The Penthouse Life

Kirsten Behr-Downing writes in her journal:

“Why can’t a Sim just live in a penthouse apartment they can’t really afford? Why does life have to be so complicated?

My mothers’ inheritance left me with a sizable amount of simoleons. But my household account is dwindling. My social media career isn’t paying the rent. I should get a steady job, or a smaller apartment. I don’t want to do either. I should get a roommate. That’s what I want to do.

A roommate would be difficult in this place. It’s nice and spacious, but it doesn’t have any personal space. It doesn’t even have an actual bedroom. A roommate would have to be a romantic partner, as well. And that, dear journal, is the problem.

I’m not lonely. I have plenty of friends, and I have Nacho the kitten. My brother, Mateo, visits me often. My social life is just fine. But I want, and need, more. To be honest, I’m not just looking for someone to help pay the rent.

Erika Hasegawa and I were high school sweethearts. She was an NPC, however, and I was not. I aged into a young adult, and she did not. I wish life had some sort of switch that could auto-age NPCs.

There is hope for Erika and me. We’ve remained friends. Erika has been adopted by Emile Chisholm and Ashton James. Erika is no longer an NPC, and she has a birthday coming up soon. Maybe when she’s a young adult, we’ll both be interested in becoming a couple again.

I really like Justice Webb. I mean, really like him. He’s kind and he’s cute. We get along great together. He has an odd habit of wearing a scarf in the summer, but I guess no one’s perfect. Justice is an adult, and an NPC. We could be a couple today.

But whenever I make romantic moves toward Justice, my unflirty trait gets in the way and he backs away. I wish we were in some sort of life simulation game, the kind where we’d instantly get along better simply by being in the same room long enough.

And what do I do about Venessa Jeong? She’s been making romantic moves toward me ever since I moved into this penthouse, and I haven’t exactly turned her away. Our friendship and romantic levels have both skyrocketed.

She’s practically moved in. She’s spent many nights here. She could be the roommate I’ve been looking for. But is she the roommate I need?

Venessa used to date my mother, for goodness sake! It feels ickky. This NPC/Active Sim situation is messed up. I asked her to be just friends, and although she resisted at first, she agreed. That lasted about a week. Then I looked at that sad, sweet face of hers, my heart melted, and we were dating again.

Maybe I need to find a smaller apartment, just me and Nacho.”

Kirsten closes her journal.


This morning, while I was riding light rail, on my way to work, Phillip sent me a text message. The car wouldn’t start, he told me, and he was taking the bus to work.

It was a chilly morning, and I wondered if the car was having trouble starting in the cold. Although I’d walked past someone scraping ice off their car earlier, it wasn’t that cold. Our car has never had any trouble starting in cold weather.

Our car is sixteen years old, and it’s full of early hybrid technology. And I don’t know anything about cars.

Phillip doesn’t know anything about cars, either, but he’s an amazing person to have around in an emergency. He thinks of things I would never think of – like picking up some sandwiches on his way home.

We went down to the garage, and I tried to start the car. It acted very much like a car with a low battery – the overhead light came on, some of the icons on the dash came on (but not all), but the gasoline engine wouldn’t start at all. (OK, maybe I know something about cars.)

We called Better World Club, answered all of their questions, and requested a jump start.

We sat in the car, ate our sandwiches, and played on our phones while we waited forever for roadside assistance. I was anxious, though – worried that it might be something worse than a low battery. I couldn’t sit still. I ate my sandwich, but I had no appetite.

A tow truck crew arrived, and gave our car a jump start. Our car started up right away. (I think that’s a good sign.)

I signed all the paperwork, the tow truck crew left, and Phillip and I took a long cruise around the neighborhood.

I relaxed quite a bit, knowing it wasn’t anything worse than a jump start.

I’m still going to worry about our car for a while, however.

A Book I Meant To Read In 2018

Decrypting Rita, written and illustrated by Margaret Trauth, was published in 2016.

