Jonathan Crowe

Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Author: Jonathan Crowe Page 1 of 18

Foreign Affairs

Axiom: For a politician, interfering in the politics of another country, especially a friendly country, is a super-bad idea because it will have diplomatic repercussions down the road: the side you come out against may win, and hold your support for the other side against you.

Therefore:

  1. Then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair calling Donald Trump a fascist and demanding that the Trudeau government condemn his candidacy was a bad idea in 2016, because Trump went on to win: whoever lives in the White House, even if he’s horrible, the Canadian government has find some way to work with him. We know that Trump never met a grudge he wouldn’t nurse forever.
  2. Current NDP leader Jagmeet Singh hoping that Trump is impeached is also a bad idea, for the same reason. I think Trump should be impeached too, but I’m not trying to be prime minister. In the black-swan scenario where Singh ends up as prime minister next week, what does the incoming prime minister being on record hoping for the U.S. president’s impeachment do to Canada-U.S. relations? There’s a reason the Trudeau government has been treading delicately.
  3. Andrew Scheer coming out in in support of Brexit was also a bad idea. (It was also mystifying: I’m trying to think of what domestic constituency Scheer was trying to appeal to, other than certain other right-wing politicians abroad.) Supporting Brexit is not an obvious way to good relations with the EU—nor, should Britain turn on its heels, reject Brexit in a second referendum, and elect a pro-Remain government, the U.K. itself. Again: should Scheer be elected prime minister next week, this will complicate things.
  4. What about Barack Obama tweeting his support for Justin Trudeau? A bit more complicated: there are no direct diplomatic implications for Obama’s support, because Obama is no longer the president: he’s technically a private citizen. Trouble might come for Trudeau from other U.S. politicians who detest Obama enough to spite him by torpedoing Canada-U.S. relations, but I doubt that changes very much: the Obama-Trudeau bromance was very much a thing in 2015-2016.

I still think it’s bad form to endorse candidates in elections you don’t vote in: it’s easy to support a political position if you’re not effected by the outcome. I try not to comment on other provincial elections: it’s none of my business. But none of my business is on a different level than diplomatic incident. The latter does more damage than you might think.

Consider what has happened when foreign politicians inserted themselves into our political debates. We didn’t like it one bit.

In 1988 Margaret Thatcher addressed the Canadian House of Commons. In her speech she assured her audience that Canadians had “nothing to fear” from the just-signed free-trade agreement with the United States. (Said trade agreement was a bitter point of contention, and would become the single issue on which the 1988 election was fought.) When Thatcher said that, the opposition parties flipped out. John Turner declared the statement “inappropriate”; Ed Broadbent accused the government of being “colonial Conservatives.” Just imagine the impact on Canada-U.K. relations if Broadbent or Turner had gone on to be prime minister.

Or, to take another example: De Gaulle’s “Vive le Québec libre!” Which did have an impact on Canada-French relations: it created a serious diplomatic incident, and was a major political scandal back in France.

If we don’t like British, French or U.S. politicians offering their opinions on contentious Canadian issues, we should probably resist the temptation to do the same to other countries. Especially since doing so tends to blow up in your face.

By no means is this to say that we should remain silent when another government is engaging in acts of aggression, crimes against humanity, or other human rights violations: these are appropriate, even necessary things to speak out about.

But gratuitously inserting yourself into the domestic political debates of an ally? Endorsing one candidate or platform over another? No. Don’t do that. Are you stupid?

When Federal Politicians Talk About Provincial Matters, and Vice Versa

In law there is the concept of ultra vires: “beyond the powers.” It refers to something beyond the power of a person, entity or government. An organization cannot do something beyond what is set out in its by-laws, or the laws that regulate organizations like it; and a government cannot do something beyond its legal authority.

A town council, for example, cannot raise an army or issue its own currency, because (at least in Canada) its powers are strictly delimited by provincial municipal legislation, legislation that says a municipality may only enact by-laws in these specific areas.

Canada’s constitution assigns different powers and responsibilities to the federal and provincial governments. It’s all set out in Part VI of the Constitution Act, 1867. But that doesn’t stop Canadian politicians from trying to legislate in areas that aren’t theirs.

Provincial governments can’t help themselves from mucking around in the federal arena: they open trade offices in other countries or demand control over culture and immigration. And as we’ve seen in the current election, federal politicians can’t help but campaign on matters that fall under provincial jurisdiction.

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Can-Con 2019 Schedule

Earlier today we got back from Scintillation, which went well. My co-panelists loved the book I chose (Angélica Gorodischer’s Trafalgar)1 and my presentation was very well received: one attendee called it the highlight of the convention, my friends asked questions so on-point that I’ll get an article out of them, and I made Greer Gilman happy. So there’s that.

