Comic In The Mail

Last week, I stopped into Phoenix Comics & Games, on my way home from work. I had thought that Eternity Girl #4 had come out a day or two before.

Eternity Girl #5 was on the shelf. I asked the staff about #4, which I couldn’t find. They told me #4 had sold out almost immediately. It was on order, but the publisher hadn’t given any word when, or if, new shipments were coming.

(In hindsight, I think I’d misread the date on the DC website, mistaking “June” for “July”.)

Eternity Girl 4I bought Eternity Girl #5, and brought it home.

(Eternity Girl is a six-issue story. The final issue is due next month. I double-checked.)

I searched online for Eternity Girl #4. I found a store named Dee Puppy Comics, in Indianapolis, that had one copy left. I ordered it. The estimated delivery date was between yesterday and next Tuesday.

My comic book arrived today. I don’t know anything about Dee Puppy Comics, except for the fact that they have excellent packing skills.

The comic was inside a plastic sleeve, with a piece of thin cardboard inside. The plastic sleeve was firmly taped to a piece of box-thickness cardboard. The whole thing was inside a taped-shut manila envelope, exactly the right size.

It was exactly the right amount of packing material. Eternity Girl #4 arrived in pristine shape. I’m very pleased.

A Book With A Fruit Or Vegetable In The Title

Oranges, by John McPhee, was first published in 1967.

The first sentence is: “The custom of drinking orange juice with breakfast is not very widespread, taking the world as a whole, and it is thought by many peoples to be a distinctly American habit.

OrangesOranges is the true story of oranges and orange juice.

The book began as a short magazine article, but John McPhee became so fascinated by the things he learned about oranges that he turned his project into a book.

It begins with an overview of the various types of oranges, and the various ways they are eaten and served around the world.

Next, the author describes a road trip he took through Florida in 1965. At the time, that one state produced more oranges than any country on Earth. (I don’t know how much this book has been updated since its publication, 51 years ago, so I was skeptical of any statistics it presented.) He was “nonplussed” to find that the “free orange juice” presented at the Florida border was from orange juice concentrate, rather than fresh-squeezed. He stopped into a roadside diner, surrounded by orange trees, and learned that its orange juice was from concentrate. Then he learned that almost no Florida restaurant served fresh-squeezed orange juice, since the outcome would be too inconsistent. With concentrate, the customer always knows what it’ll taste like.

During that same road trip, he visited orange groves and spoke with people about the growing and harvesting of oranges. (Biologically, an orange is a berry, not a fruit.) The growers told John McPhee about the difficulty of Florida soil, and the dangers of the state’s freezing weather.

John McPhee interviewed men who earn their living picking oranges – a job which requires the “agility of a monkey and the stamina of a horse”.

The Florida road trip includes history lessons.

A few hundred years ago, Europeans didn’t consider oranges to be a food. Oranges were bitter, and were used as a seasoning. That changed when Portuguese traders returned from China with a sweet variety of orange.

Over time, oranges have been used as cosmetics, medicine, additions to alcoholic drinks, and were included in many Christian religious paintings during the Renaissance.

Christopher Columbus and his crew introduced oranges to America. The book covers the lives of many of the early orange barons in Florida, including Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In 1965, the aerospace industry was buying Florida orange groves for expansion.

Oranges explains how the orange industry was changing from selling oranges to selling pounds of concentrate.

I enjoyed this book a lot. I liked the format of a history lesson told within a road trip taken at a time when independent diners lined the highway, and road trip were still taken on highways.

Why I chose this book:

I discovered two books, Banana, by Dan Koeppel, and Oranges, by John McPhee, while searching for “a microhistory”. Both looked like fascinating microhistories, and both had a fruit or vegetable in their titles. Banana was ten years old, so would seem to contain fairly up-to-date information. Oranges was 51 years old, and I wasn’t entirely sure it actually was a microhistory. So Banana became the microhistory, and Oranges landed here.

It turned out that Oranges is more of a microhistory than Banana. While Banana is a history of the banana throughout the world, Oranges is a history of the orange in one specific part of the world.

 

Consequences

Life is Strange is a game of consequences. It presents the player with choices which change the storyline, sometimes in subtle ways, and sometimes in ways that can kill off major characters.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is also a game of consequences. The story takes place during a single morning, so the consequences are rarely game-changers.