I bought this graphic novel at NorWesCon 41’s charity auction, last year. I was the only bidder. It’s my guess that no one knew what it was. I didn’t even know what I was bidding on, but I bought it to satisfy my curiosity – and, of course, to help Northwest Harvest.

It sort of looked like a graphic novel to me, but it was sealed in plastic, so I couldn’t see what the inside pages looked like. The title was printed in a transparent, glossy ink that could be read only when light hit it at just the right angle (I don’t know what that technique is called), and I couldn’t read the title through the plastic wrap at all. It was an odd size and shape, unlike any graphic novel I’d ever seen. (I wasn’t entirely sure I was buying a graphic novel, actually.)

I learned, later, that Decrypting Rita had originally been an episodic web comic, uploaded from 2011 to 2015.

I got this graphic novel home, but because of its soft cover and its unwieldy size (a little taller than a paperback book and wider than four paperbacks), it couldn’t be stacked on top of other books. It didn’t fit very well on a bookshelf, either. It got stored away, somewhere. I kept meaning to read it, but, over time, I forgot about it. Then the 2019 Reading Challenge came along, and reminded me of its existence.

The first box of dialog is: “If you’re on schedule you should be there by now.

Rita is a robot. She’s been sent into a building, on a mission to kill Barrett. The mission doesn’t go as planned. Rita is captured by Barrett and his partner, Kim. That’s one time line. (I’ll call it the blue time line.)

Rita is a human. She’s dating a man named Barrett. She’s bothered by a dream she’d had, in which she was a robot, sent into a building to kill Barrett. That’s another time line. (I’ll call it the burgundy time line.)

In the blue time line, Rita works closely her netrunner, Carol. Rita and Carol begin dating each other.

In the burgundy time line, Rita mentions that Kim was in the dream. This upsets Barrett, because Rita and Kim had been lovers for a short time. Kim has killed herself. Rita and Barrett both miss Kim a lot.

Rita is a dragon, in more-or-less human form. (I’ll call it the brown time line.) Barrett is an elf.

Rita is a hat lady. (I’ll call it the green time line.) Hat people use hats to channel energy and create magic. Governor Barrett is an evil despot who puts Rita in an arena against a monster.

In the brown time line, Kim is a high elf who helps Rita develop her dragon skills. In the green time line, Kim is a boy with a mysterious past and mysterious powers.

In the blue time line, Carol was born on Mars. In the brown time line, she’s a cleric. Carol may, or may not, exist in the burgundy and green time lines.

These four time lines become jumbled. Dialog gets garbled. Rita the robot sees an elf version of Barrett.

Who is fusing these time lines? Is it Kim, in the blue time line, hacking into Rita’s circuitry? Is it Barrett, the doom cultist in the brown time line, messing with spells? Or, is it something else, something more complex, or something simpler?

Decrypting Rita was a difficult book to read. Its multiple story lines overlapped and wove into each other. Dialog often overlapped – sometimes literally, with dialog boxes on top of each other. I found that the best way to read it (or maybe the only way to read it) was to follow one story for a while, go back and read the parallel story, and then go back and read them together. It took me a long time to read this book.

It was also a difficult book to read. Its size and shape made in difficult to hold while sitting in a chair or while curled up on the couch. I wouldn’t even attempt to read it on public transit.

Was it worth the difficulty? I say yes. Its story is complex and intriguing. The artwork is beautiful and inventive. Decrypting Rita is funny and charming and thrilling.

I liked it a lot.

Friday Evening

This is becoming a Friday tradition for Phillip and me. Yesterday, right after work, we met up at C.C. Attle’s for a couple of drinks. Then we walked down the street to Carmelos Tacos, got some dinner to go, and walked home.

Before I found Phillip at C.C. Attle’s, I stopped into Phoenix Comics and Games and bought issue 2 of the Life is Strange comic.

I showed Phillip the comic, and learned that he’d been in Phoenix right before I was there, buying issue 40 of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

I read Life is Strange #2 this morning. It’s short, just like the first issue had been. It may have been even shorter, or maybe it just felt shorter. I was a little disappointed in it. I hope the third issue picks up a bit.

