Jonathan Crowe

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

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A few years ago, frustrated at the time and emotional overhead required to moderate their comments sections, bloggers began moving away from having comments at the bottom of their blog posts. The point of blogging, the logic went, was writing; dealing with spam and bad behaviour was outside the remit, especially when the noise exceeded the signal and comment spam hammered web servers to the point of shutdown.

The net effect of that was that commenting—that conversation—moved to social media. Not that it wasn’t already happening. But while it made sense at the time, in hindsight leaving reader feedback to the various toxic hellscapes looks more and more like a mistake.

Suddenly having the ability to host, moderate and curate comments makes sense again. And since I upgraded my hosting a while back and (for the moment at least) have CPU cycles and RAM to spare, I’m going to give it a try here again. So, starting now, comments will be open on new posts. They will be subject to spam filtering and moderation, and will close after 14 days.

To be honest I don’t expect to have that many regular commenters, but occasionally I write something that goes viral, and I think there’s some value in having at least some of the discussion that follows take place here rather than elsewhere.

AE Is Back Online

AE, the Canadian online science fiction magazine, is finally back online after a hiatus of nearly two years. It went down in September 2016 after being hacked; its resurrection took a lot longer than anyone expected, including those working on it, but as of today the fiction and nonfiction archives are accessible again. Peruse at your leisure! New material is coming, too: I’ll let you know when the first new issue launches, if for no other reason than I think I have a review essay in it.

Previously: AE Is Resurrecting Itself.

Books Read: May-July 2018

Reading has been slow going. Presbyopia is now in full flower, and I haven’t picked up a set of reading glasses yet. (Soon, though.)

  1. The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts. Novella set in the same universe as “The Island,” “Giants” and “Hotshot.” Review forthcoming.
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. Reread (of course), because it had been a few years since the last time and I needed a comfort read.
  3. The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien. Reread.
  4. The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien. Reread.
  5. Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly. Secondary-world queer fantasy set in an stand-in for interwar Europe during the rise of fascism, full of secret agents, intrigue, and nightclubs. If Cabaret had been a fantasy novel. Disturbingly easy for the reader not to see the oncoming danger as danger, which is the whole point. Not as much my cuppa as you might expect, for stylistic reasons: I keep bouncing off historical fantasy (and this is close enough) with modern prose style.
  6. How to Lie with Maps, 3rd edition by Mark Monmonier. Reviewed at The Map Room.
  7. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter. What few secrets about Middle-earth revealed in this book are wrapped in layers of paleoconservatism, long lectures about Christianity and marriage to his sons, complaints about deadlines and schedules and available time, health issues, ferocious pedantry and general fussbudgetry. One should not know too much about one’s literary heroes.
  8. The Quest of the Missing Map by Carolyn Keene (Mildred Wirt). Nancy Drew novel, read for a forthcoming essay on maps in mystery novels.
  9. You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison. Crime thriller (more about it here), read for a forthcoming essay on maps in mystery novels.

There have been a few behind-the-scenes changes to this website recently:

  1. As of this morning, this website is running on a secure server. To my everlasting shock, the process was easy and broke nothing. This was a test run; next up for me is to do the same thing for The Map Room, future plans for which require a secure server. I expect things to break in a spectacular fashion at that point, because it will be mission critical and in front of a much larger audience.
  2. When I switched this site to WordPress in October 2016, I mentioned that older posts would be going away. Not quite all of them, though. Last fall, I imported the two hundred or so map-related posts I made on this site between 2011 and 2015 into The Map Room. And last month, I imported a handful of posts from 2015 and 2016—book reviews, plus posts I felt had some value to posterity, 31 in total—into this site’s WordPress database. I don’t expect to be going much further back than that, though I’ve changed my mind on that before.
  3. I’ve simplified the Reviews section: the year-by-year list of reviews is now on a single page, with links to blog posts, published reviews, or archived pages as appropriate. Still some tidying up to do there, but for the two or three people actively looking for my reviews, it should already be less unwieldy.
  4. My privacy policy is now vaguely GDPR-aware and attempts to cover all the websites for which I am responsible.