Sunday morning, I stumbled upon the one choice that lead, uncontrollably, to the end of the game. I had played less than an hour. I hadn’t completed anything on Captain Spirit’s “Awesome Things to Do” list.

So, I started over. I designed Captain Spirit’s costume differently. I tried out different choices. I avoided making that one game-ending choice. Unfortunately, I knew how the game would end.

Phillip joined me in playing the game last night. We discovered that I had missed out on a lot of adventures Sunday morning.

Now, this evening, I’ve completed all but one of Captain Spirit’s “Awesome Things to Do”. (I knew from the start that this was going to be a short game.)

I have no clue how to accomplish that last Awesome Thing. I feel like I’ve tried everything. Now I have a choice: Do I go to the end, one thing short, or do I keep wandering around hoping something will occur to me, or do I find the answer on the internet?

A Book Recommended By Someone Else Taking The POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever was published in 2004. It is a collection of eighteen short stories, all written by Alice B. Sheldon, using the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr. The stories were originally published between 1969 and 1981.

Her Smoke Rose Up ForeverThere’s an enigmatic, strangely calm, story of an engineered biological weapon. In another story, a scientist in Colombia tries to find a cure for the worldwide outbreak of religious femicide, while exchanging letters with his wife, five thousand miles away.

There’s a cautionary tale about a human man’s quest for sexual encounters with extraterrestrial beings. There’s a story, set in a future where advertising is illegal, in which a teenage girl is given a new avatar-body as part of a plot to circumvent the Huckster Laws.

These stories are amazing, wonderful, and wildly creative. They are also confusing, at first. They drop you right into worlds of different cultures, future slang, and future technologies with almost no setup. They often blur the line between analogy and straight-up storytelling. These stories are challenging. These are my kind of stories.

An explosion occurs at a particle accelerator, a man walks home, and five centuries later, we learn what happened to him. A puzzling story tells of a scientific mission to a distant, inhabited planet, and one scientist’s quest to learn why a mountain is named The Mountain of Leaving.

A man survives a small plane crash in Central America with two strangers (a mother and daughter) and the Mayan pilot, and wonders why the women are so calm – almost as if they’re waiting for something. There’s a nightmarish story about a young girl, working as a courier, walking across a peaceful, friendly, post-technology Earth.

Women get raped a lot in these stories.

There’s a story about the crew of a spaceship who receive a radio signal and learn that they’re not where, or when, they thought they were. There’s another story about an unloved young woman, born with a deformed nose, who peruses a career in space flight, where her ugliness won’t be a sexual distraction to male crew members, and finds an unexpected home.

The other negative about these stories is that they are grounded in an era. Even the stories set in a future talk of women’s lib and bra-burners. Nixon is mentioned. A plague forces women to find work outside of the home. Men are amazed to find chicks working in space. These anachronisms are jarring. But this is merely a grumble. These stories are terrific.

The sole survivor of a survey mission insists that everything went well and that the alien creature she brought back is harmless. In another story, a gentle race of humanoids, enslaved by the physically superior Terrans, plot a revolt.

A man relives his past. In another story, an insect tries to fight against the natural order of things.

A colony of humans, shipwrecked on an alien planet, do their best to prepare for the destruction coming when the local wildlife begins mating. An epic story covers millions of years of violence, death, and destruction, until a blind girl is born with special powers.

In a post-apocalyptic Earth, a man finds a computer-controlled boat on the shore, decides to get in, and meets a woman. The final, very short, story wonders what will happen when all of humanity’s frontiers are gone.

It took me forever to read these eighteen stories. I had to renew the book past its three-week library loan. I kept turning back, re-reading pages, trying to figure out just what the heck I was reading. I re-read some stories from their beginning, looking for the subtleties that lead to surprising endings. This was a plus, for me. I do enjoy books that challenge me.

There’s a common feminist thread through most, or maybe all, of these stories, but it’s not the same idea repeated over and over. They are all unique and original.

I loved, absolutely loved, this book.

Why I chose this book:

T.A. Hamilton writes the wonderful blog “TAwrites”. They write about writing and about reading. They are taking Popsugar’s 2018 Reading Challenge, and are doing a great job with it.

