Map blogger. Science fiction and fantasy critic and writer. Snake whisperer.

Month: March 2022

Can Garter Snakes Recognize Themselves?

Male eastern garter snake in Shawville, Quebec, April 2018.

A research paper published last September in Behaviour found evidence that common garter snakes were able to distinguish their own scent from that of a littermate fed the same diet. The implication is that garter snakes are able to recognize themselves. Is this the chemosensory equivalent of the mirror test—evidence that even garter snakes have theory of mind? That’s proving controversial: see the National Geographic coverage. In any event, new research continues to suggest that snakes are smarter and more social than we previously thought (previously). Meanwhile, our 23-year-old California kingsnake decided to bite himself while his cage was cleaned yesterday: he, at least, still seems to have trouble recognizing himself (kingsnakes are really stupid).

«Путін хуйло»

Siderea conducts the deepest dive possible into the history, context and significance of a particular phrase that emerged in Ukraine in 2014 and has since spread like wildfire: Путін хуйло1 (Putin khuylo: roughly, “Putin is a dickhead” or “Putin the dickhead,” depending on context, with the understanding that хуйло is a far far far stronger obscenity than dickhead is in English). That she manages to tie in everything from Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Æthelred the Unready when talking about something that began as a chant by Kharkiv soccer hooligans is impressive enough—to say nothing of the implication that Putin’s rage at Ukraine just might have something to do with “Putin Khuylo” becoming an epithet like Ivan the Terrible or Catherine the Great.

Undiscovered Territories

My review of Robert Freeman Wexler’s short story collection, Undiscovered Territories (PS Publishing, 2021), is now online at Strange Horizons. “Wexler’s stories inhabit the same emotional universe. There is a certain similarity to his protagonists and the situations they find themselves in. By and large they are men. More to the point, they are uprooted, unattached, and unhappy men: sensitive, socially and romantically isolated, unhappy in their employment, miserable to varying degrees of desperation, and above all else alone. In many of these stories, it’s into these miasmas of masculine anxieties that the speculative elements intrude, and offer a path out—whether emotionally or literally.” Amazon (UK)

Important Tyrannosaurus Updates

Wikimedia Commons

A new study argues that what we know as Tyrannosaurus rex is actually a cluster of three species. The division is based on physical differences between the 37 fossil specimens found to date, plus there’s some variation in the age of the rocks in which the fossils were found. The researchers, led by paleoartist Gregory Paul, propose Tyrannosaurus imperator as the oldest and more robust species, with Sue as its holotype; the other two species, T. rex and T. regina, were contemporaneous, with T. regina the more gracile of the two (T. rex’s holotype is unchanged, T. regina’s is the Wankel Rex). The proposal is contentious to say the least: the best coverage of the debate I’ve seen comes from National Geographic’s Michael Greshko.

Another well-known specimen, Stan, would also become T. regina. Stan more or less disappeared from public view when he was auctioned for $31.8 million in October 2020. At the time no one knew who the buyer was, but Greshko (again: working full-time at the tyrannosaur desk) managed to work it out from trade records: Stan went to the United Arab Emirates. It’s just been confirmed that he’ll be the star of a new natural history museum now under construction in Abu Dhabi.

Update: Riley Black is tired of talking about T. rex, in a Slate piece that echoes something she wrote for the Grauniad eleven years ago: that there’s more to dinosaurs, and there’s other dinosaurs, than T. rex.

Maps in Science Fiction

My article “Maps in Science Fiction,” which attempts a taxonomy of the maps that appear in science fiction novels, stories and media, has just been published in the February 2022 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction. It took a while for this to see print—I started work on it in the summer of 2014—but I’m glad it finally has: science fiction maps don’t get a fraction of the attention fantasy maps do, and I think I might have come up with some useful frameworks in this piece. The complete text of the article will be posted at some point; in the meantime, I’ve posted a bit of a teaser to The Map Room. But if you really can’t wait, you can buy the NYRSF issue here; it costs just US$2.99 in the usual electronic formats.

Update: Read the article here.

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