The Life is Strange comic is one giant spoiler for anyone who hasn’t played the video game, but intends to. That’s why I don’t want to get into any specifics about its plot. (If you haven’t played the video game, I don’t think the comic will make much sense. It’s not a standalone story.)

Issue 1 had been Max and Chloe moving forward, in Seattle. It introduced us to new characters. It had reminders of the past, but was set in the present, with a new story. Issue 2 is set in the present, but can’t get out of the past. And, the entire issue is setting up one plot point. There’s not much of a story. It’s just Max and Chloe and this one plot point.

Like I said, I hope issue 3 will be better.

A Book About Someone With A Superpower

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, written by Ryan North and illustrated by Erica Henderson, was first published in 2016.

I borrowed it from Phillip’s vast collection of Squirrel Girl comics and books.

The first line of dialog is: “Chht!

Doreen Green is a Computer Science student. She likes squirrels and hates jerks. Her secret identity is Squirrel Girl.

Squirrel Girl has the proportional strength, speed, and agility of a squirrel. She has front teeth that give her super-gnawing power. She has a squirrel tail. She is able to talk to squirrels, who will come to her aid when asked to.

Squirrel Girl’s sidekick is a squirrel named Tippy-Toe T. T-Toes. (That first line of dialog was spoken by Tippy-Toe.)

Doreen attends Empire State University, in New York City, with fellow Computer Science students Ken Shiga (a.k.a. Koi Boi), Tomas Lara-Perez (a.k.a. Chipmunk Hunk), and Nancy Whitehead (who wishes she had a super hero identity). Tippy-Toe loves that Doreen’s friends also understand squirrel language.

Look up in the tree! It’s Squirrel Girl: able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! More powerful than a locomotive! Not as fast as a speeding bullet, sure, but let’s remember: more powerful than a locomotive! That’s still pretty great!

Doreen receives a phone call from Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man), asking her to come to Stark Tower. She goes there as Squirrel Girl, along with Chipmunk Hunk, Koi Boi, and Nancy Whitehead.

Tony Stark has captured some technology from the villain High Evolutionary. Tony put it together, not knowing what it does, or if he put it together correctly. He’s not ready for human testing, so he wants to test it out on squirrels. He knows that Squirrel Girl can talk to squirrels, so he needs her help. Squirrel Girl says no to the testing. Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk also say no to testing on fish and chipmunks. Tony accepts their refusals, and Squirrel Girl and her friends say goodbye.

Suddenly, The High Evolutionary Goons attack Stark Tower. A fight breaks out. Squirrel Girl is pushed into the machine, and we learn what High Evolutionary’s technology does.

The title of the book tells you what eventually happens. The unbeatable Squirrel Girl beats up the Marvel universe – super heroes and super villains alike. (That’s out of character for her, by the way. Squirrel Girl is one of the heroes.)

This book is full of self-referential humor. Koi Boi makes a pun, using sea instead of see. He has to explain the pun, since the two words sound the same. He then turns toward the reader and says, “This would be easier if you could see what I’m saying written down.

There’s a running gag about the correct way to pronounce “Magneto”.

I loved the way Squirrel Girl was able to defeat The Hulk.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the main character in an ongoing series of comic books. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe is a hardcover, standalone graphic novel. I had no trouble jumping into the book without having read the comic books.

The story is imaginative and surprisingly complex. It’s full of plot twists and contains plenty of action sequences. The characters are one-dimensional, but I took that as part of the humor.

I loved this book.

This Is Not A Train

This year (well, last year) I received a nice umbrella as a holiday gift from my employers. If I’ve ever owned an umbrella before this one, I don’t remember it.

Phillip and I went out one night. It was raining. Phillip asked me why I didn’t bring my new umbrella. I replied that I’d forgotten I had one. I walked to Capitol Hill Station one morning last week, in the pouring rain, and I realized, halfway there, that I’d forgotten to bring my new umbrella.