T.A. Hamilton chose Her Smoke Rose Up Forever for the category “a book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym”. They wrote a glowing review of it. I admit that I had never heard of James Tiptree, Jr, so that’s the book I chose. (Isn’t that what the reading challenge is all about?)

Meet Chris

I discovered Life is Strange about three years after its release. (Despite having a subscription to Entertainment Weekly that won’t go away, I’m rarely up on current entertainment.)

The advantage to this is that I was able to download all five episodes of Life is Strange at once, and didn’t have to wait for the next episode to be released.

Then, as I finished Life is Strange, I learned that Episode One of the sequel, Life is Strange 2, is due out in September.

Then, this week, the creators of Life is Strange, Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix, released a new game, for free (!), named The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. So I downloaded it. I started playing it this evening.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is set in the same universe as Life is Strange, and is somehow tied into Life is Strange 2. Judging by how small the download was, it’s going to be a quick game.

I’ve purposely avoided game play videos, and written reviews, so I can go into it with a blind sense of discovery.

You play the game as Chris, a 10-year-old boy in Beaver Creek, Oregon. He lives with his alcoholic father, who tries to be supportive of Chris when he’s sober, but there are signs that he’s abusive when he’s not. The mother is out of the picture, but I haven’t discovered why, yet.

chris

Chris apparently has only imaginary friends. He also has an active imagination. He spends his Saturday, at the beginning of the game, pretending to be a superhero named Captain Spirit. He may, or may not, have actual super powers.

Captain Spirit has the same look and feel of Life is Strange. It also has the same decision-based game play. (I love that I got to help Chris design Captain Spirit’s costume.)

The controls for Life is Strange were not very intuitive. The controls for Captain Spirit are different, and even less intuitive. That’s my only grumble.

I’m looking forward to this adventure.

 

 

 

A Microhistory

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, by Dan Koeppel, was published in 2008.

The first sentence is: “If you are an average American, about forty years old, you’re probably approaching banana ten thousand, just as I am.

BananaBanana is the non-fiction history of, and possible future of, the fruit known as the banana.

The idea for the book started with the author reading an article in Popular Science about a disease expected to kill off the most popular variety of banana, the Cavendish.

The banana is one of the most popular fruits in the world. The average person in the United States of America eats more bananas than apples and oranges combined – despite the fact that apples are a whole lot easier to transport than bananas.

A banana tree is not a tree. It’s a herb. And, despite what the book’s subtitle says, a banana is not technically a fruit. It’s a berry.

The Cavendish is “the single most popular single variety of fruit in the world“. This has not always been the case. Two generations ago, people enjoyed a variety of banana called the Gros Michael. It was what people in North America knew as a banana. The Gros Michael was wiped out by a fungus. Almost instantly, the less flavorful Cavendish began being shipped to markets.

Bananas cannot reproduce on their own. They need human intervention. Bananas are cloned. They do not evolve. Every banana, all over the world, is genetically identical to every other banana of the same variety. That’s what makes them so susceptible to a single disease.

When this book was published, researchers were still working toward modifying the Cavendish to make it more resistant to the current disease. There was no variety of banana comparable to the Cavendish.

That was a synopsis of the first 5% of Banana.

The book goes into the history of the banana, starting with Adam and Eve, and speculation about what type of fruit the forbidden fruit was. It takes us to Kuk Swamp, in New Guinea, where, it is believed, humans first farmed bananas. It follows the trade routes east from Asia to Africa to America.

Bananas remained a luxury item in the United States of America until the late 1800s.

The book goes into the science of how a plant in which both the male and female components are sterile can reproduce. (Bananas do grow in the wild, free from human intervention, but these varieties are largely inedible.)

Dan Koeppel traveled the world to write this book. He visited the university in Leuven, Belgium, the center of the world’s banana research. He went to India, which produces 20% of the world’s banana crops, but exports none of it. He went to Ecuador, the second-largest grower of banana, which exports all of its banana crops. He traveled across the continent of Africa, where many legends and traditions have been built around the banana.

Banana covers the microhistory of how United Fruit used refrigeration and worker exploitation to make its bananas the most popular fruit in the USA. It tells how slipping on a banana peel used to be such a serious health hazard that New York City created the first government recycling program, and how banana peels became a joke on Vaudeville stages. It tells how United Fruit invented ways to keep the banana popular, like mashing bananas for baby food, slicing bananas on cold cereal, and initiating school health programs that included bananas. (The banana split was not invented by United Fruit, however.)

