Sorry that this newsletter is out so late in the day. Some 80-mile-an-hour winds in my area knocked out my home internet connection over the weekend, so I couldn't get this properly typed up and formatted until today. Lots more people in my part of the state lost power entirely, and some are still without, so I count myself fortunate.
What's probably the most anticipated Star Wars project since The Force Awakens is finally here. Ahsoka's two-episode premiere released on Disney+ this past week. Here are my notes:
- This show is, in many ways, basically Rebels season 5. Sure, it's live action rather than animated, and it's not quite as kiddish (though it's still more kiddish than Andor), but it's following up directly from the Rebels finale, it's starring most of the surviving Rebels cast (I imagine we'll see Zeb sometime, given that they have the art assets) and it's got Dave Filoni as showrunner and a Kevin Kiner score. So far, though, I don't think it's totally necessary to have seen Rebels to enjoy this show. Certainly, it points back to Rebels, but all the characters are pretty well re-introduced, and the story being told is at least a new chapter in their lives. Also, the focus is on Ahsoka, who was a recurring guest character, not a main character, on Rebels. Still, if this show points people back to Rebels, that's not a bad thing.
- Baylan Skoll is already becoming a fan-favorite new character. I hope he gets some time to shin in this show, given that there's already Morgan Elsbeth and Thrawn in the show as bigger villains. Also, add the late Ray Stevenson to The List*.
- Also add Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and maybe Peter Jacobson, to The List. I say maybe for Jacobson because, while he was part of the main cast of a major network show for several years, I'm not sure I'd consider him if I hadn't seen House and recognized him from it. Certainly, there are a bunch of British TV actors of similar stature who appeared in Andor who didn't go on The List.
- Speaking of Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I think she did a fine job portraying Hera, even if she doesn't sound much like Vanessa Marshall, but I'm baffled by how much worse her costuming is than everyone else's. Star Wars has featured a lot of species looking better than ever on Disney+ (Quarren, Nikto, Mon Calamari) but their Twi'leks haven't been great. This is especially visible in scenes with Hera and Ahsoka talking. Rosario Dawson's headpiece looks appropriately fleshy, and her head-tails hang with a natural-seeming weight. Meanwhile Hera's lekku bounce and quiver and knock together and overall look like a foam rubber hat.
- Thrawn has not made an appearance yet, but he's been plenty mentioned. It seems the purgills may have taken the Chimaera to another galaxy. Of course, Star Wars has used the idea of other nearby galaxies before, most notably as the origin of the Yuuzhann Vong invasion. This is, I believe, the first such reference in the new Canon.
- The massive ring-shaped ship made for travel out of the Galaxy is most certainly a reference to Outbound Flight.
- Sabine Wren being trained as a Jedi has been less controversial than I'd have expected. I'd thought Sabine calling Ahsoka "master" in the trailer had been a mis-direct, but it wasn't. I think this should act as a much-needed corrective to the general perception among Star Wars fans regarding what a Jedi is. We've largely seen stories featuring 99th-percentile Jedi like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, Mace Windu, and Yoda, but there were always less-powerful Jedi, too. At their height the Order had a threshold of innate Force talent they'd want to see from an infant before they were recruited, probably a threshold Sabine wouldn't clear. But all living beings have some connection to the Force, and Lucas always held that any person could theoretically train as a Jedi, just most people didn't. We know that Sabine has some skill with a lightsaber from the time she wielded the Darksaber. And a lot of a Jedi's duty actually doesn't involve masterful use of Force powers anyway. So, count me as pro-Jedi-Sabine if any big discussion ever does break out.
*I should probably mention, since it's been a while, what "The List" is. I keep a list of celebrities who've been in Star Wars, but who aren't largely known for appearing in Star Wars, with the idea being to maybe someday put together a trivia game where 3 celebrities are named and the players have to pick which one wasn't in Star Wars.
Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World, by William Alexander
I can't say I'm any great lover of tomatoes. I don't enjoy them plain at least. They are a big part of many foods I do like, a part that, while not the best part, is a necessary part. That seems to be the usual take on tomatoes, which are, in the United States, the most consumed vegetable and the most complained about. William Alexander has at least enough love for tomatoes to have written two books about them: The $64 Tomato, a book about Alexander's experience growing heirloom tomatoes, which I have not read, and Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World, a microhistory which I have just finished.
Alexander's passion for the subject really comes through here, not just in his writing style but also in the way that he put the work in. To write this book he travelled, to Italy, to New Jersey, to Florida, to Michigan, to anyplace where tomato history was made or was being made. This book isn't just a compendium of tomato stories that Alexander came across in his readings; this is some real investigative journalism. Alexander doesn't let old legends about the Queen of Italy eating pizza in Neapolitan slums or a farmer eating buckets of tomatoes on the steps of courthouses go unchallenged. Often these stories prove untrue, but other, true, stories are even more astonishing. For example, Alexander recounts three different episodes of legal drama related to tomatoes.
