictures exist, but are seen as vulgar or good only for documentaries).

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Open Road to Republish Swanwick Books

Michael Swanwick Michael Swanwick is one of my favourite writers. But it’s hard for me to tell people to seek out his work when so much of it has been out of print. That’s about to change. Michael reports that five of his novels and one collection will be coming out as ebooks from Open Road Integrated Media. The collection is Tales of Old Earth (2000); the novels are In the Drift (1984), Vacuum Flowers (1987), Bones of the Earth (2002) and, most significantly, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993), arguably his best-known and best-loved novel. (His Nebula-winning 1991 novel, Stations of the Tide is in print — Tor put out a new edition in 2011 — as are his later novels.) I have all these books; very soon, you’ll be able to have them as well.

Ecdysis 6, At Last

Ecdysis 6 cover Really, it should have been out months ago, but at long last the sixth issue of Ecdysis, my science fiction and fantasy fanzine, is available for download.

Tamara’s got a really interesting long article on how fantasy literature was translated into Russian: drawing on the examples of Pinocchio, The Wizard of Oz and the Harry Potter books, she explores how the line between translation, fanfiction and original work has often been blurred. She’s also transmogrified British war poetry into the Star Wars universe (no Episode VII spoilers, though: she created these pastiches a few months back). As for me, I’ve got an editorial on the saturated short fiction scene and a critical essay on the work of this year’s grand master, Larry Niven. Plus some odds and sods, as usual.

The delay is once again all on me: I was stuck for a very long time, during which I had difficulty writing very much of substance. (Honestly, were it not for the discipline of AE’s publishing schedule, I’d have very little to show for this year.) But it’s been a tough year. Hopefully 2016 will be better, and I’ll be able to put out a full complement of issues. I’ve already got a few ideas, and I know my friends have some too.

Review of Echopraxia

Book cover: Echopraxia My review of Peter Watts’s Echopraxia, his follow-up/sidequel to Blindsight, is now up at AE. This was not an easy book to review: Watts is basically the antithesis of entry-level sf. I only hope I managed to grapple with it reasonably intelligently. (See also my article on Watts’s short fiction.)

Next on my reviewing plate at AE will likely be Yves Meynard’s Angels and Exiles and Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night. Unless something happens to change that. (Periodic reminder that my remit at AE is reviewing Canadian science fiction: a book needs to be both for it me to review it there.)

Ecdysis and the Aurora Awards

The 2015 Aurora Awards were handed out today. Alas, Ecdysis did not win its category (Best Fan Publication). It finished a distant second to Derek Newman-Stille’s Speculating Canada (which won the award in 2013, the last time it was given in this category).

The detailed voting numbers (PDF) reveal that it wasn’t even close to being close: Speculating Canada received 52 first-place votes to Ecdysis’s 12; once the other nominees fell off the ballot, it won 55 votes to 20. Ecdysis received 12 nominations, the second most received in the category (it took 7 to make the ballot). I’m not at all unhappy with these results: losing to Derek is no dishonour, nor is finishing second the first time you make the ballot. A big thank-you to everyone who nominated or voted for Ecdysis.

In related news, I’m trying really hard to have the next issue of Ecdysis out by the end of the month.

Previously: Aurora Award Nomination.

Star Trek: The Musical!

So William Shatner thinks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek should be celebrated with a musical or variety show. Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders gets behind the idea, and points to an old Mad magazine feature imagining the same.

It’s not that strange an idea. For one thing, it’s not like Star Trek is completely hostile to the idea of doing musical numbers.

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Map of Middle-earth, Annotated by Tolkien Himself, Discovered

Detail of map of Middle-earth annotated by J. R. R. Tolkien

A map of Middle-earth annotated by J. R. R. Tolkien has been found. The map, found among the papers of illustrator Pauline Baynes, who died in 2008, was used by Baynes while she worked on a full-colour map of Middle-earth published in 1970. Tolkien’s annotations appear on the map in green ink and pencil; they not only correct some of the errors of the original map (executed by his son, Christopher); they also offer some geographical parallels to our own world (Hobbiton is at the same latitude as Oxford, Minas Tirith at Ravenna’s). Blackwell’s Rare Books is selling the map for £60,000; it’s the centrepiece of a forthcoming catalogue on the work of Pauline Baynes. Via Tor.com.

Previously: The Art of The Lord of the Rings.

The Art of The Lord of the Rings

Book cover: The Art of The Lord of the Rings When J. R. R. Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, the map was not an afterthought. (For one thing, with characters travelling many miles over many months, separately and together, distances and dates had to add up.) Tolkien didn’t just draft; he drew — maps, sketches, drawings, whatever he needed to help him visualize the world he was inventing. About 180 of those maps and drawings are now collected in a new book out today: The Art of The Lord of the Rings, edited by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (who previously authored The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion). Wired has some sample images. (From what I can tell, the British edition is slipcased.) Via Boing Boing, MetaFilter.

Buy at Amazon (Canada, U.K.)

