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

Month: May 2022

Stationery for the Strange

Toronto-based Wask Studios is the novelty store of stationery: weird dice, erasers and paper clips; sticky notes with the adhesive on the corner rather than the edge; rulers with the scale on the short side; rhombus-shaped notebooks; bookmarks made of matches. Office supplies as performance art.

Putting the Fact in Fantasy

Three years ago Tor.com published an essay of mine in which I argued that the classic fantasy map style was not something that would be used by characters in a fantasy world. Provocatively titled “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters,” it proved to be the most controversial thing I’ve ever written. The main complaint was that it was wrong for me to think that fantasy should follow the rules of the real world; fantasy was fantasy, and as such it was okay if its maps didn’t follow the rules.1 In fairness, my critics were the wrong audience for what I was trying to say.

They would also be the wrong audience for the book under consideration here: Putting the Fact into Fantasy, a collection of 50 short essays by various writers, edited by Dan Koboldt and published earlier this month by Writer’s Digest Books. The publisher is a hint as to the audience: these pieces are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction who want to up their game in terms of adding a touch of realism to their work. Because fantasy is built from recognizable real-world raw materials—horses and castles, archers and peasants, trade routes and languages, weapons and wounds—getting the real-world details right can in fact matter. They can save you from resorting to clichés, and knowledgeable readers from being thrown out of the story by what to them is an obvious error.2

Not Too Cheap to Upgrade

In December 2020 I won an eBay auction for a 1968 Royal 200. With shipping, the typewriter came to a grand total of $63.87. It was an ultraportable made in Japan by Silver-Seiko and sold under the venerable Royal brand; the 200 appears identical to the better-known Mercury. Our example turned out to be surprisingly good, not just for what it was—a cheap, small typewriter—but full stop: it types better and faster than many ostensibly superior machines, and despite some yellowed plastic1 it remains in terrific shape. But while its platen and sound insulation could stand replacing, I wondered whether it was worth spending money upgrading such a cheap typewriter: the expense would not necessarily be recouped if we decided to sell the thing on. Meanwhile, the typewriter blogger Joe Van Cleave went and did to his Royal Mercury what I was simply musing about: he replaced the platen and installed a sound insulation kit, with good results. He clearly intends to keep using his, and at this point I think I’m likely to do the same with mine. Resale value should be a moot point in this context. In a way it’s too bad that it’s no longer quite as silly to get J. J. Short to recover its platen, now that Joe’s broken this ground. I liked the idea of doing something silly.

Mechanical Watches

Bartosz Ciechanowski writes long, detailed explanatory articles about physics, math and engineering that are full of interactive, animated diagrams. His latest is about mechanical watches, which I found profoundly interesting (not least because the fundamentals of watches—mainsprings, escapements—also apply to manual typewriters, which are basically heavily modified clocks) and engrossing: there is a lot of material here.

The Gulf Stream Myth

If the Gulf Stream were somehow to shut down—something that it is hypothesized would happen due to climate change, as Greenland’s melting glaciers dump a ton of fresh water into the North Atlantic, disrupting the current1—it would not, it turns out, plunge Europe into a new ice age. That, at least, is the contention of Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He argues that European winters are 15 to 20 degrees warmer than North American winters at the same latitudes for two reasons: one, the effect of the Rocky Mountains on air currents, which bring cold air south in North America but warm air north into western Europe; and two, the seasonal release of heat stored by the Atlantic Ocean itself. The Gulf Stream itself is responsible for only a few degrees’ warming; if it were taken away, the cooling effect would not be enough to overwhelm the much larger warming effect from climate change.

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