Next up this weekend is Can-Con, Ottawa’s science fiction convention; this year they’re the hosting convention for Canvention, the Canadian national sf convention, and (as a result) the (English-language) Aurora Awards. I’ll be appearing on program again, twice—which is just the right amount for me. Read on for the details:

Friday, 18 October

6:00 PM Worldbuilding: Government and Politics (Salon E). Anatoly Belilovsky (moderator), Jonathan Crowe, Millie Ho, Stephen Graham King, Nisa Malli, Leo Valiquette. “There’s a whole category of science fiction and fantasy that centers on politics (like Game of Thrones) or incorporates political maneuvering heavily (like Battlestar Galactica or Babylon 5). How do you create a believable government that isn’t too heavy on worldbuilding? How can government’s idiosyncrasies and redundancies fit in without it always being a caricature? What is there to learn from contemporary political thrillers, and how well do they match the real world?”

Saturday, 19 October

7:00 PM Criticizing Criticism (Salon D). Jonathan Crowe (moderator), Shirley Meier, Michael Skeet, Una Verdandi. “In a world of Amazon and Goodreads reviews, is there a still a need and a place for the professional critic? Have critics been failing to keep pace with new technology and changes in how writing about writing is consumed, or has the craft become lost between the academic and the popular? How can critics and book reviewers reclaim the trust and attention of readers? In a world of algorithms and ‘5 stars!’, what is it that critical writers bring to the table that can’t be crowdsourced?”

Can-Con is sold out, so if you haven’t registered yet, too bad: you can’t. Better luck next year.

Scintillation 2

This weekend I’ll be appearing at Scintillation, a small convention that takes place in Montreal over Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Registration for the event is already closed, so if you haven’t signed up for it yet, it’s too late for you to attend. If, however, you’ll be there too, here’s my schedule:

Friday, 11 October

6:00 PM A Good Read (The Big Room). Marianne Aldrich (moderator), Jonathan Crowe, Matthew Surridge, Shaz Taslimi. Four people each choose a novel, everyone reads all of them, and then discuss them. (Show up at the panel to attend to find out which books we chose.)

Saturday, 12 October

3:15 PM The Territory Is Not the Map: Exploring the Fantasy Map Style. (The Reading Room). Jonathan Crowe. In this presentation, I identify and explore the default fantasy map style: where is it, where it comes from, where it’s going, and why we seem not to be able to talk about it. (If you’ve been reading my Tor.com articles about fantasy maps, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’ll be talking about. I finally finished the presentation just after noon today, which is, you know, handy.)

Books Read: 3Q 2019

  1. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. Science fiction novel. A new ambassador from a peripheral world must learn to survive at the heart of an expansionist interstellar empire. Loved it.
  2. The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente. Novella that centres “fridged” female comic book characters (i.e., killed solely to cause pain and motivation for the male protagonist); in this case said characters are recognizably stand-ins for well-known female characters.
  3. Making Conversation by Teresa Nielsen Hayden. A collection of Teresa’s blog posts and other web comments, many of which are extraordinarily pertinent to online discourse.
  4. This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Time-travel epistolary novella in which agents from mutually exclusive futures develop a relationship through the messages they leave for each other.
  5. The Art of Illustrated Maps by John Roman. Reviewed at The Map Room.
  6. The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross. The ninth Laundry Files novel. Nyarlathotep dispatches Mhari and her team to America, where no one seems to remember the president. (This will make sense to regular readers of the series.)
  7. The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde. Fantasy novella, set in the same world as The Jewel and Her Lapidary. Time travel and library destruction.
  8. Desdemona and the Deep by C. S. E. Cooney. Fantasy novella. Industrial Faerie; daughter of privilege rescues men sacrificed to the world below.
  9. Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone. Science fiction novel. Expansive space opera on a wide canvas.
  10. Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer. Reread. Trafalgar Medrano tells you tall tales over coffee about his adventures in space.
  11. Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy. Useful collection of essays on the craft of writing.
  12. After Atlas by Emma Newman. Science fiction mystery novel.
  13. Cartography: The Ideal and Its History by Matthew H. Edney. Reviewed at The Map Room.
  14. The Famished Road by Ben Okri. A spirit child grows up in an impoverished quarter of an unnamed African city.
  15. He, She and It by Marge Piercy. A cyborg’s creation in a post-apocalyptic world is juxtaposed with the story of Rabbi Loew’s golem. (First published as Body of Glass in the U.K.)