The history of tomatoes is, in some ways, the history of most food, and in another, quite uniquely its own. Tomatoes are odd things, when you think about them. That's why they take so long to catch on with people unfamiliar with them. Theirs is a fascinating story, which Alexander tells well here. Ten Tomatoes that Changed the World is a new favorite nonfiction title, and a book I'd recommend to nearly anyone. 10/10
Warframe (TennoCon 2023)
Warframe held another convention, this time with in-person attendees for the first time in years. I didn't attend, but I tuned into their livestreams. I wasn't sure what they'd be announcing this year, since both "The New War" and "The Duviri Paradox" have been released how. There was Soulframe, obviously, but what did we see about the future of Warframe? Here are my notes on the streams:
- The look back at the history of Warframe through archival concept art was a good way to celebrate the game's 10th anniversary.
- We got our first look at the next 'frame, a sort of ghostly executioner called Dagath. She will be the first 'frame whose name begins with "D", which means there will be a 'frame for every letter of the alphabet. We got no indication of what her powers will be, but she'll be released around Halloween along with a spooky quest.
- Grendel will be the next prime. We were shown what Grendel Prime will look like: essentially an ornate boar-man. He looks neat. His weapons will be the Zylok Prime and the Masseter Prime, neither of which especially excite me.
- There are some new skins for Frost and Mag as part of a $90 limited-time 10th anniversary supporter's bundle. That's obviously quite expensive (there's other stuff thrown in, but still...) and a lot of people are also upset that it's time limited. I'm not going to buy it, but I don't buy anything. Prime Access gets up to $150, and people still buy that, and some players are buying this thing. DE's put out time-limited bundles before, too, although none this expensive since the Excalibur Prime bundle that was essentially a method of crowdfunding the game's launch.
- The sound panel was fascinating, as usual.
- We were promised a Hydroid rework, including the replacement of one of his powers with something new. I hope they don't get rid of puddle mode, but I get it if they do. Hydroid really does need a rework moreso than nearly any other 'frame. Warframes like Frost or Harrow are mostly hurt by being good at non-relevant things; Hydroid (and Ash, and Banshee...) are just pretty bad at what they're supposed to do.
- Sometime this year (I'm gonna predict late this December) we'll be getting the next cinematic quest, picking up the story of Albrecht Entrati. (Remember, "The Heart of Deimos" was originally supposed to come out after "The New War".) It seems to be largely focused on exploring the void-portal lab in the Necralisk's basement, and I expect it'll lead to a new suite of missions. What we saw at TennoLive was pretty cool.
- They didn't state as much, but my guess is that the quest will be locked behind ranking all the way up with Loid and unlocking all of Albrecht's journal entries. I have some work to do.
- Sometime next year we'll be getting another Entrati-related quest: Warframe 1999. This was the big surprise of the night. Initially I (and a lot of other people, I'm sure) thought the player character was Hayden Tenno, from the Dark Sector game. The lady on the phone called him "Arthur", which I suppose could be a code name based on how he wields Excalibur, as it were. In any event, this does seem to be a direct reference to Dark Sector. What Albrecht Entrati is doing back in 1999, or what Wally is doing back then disguised as Albrecht Entrati, who knows? This reveal was the craziest we've had since the first Duviri Paradox trailer.
- Speaking of Duviri, nothing new coming to it was mentioned. We've had some updates recently bringing things like Kullervo and the Jackal fight, but nothing big seems to be in the works.
- Finally, I'd like to give my thoughts on our first look at Soulframe: it did, indeed, look a lot like Dark Souls as made by the Warframe people. Steve Sinclair stated that they wanted to make an optimistic, hopeful game, which will certainly make Soulframe thematically distinct from Dark Souls. The boss fights we say both ended with a restoration of the enemy to an uncorrupted state, rather than their deaths, which is interesting. There's a "return to pre-Industrial Europe" vibe to it that, like a lot of fantasy, comes from Tolkien, but which really reminded me of the Thomas Covenant books more than anything. Gameplay-wise, it looks more like Duviri than core Warframe; I suspect I'll miss the parkour movement, but we'll see. There's no release date still, but I'll try it when it's out.
Bird of the Week
California is a big state, and a state with fairly unique climate regions. So, it’s not surprising to find that California is home to some unique birds. More different species of birds have been observed in California than in any other state, and many species are either only or largely found within the state’s borders: the California quail (which is the official state bird), the inland scrub-jay, the yellow-billed magpie, and the California condor are but a few of the birds associated with California. The state’s warm, sunny weather and close proximity to Central America has made California one of the top states for spotting hummingbirds, a few of which are also primarily California residents. Take, for instance, the Allen’s Hummingbird.