The forecast for today was rain. Phillip reminded me to bring my umbrella. So, I did. It wasn’t raining on my walk up to Capitol Hill Station. I realized that I wasn’t sure how to carry a closed umbrella. It’s too short to use like a cane. It’s too long to fit in my bag. Do I carry it with the umbrella facing forward, like I’m holding a hammer? Do I carry it with the umbrella facing backward, like a sword in a scabbard? Do I rest it on my shoulder, like I was a lumberjack? I ended up doing a little bit of each.

At Westlake Station, a couple with suitcases got on and sat down in the seats in front of me.

The woman in this couple must have been the most quiet quiet-talker ever. I could see that she was talking to the man next to her. I could see her pointing to things inside the light rail train, as well as things out the window. But I couldn’t hear her making any sound at all.

As I got up out of my seat at Pioneer Square Station, I heard the man in this couple say, “This isn’t a train. This is a bus.” I heard a tone of criticism in his voice.

I walked from Pioneer Square Station to my office building, wondering about the context of that man’s statement. Was he commenting on the frequency of stops in the transit tunnel? Was he commenting on the size of the train? Did he see buses in the tunnel, and think he was in one, too? I will never know.

As I walked into the office building, I saw the company’s Executive Director walking toward Starbucks. I said good morning to him as we passed each other. He gave me a friendly good morning, how are you, with a big smile. I’m not sure he knew who I was. (Why would he?)

It was raining as I walked out of Capitol Hill Station this evening. I used my new umbrella as I walked to the corner store. I bought some soft drinks and a beer. I walked the rest of the way home with my new umbrella in one hand, a grocery bag in the other hand, and wondering what I’d do if Phillip called me, or if my shoulder bag started slipping off my shoulder.

My new umbrella is very nice, but I decided that I’m not a fan of umbrellas in general.

Beautiful Library

Yesterday, Phillip and I drove up to Everett, and spent the day with Kelly.

We had no plans. We spent the day mostly just hanging out.

We exchanged late Christmas gifts.

Kelly’s mom joined us for lunch at Heaven Sent Chicken.

Kelly loves reading, and when Phillip discovered that she has never had a library card, he decided to remedy that. We drove to the main branch of the Everett Public Library, and talked Kelly into getting a library card.

I had never been inside the Everett library before. None of us had.

First off, it’s larger than it looks from the outside – a lot larger. There’s a coffee shop, an auditorium, a vast reading room, two floors of books, and several outdoor seating spaces. The three of wandered around, exploring all the rooms and walkways.

It’s also a beautiful library. It was built in the 1930s, renovated and expanded over the decades. It has a modern feel, but has kept a lot of its artistic old woodwork.

The Everett Library

Later, I discovered that, as residents of Seattle, we could have had our own Everett Library cards. (The application has to be done in person, so maybe that’s something for a future trip.) I could be downloading books from three library systems!

Saturday night, we decided to watch Victoria – Kelly wanted to see it, based on my review. We couldn’t find it on Kelly’s Netflix streaming subscription, which surprised me a lot, since Phillip and I had borrowed it from Netflix’s DVD service. I would have thought Netflix would have a bigger streaming library than DVD library. (That shows how much I know.)

So, we spent last night watching four episodes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

This morning, Phillip and I said goodbye to Kelly, and drove over to Brian and Kathi’s place for gaming. We’re continuing our Star Trek role-playing game, but advancing to the Original Series era. So we spent the session creating new characters.

I decided to create another Kelpian, but, of course, a different one from the previous era. I had a whole story line for Ten Skaa. I thought it up on the spot. He was born on a Kelpian outpost, but when he was a toddler, his village was attacked by aliens. (He was too young to understand who had attacked them.) A Federation ship arrived to protect them. Many Kelpians were killed, including Ten Skaa’s parents. Ten Skaa and the remaining Kelpians were taken on board the Federation ship as refugees. Ten Skaa grew up in a Federation starbase, raised by a community of various Federation species. He kept most of his Kelpian instincts and fears, however. When he was old enough, Ten Skaa joined Star Fleet. At the start of this new game chapter, Ten Skaa is a brand-new graduate.