A Fantasy Map Roundup

    Map for The Fifth Season by Tim Paul

  1. N. K. Jemisin talks about the map that accompanies her new fantasy novel, The Fifth Season. Uncharacteristically for a fantasy map, but appropriately for the novel, it indicates tectonic plate boundaries. Also uncharacteristic is its use of shaded relief to indicate mountains. The map was executed by Tim Paul, whose portfolio is here.
  2. Tor.com is giving away 10 copies of a fold-out poster map that accompanies the boxed set of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. (Entry deadline is October 9 at noon EDT.)
  3. Jake Hayes is collecting maps from children’s fiction on Pinterest.
  4. At The Funambulist last January, Léopold Lambert discussed the use of cartography in François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters’s 2004 graphic novel The Invisible Frontier (Vol. 1, Vol. 2).

    As Fabrice Leroy exposes in “The Representation of Politics and the Politics of Representation in Schuiten and Peeters’s La Frontière Invisible,” (History and Politics in French-Language Comics, Jackson: The University of Mississippi Press, 2008, 117-136), two cartographic paradigms oppose each other throughout Schuiten and Peeters’ novel. The first one is carried by an old man, Monsieur Paul, who is committed to make maps that reflects on the historic conditions of a place, both at an individual empirical level and at a collective (inter)national one. This interpretation of the map is particularly illustrated in the first part of the story with the delicate care of each body interacting empirically with the model/terrain. The second one is also embodied by a character, Ismail Djunov, who undertook to automatize the process of map-making through monumental machines aiming at an objective cartography.

    Something else for me to track down. The Invisible Frontier seems to be out of print.

Eleusinian Mysteries

Another fantasy story featuring maps, Charlotte Ashley’s “Eleusinian Mysteries,” appears in this month’s issue of Luna Station Quarterly. In it, a Javanese-Dutch mapmaker named Maghfira is punished for making maps of the moon that include a seemingly fanciful feature: a city named Eleusis. Naturally — this is an sf/fantasy story, after all — Eleusis turns out to be not so fanciful, and Maghfira gets herself into further trouble in its pursuit. The story says a little about maps and forbidden knowledge, rather more about about alienation and the urge to strike out into the unknown.

More AE Reviews

Book cover: Station Eleven Book cover: Falling in Love with Hominids My reviewing gig at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review continues. Last month I reviewed Emily St. John Mandel’s Clarke Award-winning novel, Station Eleven; somehow I forgot to mention it here (I may have been preoccupied). And this morning, my review of Nalo Hopkinson’s new short story collection, Falling in Love with Hominids, went live at AE.

(A reminder: though I read very broadly, and talk a lot about books here, my remit at AE is reviewing Canadian science fiction.)

Real World vs. Fantasy Maps

In my study of fantasy maps, one thing I’m particularly interested in is the difference between fantasy maps and their real-world counterparts. Those differences can be substantial; at some point I hope to go into a bit more depth about them. Meanwhile, James Hinton’s guest post at The Worldbuilding School tries to address this subject by comparing a single real-world city map (London, 1653) with a non-canonical map of Osgiliath from a role-playing game. His point turns out to be that fantasy settings should make sense (Osgiliath, according to the map, doesn’t): it’s a question of geography rather than cartography. The territory rather than the map. But if you begin building your fantasy world by drawing the map … Via MetaFilter.

Fictional Maps International Conference

The Fictional Maps International Conference, an academic conference on the use of maps in fiction, will take place from January 21 to 23, 2016 at the University of Silesia’s Scientific Information Centre and Academic Library in Katowice, Poland. Stefan Ekman, the author of Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Settings (my review), is the keynote speaker. Deadline for submitting abstracts is October 30.

If you’ve been following along, you will instantly understand that this is very much relevant to my interests, and though it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve been in academic mode, I might have to figure out a way to go to this.

Puppy Count

Now that the Hugo Award statistics have been released, we can try to answer the question that has been bugging me since the nominations came out: just how many Sad and Rabid Puppy nominators were there?

(Note: This post deals with the arcana of voting for the Hugo Awards. Some familiarity with the subject is required to make any sense of it. We’re talking about votes at the nomination stage earlier this year, which determined the final ballot — not the vote on the final ballot, the results of which were announced on Saturday.)

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The House of Shattered Wings

Book cover: The House of Shattered Wings (US edition) Book cover: The House of Shattered Wings (UK edition) Aliette de Bodard’s new novel The House of Shattered Wings combines several elements of her past work that made it so interesting and her career worth following.

De Bodard first came to my notice with her trilogy of Aztec murder mystery fantasy novels: Servant of the Underworld (Angry Robot, 2010), Harbinger of the Storm (Angry Robot, 2011) and Master of the House of Darts (Angry Robot, 2011), now collected in an omnibus volume, Obsidian and Blood (Angry Robot, 2012: Amazon, U.K. edition). Set in a 15th-century Tenochtitlan where the Aztec religion is real (gods interact freely with mortals, and blood sacrifices are literally required to keep the sun in the sky and ensure the survival of life on earth), the novels follow the story of Acatl, the High Priest of the Dead, as he solves murders with spells and sacrifices and does his best to stave off a Mesoamerican Ragnar�k that always seems just around the corner.

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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.

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.

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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.

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