United Fruit marketed the world’s first brand name banana, the “Chiquita” banana.

The book explains how a fungus began wiping out the Gros Michael at almost the same time as workers began striking for better working conditions in Colombia. It explains the creation of what would become known as the Banana Republic.

Banana pieces together what it can about the mysterious history of the Cavendish.

At the time of the book’s publication, there was a promising variety of banana being created, named the Goldfinger. It’s superior, in many ways, to the Cavendish. It’s major drawback is that it tastes nothing like the Cavendish.

Banana marketThe book is illustrated with photographs and drawings of various things, like a greenhouse, Adam & Eve, a banana market somewhere in Africa, and so on. I didn’t feel like these illustrations added much to the story. (I would have loved to see illustrations of the varieties of bananas mentioned.)

Banana is a work of journalism. It covers a wide variety of topics, including botany, politics, economy, business, sociology, and, of course, history. It all flows together, it’s presented well, and the book is very entertaining. (I laughed out loud at Charlie Chaplin’s instructions on how to make the old gag of slipping on a banana peel continue to be funny.)

I enjoyed this book a lot.

Why I chose this book:

I had an idea of what a “microhistory” is, but I had to find out if my idea was correct. (It was.) That lead me to a long list of books about various microhistories. Banana sounded interesting.

OK Google, Where Am I?

This morning, I decided, entirely on a whim, to take Link light rail all the way to work.

As I stood on the platform at Capitol Hill Station, reading a book on my phone, a message popped up. It was from Google. It said: “Travel time to work: 8 minutes (via southbound I-5)”. There was a little glyph of a car next to the message.

I get unsolicited weather reports from Google constantly, but that was the first time I had ever received an unsolicited traffic report.

My first thought was: How does Google know where I work?

Of course, I immediately knew the answer: I’m carrying a smartphone with a GPS receiver in my pocket.

I wasn’t at work, though. So, not only did it know where I work, it remembered.

My next thought was: If Google knows where I work, and is able to give me travel information, why doesn’t it notice that I’m inside a light rail station? Why is it giving me driving time?

Still, I was kind of impressed. Google remembered where I work, saw where I was, and decided to tell me how long it’s going to take me to drive there. It didn’t, however, remember that I have never, ever, driven to work in all the time I have owned my smartphone. (I would have been truly impressed if it had seen that I was inside Capitol Hill Station and voluntarily told me when the next train was due.)

By the way, Google: Even if I were to drive the two miles from home to work, I wouldn’t take that convoluted detour down to the freeway, only to exit a quarter-mile later, just shave a minute off my travel time.

Google entertained me while I waited for the train to arrive.

Well, OK Then

Well, it turns out that I was closer to the end of Life is Strange than I was aware – a lot closer.

I picked up at the bench I discovered yesterday, and a half hour later, I reached that one major decision, and the game ended. I don’t know if I made good decisions, or if there is any such thing as a good decision in this game. That’s the beauty of Life is Strange. I can go back and play the game again and make a new series of different decisions, and have a different game.

still being

The game did burn me out at the point I wrote about yesterday, but overall, I loved the game.

My favorite puzzle was the Principal’s office door.

Life is Strange 2 comes out in September.

Max Is Back

A few weeks ago, I took a break from Life is Strange. There were several reasons for this.

(No Spoilers Ahead)

I felt the game was dragging on. A number of mysteries had been solved, and the game kept returning to the same plot lines, like an endless series of post-credit scenes that added nothing new.

The story had changed tone drastically. What started as a set-in-reality story of Max and Chloe, and their friendship, had turned into Max’s endless dream sequence.

The game had changed drastically. What started with logic puzzles and decisions (with consequences) had become an action chase through a maze.

I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. So I set the game aside, meaning to come back to it. Then the Seasons DLC for The Sims 4 came out, with loads of new things to discover. It was tough getting myself back to Life is Strange.

bench

Tonight, I decided to start playing Life is Strange again. After all, I had been enjoying it. I felt I needed to finish it. I made it through the maze. I found a bench. I reached a save point, so I called it a night. I feel like I’m near the end. (But, then again, I’ve felt I was near the end several times now.)