That was my plan, anyway.

I got frustrated with the current gaming system. I talked with Brian about it afterwards. I told him that I feel like this system doesn’t allow much freedom in character creation. I’m used to systems that have twenty or thirty different attributes, and being given a certain number of points to distribute among the attributes I want my character to have. This system has just six attributes and too many distribution points. I found myself giving my character attributes I didn’t want, just because I had to use points I was assigned. There was too much of the creation system – like my character’s history – that was determined by a roll of the dice. I felt like the game was creating a character for me.

But I’ll be playing the game with people I like. I’ll try to make the best of the game’s frustrating limitations and over-complexity.

A Retelling Of A Classic

Railsea, by China Miéville, was published in 2012.

I downloaded it from the Seattle Public Library.

The first sentence is: “This is the story of a bloodstained boy.

(By the way, I think that is a terrific opening sentence.)

Shamus Yes ap Soorap (nicknamed Sham) is an apprentice doctor aboard the Medes. Sham reports directly to Dr. Fremlo, and the crew of the Medes reports to Captain Abacat Naphi.

The Medes is a diesel-powered moletrain.

Moletrains travel the endless railsea in search of giant moles. These enormous creatures are known by many names, but the most common one is moldywarpe.

The Medes spots a great southern moldywarpe in the distance. Switchers set to work, guiding the moletrain across the vast network of rails. When they get close enough, traintop cranes lower smaller molecarts onto nearby lines. Harpooners aboard the molecars hunt down and kill the elusive moldywarpe.

The devout thanked the Stonefaces or Mary Ann or the Squabbling Gods or Lizard or That Apt Ohm or whatever they believed in. Freethinkers had their own awe… The great southern moldywarpe was dead.

The moldywarpe is butchered for its meat, its fur, and its fat. Mole oil is rendered. The crew of the Medes celebrates with drink and with songs like “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Brakesman?

The men and women of the Medes are a rough bunch, full of camaraderie and rivalry. Sham is new, and doesn’t yet fit in. He doesn’t have a great deal of athletic ability or worldliness. So far, he’s not showing a lot of talent for medicine, much to the frustration of Dr. Fremlo.

The Medes happens upon a train wreck. Several crew members, including Sham, are sent in a molecart to investigate. The train is on its side, and Sham is the only one small enough to fit through the side windows. Inside the wreck, Sham finds a flatograph. The photographic image shows a portion of the railsea with a single rail line, and nothing around it, stretching off into the distance. It’s an impossible image. Single rail lines cannot exist in the endless railsea. Captain Naphi is especially interested in the flatograph. She takes it from Sham.

Sham ap Soorap learns that Captain Naphi, like most rail captains, has a philosophy – a personal quest that drives her forward. She is looking for a particular ivory-colored giant mole. It’s the mole that took her arm. She has named this mole Mocker-Jack.

Railsea is a story full of adventures and dangers, populated with pirates, merchants, molers, nomads, and the ferronavy.

I loved everything about this novel. I loved the silliness of the whole concept, and that it never went too far into that silliness. I loved the post-apocalyptic dieselpunk feel of it.

I loved the worldbuilding. Sham lives in a world with two layers of sky and four layers of ground. It’s inhabited by fascinating and dangerous creatures (fanged meerkats, carnivorous rabbits, burrowing bees, packs of chipmunks, giant beetles, daybats and darkbats, and so on). The Medes visits interesting railseaside towns. I loved the world’s language – an evolved language that often lacks the words to describe the bits of ancient technology found by railsea salvagers. I loved that it explains just enough, but not too much.

I loved that China Miéville’s last name is so close to Melville. (According to Wikipedia, that is the name he was born with.) It made the parody (homage?) so much more special.

I loved the book’s cover.

I loved this book.