Thirsty Snakes

Snakes need to drink—though that fact does come as a surprise to some people. (And it can be neat to watch, in the sense that a snake doing an ordinary thing that every other terrestrial vertebrate does is somehow a revelation.) But it does mean that they can get dangerously dehydrated when they can’t. They’ll even accept water from people if it’s hot and dry enough, as a couple of incidents recently reported on social media will demonstrate.

During Mark Lotterhand’s visits to the Narcisse Snake Dens last month, Manitoba was in the middle of a spring drought. When they set out water from their bottles, the Red-sided Garter Snakes came running, drinking from makeshift water holes, lids filled with water, or even directly from the bottle.

See Mark’s photo album on Flickr.

Getting garter snakes’ minds off mating in the middle of mating season takes some doing, let me tell you, but snakes coming out of hibernation are pretty thirsty to start with: they might not have had anything to drink in months. Add to that dry conditions and they must have been desperate for the water.

Meanwhile, on a hot June day in Illinois, two field research assistants, in the course of their fieldwork, found a Western Hognose Snake; once the snake was measured, they thought that the snake might be dehydrated, so they offered her water. The snake, who had previously exhibited the usual hognose snake defensive repertoire, thought this was a grand idea.

That tweet went viral, so one of the assistants, Taylor West, gives the background to the story in this guest post on the Living Alongside Wildlife blog.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Photo by Douglas Mills)

A Herpetological Roundup

  1. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Louisiana Pine Snake (Pituophis ruthveni), found only in Louisiana and Texas, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The snake, one of the rarest snakes in the U.S., had been classified as endangered on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species in 2007.
  2. CBC News looks at how researchers are tracking the Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) in Ontario, where it’s a threatened species. (It’s not, however, rare elsewhere: it’s classed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List.)
  3. On that note, how many times are conservation efforts focused on a nationally rare population of something widespread and abundant elsewhere (such as, for example, Eastern Hognose Snakes in Ontario) or a rare subspecies or population of a very common species (San Francisco Garter Snakes)? The Zoological Society of London’s EDGE of Existence program focuses “specifically on threatened species that represent a significant amount of unique evolutionary history.” The New York Times looks at the reptiles on the program’s list. [PLOS One]
  4. Still with the New York Timesa long article by Rachel Newer looks at a loophole in the exotic animal (especially reptile) trade: traffickers are laundering wild-caught animals through local farms so as to export them with paperwork certifying them as captive-bred—at which point authorities can’t do anything about it. Worth the read: a balanced look that explores some uncomfortable issues.
  5. Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) have a reputation for being belligerent snakes. Field trials suggest that baseline stress levels are a better predictor of whether a cottonmouth will strike than the stress of encountering an individual human being. Which is not to say that humans aren’t stressing cottonmouths out; it’s just happening at the habitat level, not on an individual basis. [General and Comparitive Endocrinology]
  6. Researchers at Carleton University studying the mating habits of Northern Map Turtles (Graptemys geographica) wondered whether males preferred larger females (female map turtles get much larger than males). So they 3D-printed up some female turtle sex dolls, set up a video camera, and watched what happened. [Animal Behaviour]

  1. Ranavirus has spread to Ontario turtles, which is not good. (See also CBC News.) To minimize the spread of Ranavirus and other herpetofaunal pathogens, here is the decontamination protocol for those working with reptiles and amphibians in the field.
  2. All turtle species in Ontario are now at risk, says Ontario Nature, though that statement takes some unpacking: COSEWIC listed the Ontario and Quebec populations of the Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata), as well as the Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia populations of the Eastern Painted Turtle (C. p. picta) as Special Concern; but the Prairie and Ontario populations of the Western Painted Turtle (C. p. bellii) are still listed as Not at Risk. (The Western Paint is still in trouble in British Columbia, though.)
  3. Whatever the conservation status, turtles face long odds and need all the help we can give them. This video from the Nature Conservancy of Canada, on what to do when you see a turtle on the road.

  1. The chytrid fungus implicated in the decline of amphibian populations worldwide has had its origins identified: the Korean peninsula some time in the early 20th century. The Korean War may have been a vector. [Science]
  2. Finally, and because this roundup needs some levity, the Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). It’s an ambystomatid salamander like the spotted and tiger salamanders, but this deeply weird (and critically endangered) denizen of Mexican lakes remains in its neotenic state throughout its life, only changing into its adult form if it’s induced by administering iodine or the thryoxine hormone. In 2015, the Rathergood comedy team came up with a song about the Axolotl, which they cleverly called “The Axolotl.”