Status Quo Ante

The Liberals’ key attack line against the Conservatives in this election is that their leader, Andrew Scheer, is simply the second coming of Stephen Harper. It’s a standard line from the political playbook: tie the new guy to the unpopular old guy. But the Conservatives seem to be doing their best to make their point for them: a good chunk of their platform seems to be the restoration of a lot of policies, credits and benefits that were brought in during the Harper years and subsequently scrapped by the Trudeau government. As Andrew MacDougall writes in the Citizen this morning, “by picking up many of the Harper planks discarded by Trudeau in office—transit, sport and arts tax credits, small business tax changes—Scheer is literally promising to be Harper 2.0.” One wonders whether they’ll shut up the scientists and cancel the long-form census again, too.

If status quo ante as election platform—we’re going to put things back exactly where they were—strikes you as a bit strange, it shouldn’t: “returning things to normal” is what you campaign on when you think the other guys have broken things irredeemably. It wouldn’t be out of place in the U.S., for example. But in this case it seems a bit more brazen and a bit less self-aware: as though the Conservatives haven’t quite encompassed the fact that they lost the last election for real; that Trudeau shouldn’t have won, or didn’t deserve to win, or his win was a result of some random cosmic accident. (The NDP indulged in this sort of thinking after the last election as well.)

What this is, I think, is an example of a phenomenon I’ve observed in Canadian political parties before. When a governing party is defeated at the polls, it seems to take two electoral defeats to beat the entitlement out of them. One can be dismissed as an exception, an aberration—the electorate taking temporary leave of their senses. It takes a second drubbing at the polls to make a party reflect and take stock. Not for nothing did the Liberals lose in 2006, 2008 and 2011: not only did they deserve the time out, they needed it. Only when a party accepts its defeat can it regroup and sort itself out so that it can be electorally viable again. In fact, this process is almost essential to a party’s long-term health.

It’s one reason why most governments are re-elected to a second term: the opposition hasn’t accepted the fact that it lost the first time.

Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?

New from me at Tor.com this morning, the latest instalment in my series on the history and design of fantasy maps. “Where Do Fantasy Maps Come From?” looks at the influences on and origins of the fantasy map style—the existing traditions, stretching back as far back as the sixteenth century, that the fantasy map drew upon when it came into being in the early to mid-twentieth century. (Tolkien couldn’t have made it up out of whole cloth, after all.)

This is a speculative piece that draws upon a large and diverse number of sources—everything from Renaissance maps to mountain panoramas, from bird’s-eye views of cities to children’s book illustrations—to come up with … well, something interesting, at least. To do proper justice to the subject would require a Ph.D. dissertation. This is a start.

Pontiac in the 2019 Federal Election: A Preview

I live in the federal electoral district of Pontiac, which includes the rural counties and reserves of the Outaouais north and west of Gatineau, plus some suburban neighbourhoods in Gatineau. It’s about one-third anglophone, with a large concentration of rural anglophones, especially here in the namesake Pontiac MRC (an MRC is basically a county) that have much in common culturally with people on the Ontario side of the Ottawa Valley. The presence of those voters, who tend to vote Conservative, has made for some interesting electoral dynamics in the past.

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Amazon’s Lord of the Rings Series Will Be Set in the Second Age

When Amazon announced, in late 2017, that it would be producing a multi-season television series prequel to The Lord of the Rings, there was a lot of speculation as to what ground a prequel series would cover. Some speculated that it would focus on Aragorn in his youth, engaged in knight-errantry in the service of Rohan and Gondor. I held out hopes for stories set earlier in the Third Age: the rise of the Witch-king, the fall of Arnor, the Kinslaying, and various other disasters and tragedies would make fertile material for a TV series, I thought.

Earlier this year, Amazon revealed its true intentions with a map—a map of Middle-earth that was subtly different from the map found in The Lord of the Rings. Gondor and Mordor were not labelled. And the lost island of Númenor, which fell into the sea thousands of years before Bilbo and Frodo, was present at the southwest edge of the map.

“Welcome to the Second Age,” Amazon tweeted. Hold on—was Amazon planning on covering the forging of the Rings of Power and the Downfall of Númenor?

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Canada’s Emergency Alerts Are Broken by Design

[Read the whole post before you come after me, okay?]

On Thursday morning the entire province of Ontario was woken up, first at 3:04 AM, then again at 3:36 AM, by an Amber Alert issued by the Brantford police. It was the sixth Amber Alert issued by Ontario police since the emergency alert system was extended to mobile phones. Though we live in Quebec, for some reason we get all the Ontario Amber Alerts, so we got it too. The usual flurry of complaints ensued: despite the backlash against people clueless enough to call 911 to complain about being woken up by an Amber Alert, the complaints seem to be getting worse.

I think I know why people are complaining about being woken up by Amber Alerts. It’s not because they’re being selfish bastards who don’t care about children. (Or it’s not just because.) It’s because the way Amber Alerts have been integrated into the emergency alert system in Canada, and in Ontario in particular, is broken by design. And unless it’s fixed, more lives will be put at risk than are saved.

Let me explain.

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