Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Irregular Verbs and My Doing Book Reviews in General

Book cover: Irregular Verbs and Other Stories My review of Matthew Johnson’s short story collection, Irregular Verbs and Other Stories (ChiZine, 2014), went live this morning at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review.

It’s my second review for AE, and I’ll be doing more, so yes, I think it’s safe to call myself a book reviewer. A few years ago I would have found the prospect of writing full-length reviews, rather than a blog entry a paragraph or two long, utterly daunting, at least for science fiction and fantasy (I’d already been reviewing map books, after all). And yet here I am, to my great surprise. Still feels like I’m learning how to do it, one review at a time, sweat beading.

That said, I’ll primarily be reviewing Canadian sf at that venue (in case you’re wondering whether to send me a review copy). The fact that I know a lot of the Canadian authors in this field, some of them very well, will make things a bit tricky: “full disclosure” may well be a permanent feature of my reviews. To say nothing of the situation if I have to give a book a bad review (see my previous post on that subject). I’m definitely feeling what Amal El-Mohtar expresses about writing reviews of books by people you know or who might see the review, in the most recent episode of the Rocket Talk podcast (which is really worth listening to in full, for Amal’s and Natalie Luhrs’s sharp insights on the ethics of reviewing).

Fuel Economy and Transmissions

Warning: automobile fuel economy neepery ahead.

Cheaper gas makes fuel efficient vehicles less appealing, in part because what makes a car more fuel efficient can make the vehicle more expensive. Diesel and hybrid versions of a vehicle costs more than their regular counterparts: you need gas to be expensive and to put a lot of miles on your car to come out ahead.

When we were car shopping last year, I ran the numbers on twenty different vehicles, looking for (among other things) the most economical car to drive — taking into account both the cost of the car and the cost of gas. (In other words, taking note of the fact that we might need to pay an extra $100 a month in car payments to save $20 a month in gas.)

A lot of that depends on how much you drive, and where. We don’t drive much — we averaged 16,000 kilometres a year with the Forester — and most of what we drive is highway driving. So fuel efficient options that really came into their own in city driving (hybrids) or lots and lots of long-distance driving (diesel) weren’t really worth the extra expense.

One question, though, was whether to get a manual or automatic transmission. Automatic transmissions, particularly continuously variable transmissions, now get the same or better fuel economy than stick shifts; in the case of CVTs, a lot more. While we preferred driving stick, and you could usually save more than a thousand dollars by getting a car with one, not every car came with one — and just maybe the automatic would save enough gas to be worth it.

I modelled our gas consumption on the following basis: 16,000 km a year, on a 75/25 split between highway and city driving, i.e., 12,000 km at highway fuel economy and 4,000 at city fuel economy. I calculated fuel costs at $1.35/litre, which did make sense a year ago.

On that basis, I looked at various cars — mainly Subarus, because Jennifer wanted all-wheel drive — to see whether the added cost of a CVT would be offset by improved fuel economy over the life of the vehicle. In every case, the answer was yes. Using Subaru’s estimated fuel economy numbers and $1.35/litre gas, the Impreza hatchback and XV Crosstrek saved less than $200 after ten years, the Forester around $200, the Impreza sedan and Outback a bit more than $400. The Legacy was something like $700 cheaper after ten years with a CVT.

Remember, this is over ten years: so between $12 and $70 a year. Some savings, not a lot. More if you drive a lot more than 16,000 kilometres a year.

Detailed numbers. The car we ended up getting, the XV Crosstrek, would burn 1,332 litres of gas per year (or per 16,000 km) with the manual transmission, and 1,204 litres with the CVT. At $1.35/litre gas, the CVT would save $172.80 per year. The CVT is a $1,300 option, so it would pay for itself in 7½ years or 120,000 km.

But this was at $1.35/litre gas and 16,000 kilometres a year. We’ve already put 22,000 km on this car since last May, and a lot of that was over the summer, when gas was sometimes more than $1.35/litre.

Now, of course, gas is running about 85¢/litre (around here, anyway), so the equation is a little different. The annual savings from burning 128 fewer litres of gas drop by $64, to $108.80, and the CVT would now need 12 years or 192,000 km to pay for itself.

All of which is to say that when the total cost of ownership for a new car can be something like $10,000 a year (car payments, insurance, maintenance, gas), a few tens of dollars per year in one direction or another amount to not very much. How you drive, and how much you drive, certainly matter more.

Charlie Hebdo in Context

Satire doesn’t translate well.

Unless you speak French and have spent a significant amount of time in France absorbing the culture, you will not be able to pick up the nuances of French humour and satire of the sort found in Le Canard enchaîné, Les Guignols de l’info or, yes, Charlie Hebdo.

