Jonathan Crowe

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

Author: Jonathan Crowe Page 2 of 19

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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Apollo 11

Further Reading on the Apollo Program

We marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 last week, which means that the next step is to put all our moon-landing related nostalgia away until the next milestone anniversary, or until another of the remaining Apollo astronauts dies.1

If, on the other hand, all this attention has piqued your interest in the moon landings, the Apollo program, and the history of crewed spaceflight generally speaking, I have some suggestions as to what you should watch and read next. There are, of course, plenty of books and documentaries on this subject, but these will give you a general overview, with increasing levels of detail.

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AE’s Relaunch Issue Goes Live, Includes Something by Me

AE, the Canadian online science fiction magazine, is finally, finally back, with a new issue—its first in nearly three years—launching today. Five new stories and three new nonfiction pieces are available to read.

One of those pieces is by me: “An Exercise in Telling: Sylvain Neuvel’s Themis Files” evaluates whether the narrative structure Neuvel adopts in those books is a success or not. It focuses on the first two books in the trilogy—Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods—because at the time I wrote this piece the third volume, Only Human, hadn’t been published yet. Note that Only Human came out in May 2018: this piece has waited a long time to come out.

That’s because, for various reasons, getting AE back online has taken far longer than anyone involved in the project expected it to take. In September 2016 its database was hacked and the whole site was taken down. Recovering from that hack, and getting the previous six years’ content ported onto another platform, took until August 2018. Getting enough of the remaining ducks in a row to get things up and running again—that took until, well, now.

More than a dozen people worked on getting this magazine back up and running, in what little spare time they could find. I think it would have been easier, and quicker, to start from scratch. Refusing to give up on continuity took some tenacity.

Here’s hoping for smooth sailing from here on.

Previously: AE Is Back Online; AE Is Resurrecting Itself.

Books Read: 2Q 2019

  1. Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll. Cultural history of food in America: what constitutes a meal and when and how it should be eaten; tracks the rise of the formal evening meal, commercial packaging, and snacking.
  2. Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre. Hugo- and Nebula-winning classic about a snake-handling healer in a post-apocalyptic world: how did I not read this sooner?
  3. The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. Sequel to The Calculating Stars. Civil unrest breaks out during the first mission to Mars. I honestly think it’s better than the first book, which just won a Nebula.
  4. The Man Underneath by R. A. Lafferty. Third volume of Centipede Press’s Collected Short Fiction series. David Hartwell once told me that a Lafferty story was more powerful as one story in a magazine than it was as one story in a collection of other Lafferty stories, where his tricks and devices start to get repetitive. This volume proves his point, I’m afraid.
  5. Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris. Travel book in which the author and a friend bike across central Asia, from Istanbul through the Caucasus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Nepal and India, and inadvertently prove that white woman privilege can be cashed in anywhere in the world.
  6. The Faithful Executioner by Joel F. Harrington. Microhistory teasing out meaning from, and providing context to, the memoirs of a 16th-century Nuremberg executioner.
  7. The Iron Dragon’s Mother by Michael Swanwick. Proficient fantasy novel from one of my favourite authors. Third in a loose trilogy set in an industrial Faerie, with a different focus and scope than the first two (The Iron Dragon’s Daughter and The Dragons of Babel). The two viewpoint characters don’t feel balanced to me—Helen is too absent—but it’s a fluid and delightful read.

Pretzel, 20 Years On

Today is an anniversary of sorts. May 30, 1999 was the date I got back into snake keeping, when I brought home, from a pet store, a young female corn snake I named Pretzel. She wasn’t a particularly large snake, though she wasn’t a newborn, and she wasn’t particularly flashy: just a plain, ordinary corn snake with no fancy colour or pattern mutations.

Twenty years later, Pretzel is still with us, hardly changed from the day I brought her home. The Dorian Gray of colubrid snakes. I was going to say that she’s still going strong, but that’s up in the air at the moment. Right now she’s sequestered in a cage with a nesting box because she seems to be with (absolutely infertile) eggs; last week she had a few seizures that may or may not be related. We’re keeping an eye.

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Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters

My latest piece for Tor.com went live this morning. It’s called “Fantasy Maps Don’t Belong in the Hands of Fantasy Characters” and it deals with the question of in-world fantasy maps: the maps that characters inside a fantasy novel might use. (Hint: They wouldn’t look like the maps found on the endpapers of a fantasy novel.)

Some background on how this article came to be:

The presentation on fantasy maps I gave at Readercon in 2014 had many highlights for me (and apparently for the audience). One of which was the question-and-answer session afterward: because it was Readercon, the questions were, like the attendees, very, very smart.

One question was in response to the point I made that fantasy maps didn’t scale up very well: the 24×30-inch maps of The Lands of Ice and Fire were a bit of a disappointment. I said: “When you blow up a fantasy map to the size of two by three feet [sic], without concomitantly increasing the information density, you end up with too much empty space. There’s a wrongness to it, I think, that is almost uncanny.” The questioner referred to a point George R. R. Martin himself made, that the maps were something that could have existed in-universe: “The idea was to do something representing the lands and seas of which, say, a maester of the Citadel might be aware.”

In response I went on an extended riff on some of the challenges of in-world fantasy maps, and the questions that would have to be addressed—the quality of surveying, the availability of paper, the state of geographical knowledge—before a map could exist. It was a great question (and I told the questioner so the next day), and not just because I could give it a good answer. I realized that I could expand that answer into a pretty good article.

Time, as they say, passed; ideas percolated; procrastination occurred; and then it became one of several fantasy map article ideas I pitched to Tor.com. Le voilà. It only took (checks notes) … er, almost five years.

I hope you like it.

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