Questions I’ve answered on Reddit recently:

Featured image: Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos), Missouri, May 11, 2017. Photo by Douglas Mills. Creative Commons licence.

Passages

Delbert F. Seely, Jennifer’s grandfather, died on May 30 at the age of 97. He’d had severe Alzheimer’s disease for years. His wife, and Jennifer’s grandmother, Phyllis, died in 2013, but apparently wrote much of this obituary. Before Alzheimer’s got them both they were major figures in Jennifer’s life; she was the only granddaughter, and as such, I’m told, he had a soft spot for her.

My uncle, Paul W. Prosser, died on June 3 at the age of 69. Here’s his distressingly brief obituary; I have no other details. To be honest I hadn’t seen or spoken with him in nearly 20 years—not since I moved away from Alberta—but while I was living in Edmonton he and his family, who lived in nearby Spruce Grove, were a great support, and I owe them a lot.

Strategic Voting Is Bullshit

My first encounter with strategic voting, and with using it to Stop someone, came during the 1997 provincial election in Alberta. I got a call from the NDP campaign in my riding, Edmonton-Strathcona. When I suggested that I might be voting Liberal, the caller insisted that the Liberals were way back in third place and it was a two-way race between the NDP and the Progressive Conservatives; if I wanted to Stop Ralph Klein and prevent the Tory candidate from being elected, I had to vote NDP.

In the end, the NDP’s Raj Pannu won the seat, with a narrow, 58-vote margin … over the Liberal candidate. The PCs were in third place—a close third place, only another 118 votes further back, but in third place nonetheless.1 I don’t remember how I voted in that election, but I took two lessons away from the experience:

  1. The NDP are a bunch of sanctimonious pricks who are just as willing to lie and engage in dirty tricks as any other party.2
  2. Strategic voting is a con—a way to trick you into voting for their candidate instead of yours.

I’ve been wary of strategic voting ever since. It has never, ever been a politically disinterested tactic. You always have to ask yourself who benefits from it, and you always have to question the underlying data being brought out to justify it.

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A Turtle in Shawville

I didn’t think we’d find turtles in Shawville proper, but Jennifer encountered one, a Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata) trying to cross the street, while she was walking to work.

No idea why the turtle was going where it was going— trust me, the nesting opportunities were poor in that general direction—but once she spotted Jennifer, she did a 180 and hightailed it back to the pond from whence she came, peeing all the way. Only she was distracted by some nearby parked cars that looked like a good place to hide, so Jennifer intervened at that point, aiming the turtle back at the pond. At which point the turtle took the hint, and belly-slid the last part of the way there.

The problem with helping turtles on the road is that it’s momentary. Sooner or later the turtle will venture forth again and run the same gauntlet—especially if it’s surrounded by a fairly built up environment like this one is. It’s a crap shoot whether the turtle will make it across, be helped along, get run over deliberately or accidentally, or be taken home, illegally, to be a child’s pet.

Momentary isn’t the same as futile, though.

Reading Gardner Dozois

In my post about the passing of Gardner Dozois, I mentioned that I was a fan of his fiction, even if his reputation was mainly as an editor. I’d forgotten that his backlist is back in print, at least as ebooks: Baen Books reissued a bunch of them in 2012, and it now appears that all his novels and collections, including the heretofore-elusive collection of his collaborations, Slow Dancing Through Time, can be had for a few dollars each. I list those books below. (Warning: contains slimy affiliate links.) I’ve also gone and assembled a list of his stories that can be read for free online, also below. Because I think he needs to be read.

If you’d like to read something about Dozois’s fiction, there’s Being Gardner Dozois (Old Earth Books, 2001) a book-length interview conducted by Michael Swanwick that discusses every single story Dozois had published to that point. Toward the end of that book, Dozois said, “I figure there’s about five people in the world who are going to want to read this book. Maybe that’s overestimating it.” Bear in mind that it’s not a book you should read unless you’ve read his fiction. But it’s fascinating if you have. [Amazon/iBooks]

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