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

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 vínarterta: 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 Ragnarök 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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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.

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.

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The Short Fiction of Peter Watts

Peter Watts at Ad Astra 2011 In my latest piece for AE, I survey the short fiction of Peter Watts. What might have been a review of his collection Beyond the Rift quickly grew into a longer piece about the themes found in his entire corpus of short fiction, only half of which is found in that collection. (Most of his stories can be downloaded from his website or found elsewhere online.) Read on to find out why Watts’s stories are so unsettling.

Mapping An Ember in the Ashes

Jonathan Roberts's map for An Ember in the Ashes

The fantasy cartographer Jonathan Roberts has a blog post, reprinted at Tor.com, that shows some of the steps involved in creating the map for Sabaa Tahir’s novel An Ember in the Ashes.

I sometimes get asked how to do a fantasy map. I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’m basically a fantasy map critic, not a working illustrator. What the people asking me this question want is an instruction manual for the standard fantasy map, and for that, Roberts is their man, because he’s an actual illustrator. He does operate within the dominant fantasy map paradigm I often critique (though with a good deal more colour and texture than the standard line drawing), but he does it very well, and more importantly shares his methods. Roberts’s blog is full of interesting material on how he goes about creating fantasy maps: see for example this tutorial.

Aurora Award Nomination

The finalists for the 2015 Aurora Awards have been announced. My little fanzine, Ecdysis, has been nominated in the Best Fan Publication category.

Aurora nominee logo The Aurora Awards are essentially the Canadian equivalent of the Hugo Awards. They’re voted on by members of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association; and voting takes place much as it does with the Hugos. They’re awarded at Canvention, the Canadian national science fiction convention, which takes place as part of an existing convention. (As I understand it, the French-language Auroras are administered separately.)

The Auroras are a small award in the grand scheme of things (inasmuch as sf fandom can have a grand scheme), but this is my first genre award nomination, and I have feels.

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The Martian

Just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. Good Lord it’s a lot of fun.

Book cover: The Martian During this year’s Hugo Awards foofaraw, there was some disappointment expressed that this book was not on the final ballot. That was not because Hugo voters were out to snub a book full of the good old stuff and lacking in social justice virtue, or whatever — it was simply ineligible. The Martian was first self-published electronically in 2011. But don’t weep overmuch for Andy Weir: after brisk online sales, both traditional publishing and Hollywood started paying attention. He got a six-figure advance for the hardcover edition, which came out in February 2014, and the movie adaptation comes out this November.

And it’s not hard to see why. The book chronicles a lone astronaut’s struggle to survive on the Martian surface after an accident leaves him stranded there, and the attempts to rescue him. It’s chock-a-block with technical detail — Weir did a lot of research, and the Mars program in the book reflects a lot of the proposals I’ve seen — and MacGyveresque solutions to problems. It’s written in a light, breezy and entertaining (if not necessarily felicitous) manner. Characterization and prose quality are not among its virtues — it’s basically an Analog story without all the Analog baggage — but Weir manages to maintain real tension while interleaving it with some legitimately funny moments; in many ways it manages to out-Scalzi John Scalzi at his own game. It’s a fun book — just what I needed right now.

The Martian
by Andy Weir
Crown, February 2014
Buy at Amazon: Canada, U.K., USA (paperback) | Goodreads | LibraryThing

Clichéa

Clichéa

A Redditor called Sarithus has created a map of Clichéa, “a map based on fantasy tropes that also pokes a little fun at unoriginal map makers.” Like others of its kind, it hearkens back, probably undeliberately, to early modern maps of Cockaigne and Schlaraffenland and other satirical maps. Cartographer’s Guild thread, Reddit thread.

Previously: The Only Fantasy World Map You’ll Ever Need.

Review: My Real Children

Book cover: My Real Children My review of Jo Walton’s My Real Children is now up at AE. My Real Children came out a year ago, but it just won the Tiptree Award, which made doing the review more timely; AE’s review policy doesn’t limit itself to new releases in any event.

Rereading the book for this review was an interesting experience, as was writing the review. This is the kind of book that could generate several different reviews that each focused exclusively on a different subject. It wasn’t just that I was scratching the surface — I was scratching just one surface.

Ecdysis 5

Ecdysis 5 cover The fifth issue of Ecdysis, my science fiction and fantasy fanzine, is now available for download.

The fourth issue was late; this one is ludicrously so: I’d hoped to have it out by the end of December. That’s on me alone: everyone else got their stuff in on time. But with everything that’s been happening, it took me a long time before I could brain enough to get things together.

But that means we’ve got an extra helping of … uh, whatever it is that we do here for you this time. Forty pages in all.

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Various and Sundry (Again)

My third book review for AE was posted earlier this week: this time I look at Elements, a short story collection by Suzanne Church. (To reiterate: AE is where I’ll be reviewing Canadian science fiction; anything that is neither will likely fall outside that purview. Bear that in mind when deciding whether to send me a review copy.)

It is now a virtual certainty that Jennifer and I will be attending Ad Astra next month. There was some doubt about it in terms of whether she’d be sufficiently recuperated to attend, but she is, so we will. I’m not doing any programming or anything; our plan is simply to socialize.

The other conventions we plan to attend this year are Readercon and Can-Con. I was too slow to sign up for World Fantasy before it reached the membership cap; Sasquan conflicts with the start of Jennifer’s school year; and we’re watching our pennies too much this year to attend anything further afield.

The next issue of Ecdysis is running awfully late (I’d originally intended for it to be out three months ago), but it’s very nearly done. Honest. It might even be worth the wait.

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