I’m certainly not able to do so — and I speak French, spent the better part of two and a half degrees studying French history, and for four years had a French French girlfriend to explain all the cultural references. All I ended up with was just enough awareness of French culture to appreciate the extent of my own ignorance.

Even so, I’d at least heard of Charlie Hebdo before the thing with the Mohammed cartoons, which is more than most of you can say.

Does Charlie Hebdo have a history of publishing racist and Islamophobic cartoons? Is Charlie Hebdo racist and Islamophobic? Are — well, were — its contributors racist and Islamophobic? A lot of people have gone online to say as much, mourning the victims but condemning their work. It’s a bit sociopathic to do that so soon after the massacre — bodies still warm and all that, plus it’s implicitly blaming the victims — but to what extent is it true?

To be honest, I don’t know.

(The Independent is reporting that the victims were in a meeting discussing an anti-racism conference; if so, then calling them racist may well be a horrible libel.)

For what it’s worth, I think I do know the following:

  • Anticlericalism has a long and robust tradition in France that dates back to before Voltaire; the Anglo-American tradition of religious tolerance simply does not compute in a country with its own, distinct brand of secularism. You may not agree with it (I certainly don’t) but that’s the French norm.
  • French satire is fierce. It doesn’t just go for the jugular; it aims for complete and total exsanguination. It makes you flinch hard. I remember one skit on Les Guignols de l’info (basically the French version of Spitting Image) that ran shortly after 9/11, in which a soft-focus airline ad ended with the plane hitting the World Trade Center; the ad ended with the logo and slogan for SNCF, the French rail company.
  • It’s difficult for an outsider, even an outsider like myself who speaks the language and has some familiarity with French culture, to pick up on what’s meant literally or satirically. It has been argued in this MetaFilter thread that some of the more racist Charlie Hebdo cartoons need to be taken in context: the Boko Haram cartoon, the cartoon portraying (black) justice minister Christiane Taubira as a monkey — these are responses to things that were being said in French political and media circles. (CH was apparently defending Taubira against right-wing attacks.) Those of us out of the loop wouldn’t necessarily appreciate that. (I can’t confirm the validity of these arguments.)
  • In a similar vein, those unaware of what was being said about Barack and Michelle Obama during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign would be totally confused by the intent of the New Yorker’s “terrorist fist bump” cover.
  • For that matter, speaking of the New Yorker cover, it’s difficult for insiders to pick up on satire. How many people have taken The Onion or Stephen Colbert at face value by mistake? (Remember #CancelColbert?)

For as long as satire has existed, there have been people who have missed the point. For some people Jonathan Swift really did advocate eating Irish babies. It’s compounded when you lack the cultural common ground to understand what the hell the satirist is doing. High-school French and Google Translate can only do so much: it can give you the words; it certainly can’t give you the context.

I can’t tell for myself whether Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were racist or satirical or too meta for their own good, or whether its most recent issue is mocking Michel Houellebecq or not.

I’m pretty sure you can’t either.

Update, January 19: Linkdump

Books Read in 2014

In 2012 I finished 85 books. In 2013 I finished 72 books. In 2014 I finished … um, 40 books, which is even fewer than the 48 I read in 2011. Quite the drop. What can I say? It was a less than ideal year in many respects, with demands on my time that were not compatible with having the proper headspace to read with. (More on that anon.)

Here’s the list; links are to my reviews.

  1. Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison
  2. The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. Valente
  3. Cry Murder! in a Small Voice by Greer Gilman
  4. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
  5. What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
  6. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick
  7. Bone Wars: The Excavation of Andrew Carnegie’s Dinosaur by Tom Rea
  8. Bone Wars by Brett Davis
  9. Just My Type by Simon Garfield
  10. The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge by Jamie James
  11. The Guts by Roddy Doyle
  12. Lockstep by Karl Schroeder
  13. Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art by Harry W. Greene
  14. Two Trains Running by Lucius Shepard
  15. Hild by Nicola Griffith
  16. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  17. Questionable Practices by Eileen Gunn
  18. The Map Thief by Michael Blanding
  19. My Real Children by Jo Walton
  20. Stable Strategies and Others by Eileen Gunn
  21. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  22. Long Hidden edited by Rose Fox & Daniel José Older
  23. Memoirs of a Spacewoman by Naomi Mitchison
  24. Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald
  25. Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
  26. The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross
  27. Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988 by William H. Patterson Jr.
  28. The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination by Matthew Guerrieri
  29. The Adjacent by Christopher Priest
  30. Lock In by John Scalzi
  31. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
  32. A Natural History of the Piano by Stuart Isacoff
  33. Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen
  34. Trafalgar by Angélica Gorodischer
  35. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
  36. Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer
  37. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  38. Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
  39. Sweet Lechery by Jeet Heer
  40. Reach for Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan

While I didn’t finish as many books as I’d have liked, I did manage to exceed my goals of 40 percent books by women and 50 percent science fiction/fantasy by women. All told, 70 percent of what I read was sf/fantasy; 30 percent was nonfiction (including nonfiction about sf). I need to read more nonfiction. 35 percent were ebooks; 20 percent were library books; 10 percent were review copies.

Peregrine or Merlin

Three years ago we observed a bird of prey catching and eviscerating a starling in front of our living room window. At the time we thought it was a peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), and labelled it accordingly. But almost everyone who’s seen the photos and video since then thinks it’s a female merlin (Falco columbarius) rather than a peregrine. Under the weight of so many opinions I’ve had to revise my original opinion. The only problem is that merlins aren’t normally found here in the winter, which makes the encounter all the more perplexing — and fascinating.

Atlas of Canada

Book cover: Atlas of Canada I only just now found out about the new edition of Canadian Geographic’s Atlas of Canada — via an item broadcast on CTV yesterday — or I would have included it in this year’s gift guide. It’s apparently the first new edition in a decade. (Incidentally this should not be confused with the Canadian government’s online Atlas of Canada, an entirely distinct beast.)

Review: Following the Ninth

Following the Ninth (DVD cover) It was more than four years ago that I first heard about Following the Ninth, Kerry Candaele’s documentary about the impact of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Now, after a Kickstarter campaign, production delays, posted clips and a tour of various theatres across the U.S. beginning in 2013, the film is finally available for purchase as a DVD (Kickstarter backers got it last year).

I’ll be honest: after waiting so long to see it, the film itself was a bit of an anticlimax, its impact blunted a bit by all the reading I’d done about the Ninth and its uses in the meantime. That reading included Journeys with Beethoven (my post), an ebook co-authored by Candaele with Greg Mitchell, the first half of which chronicles Candaele’s adventures in making the film.

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The Patterson Projection

Patterson Projection

Map projections are inherently interesting, and also a great way to start a fight among a group of cartographers: just ask them their favourite and step back. Everyone has their preferred projection, me included, that fits their own needs and aesthetic. Cartographer Tom Patterson, whose work I’ve featured previously on The Map Room, has added another projection to the mix, the eponymous Patterson Projection, a cylindrical projection which “falls between the popular Miller 1, which excessively exaggerates the size of polar areas, and the Plate Carrée, which compressess the north-south dimension of mid latitudes.” It looks like a compromise projection in cylindrical form. A full article on the design and development of the projection is forthcoming at the link.

Previously: Shaded Relief World Map and Flex Projector; New, Free Physical Map of the United States; Shaded Relief.

Various and Sundry

As I announced on all the social media, my review of Ruth Ozeki’s Kitchie-winning, Booker-shortlisted novel, A Tale for the Time Being, was posted at AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review on Monday. It seems a little premature to say that I’ve picked up a gig reviewing books when only one review has been posted so far, but this review isn’t a one-time thing. If all goes well I should have a review with them every other month or so (and yes, I know what I’m reviewing next).

My friend Dominik Parisien is editing Clockwork Canada, an anthology of Canadian steampunk stories, for Exile Editions, to be published in spring 2016. Open to submissions from December 1, 2014 to April 30, 2015; Canadians only; 2,000 to 8,000 words; 5¢/word.

One of Jeet Heer’s famous numbered Twitter essays deals with the relationship between history, alternate history and science fiction, and goes down some really interesting alleyways. A few examples:

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A newly reprocessed view of Jupiter’s moon Europa, based on images from the Galileo mission, has been released. “To create this new version, the images were assembled into a realistic color view of the surface that approximates how Europa would appear to the human eye.” Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute.

Older Entries

A New Species Hiding in New York City
Geologic Maps of Vesta
The Biggest Venomous Snake Ever
‘This Year Is Different’
Gift Guide: 10 Map Books of 2014
Ecdysis 4
Threatened Status Proposed for Black Pine Snake
Gene Wolfe Interviewed
The Evolution of Combat and Courtship Behaviour in Snakes
Moon and Comet Maps
My Can-Con Schedule
Fantasy Maps of U.S. Cities
This Deer Is Already Dead
A Change in Cable Companies
Atheism in America
Open for Submissions Soon: Second Contacts, Tesseracts 19
Encountering Racers
Emergency Kittens, Creative Commons, and Me
Subaru XV Crosstrek: Three Months In