Closely related to and closely resembling the more-widespread rufous hummingbird, the Allen’s hummingbird nests exclusively in coastal shrublands and forests along the Pacific shoreline of California and southwestern Oregon. They overwinter in central Mexico, although “overwinter” is perhaps the wrong word. The global range of the Allen’s hummingbird doesn’t include anyplace known for harsh winters, so their migration is driven by search for food, and it takes place at odd times: it actually arrives in the Valley of Mexico in late summer, staying there until around Christmastime, when they head west to the Pacific and work their way up to their breeding grounds, arriving in mid-to-late winter, just as California’s rainy season prompts the blooming of flowers. In southern California some Allen’s hummingbirds stay year-round; these are the only non-migratory hummingbirds found in the United States.1,2
Flowers are important to Allen’s hummingbirds, as they are to all hummingbirds. While they get the bulk of their nutrition from insects, which they catch from out of the air like their cousins the swifts, hummingbirds are so small, so fast, and have such high metabolisms, that they must supplement these with copious amounts of energy-dense blossom nectar. Hummingbirds will defend a patch of flowers quite aggressively, as they are typically not more than a matter of hours from starvation3, and a reliable source of nectar is thus a matter of life and death. They actually might starve to death overnight while sleeping, so most hummingbirds instead enter a near-death state called torpor to survive the night.4
So, who’s Allen, and why does he get his own hummingbird? Charles Andrew Allen was born in 1841 in Massachusetts and earned a living as a woodworker and a fisherman before moving to Nicasio, California, a town located just inland from Point Reyes and just north of San Francisco Bay, where he was paid to guard a redwood forest against timber-robbery. Allen had long been fascinated by birds and had a side-business collecting and mounting avian specimens for people back East. He noted that some of the rufous hummingbirds he was sending off had differently-shaped tail feathers from the others.5 The ornithologist Henry W. Henshaw, one of the founders of the National Geographic Society, declared these hummingbirds a separate species, which he named in Allen’s honor: Selasphorus alleni.6 (“Selasphorus” means “light-bearing” in Greek)
In fact, Allen nor Henshaw was the first to describe the Allen’s hummingbird; René-Primevère Lesson, a French naturalist, had already named the bird Ornismya sasin in 1829, though he thought he had named the “Nookta hummingbird”, which actually was the rufous hummingbird (which itself had been previously named). As it turns own, Lesson’s specimens had been Allen’s hummingbirds that had gone unrecognized for decades. Lesson took the name “sasin” from the name for “hummingbird” in Nuu-cha-nulth, the language spoken by the people native to the Nookta sound region. Despite not being native to the Nookta sound region, the Allen’s hummingbird is known as Selasphorus sasin to this day.7
- Phillips, Allan R. “The Migrations of Allen’s and Other Hummingbirds.” The Condor 77, no. 2 (June 30, 1975): 196–205. https://doi.org/10.2307/1365790. (Accessed via SORA, https://sora-dev.unm.edu/node/102473)
- Audubon.org “Allen’s Hummingbird – Species Migration Map”https://explorer.audubon.org/explore/species/1542/allen-hummingbird/migration
- “Gorman, James. “The Amazing Metabolism of Hummingbirds.” The New York Times, March 20, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/20/science/hummingbirds-fructose-metabolism.html.
- “Hummingbirds Exert Fine Control over Body Heat | Cornell Chronicle.” Cornell Chronicle. Last modified February 2, 2022. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2022/02/hummingbirds-exert-fine-control-over-body-heat.
- Mailliard, Joseph. “Charles Andrew Allen.” The Condor 33, no. 1 (December 31, 1930): 20–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/1363930. (Accessed via SORA, https://sora.unm.edu/node/97737)
- “Selasphorus Alleni Henshaw, 1877.” https://www.gbif.org/species/8779061.
- Clark, Christopher J., and Donald E. Mitchell. “Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus Sasin).” Birds of the World (March 3, 2020). https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.allhum.01.
A Likely Story Indeed | Stassa Edwards, Lapham's Quarterly
Alice Liddel is best remembered as the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but she was also the subject of Carroll’s other hobby: photography. “By the time she stood in front of Cameron’s camera, Alice had years of practice transforming herself into a photograph, enacting fictions for the camera since she was only four years old. That’s when Alice met Charles Dodgson, then a stuttering, twenty-four-year-old math lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, where her father, Henry Liddell, was dean.”
The Psychological Depths of Rock-Paper-Scissors | Greg Costikyan, The MIT Press Reader
Excerpted from Costikyan’s book Uncertainty in Games, a look at rock-paper-scissors, a game that is all uncertainty, a theoretically random game that nonetheless is a game of great strategy, most of which boil down to counteracting the unknown strategy being employed by one’s opponent.
How Modernity Made Us Allergic | Theresa MacPhail, NOEMA
“Although allergy researchers may disagree on definitions, symptoms and methodology, all agree on one thing: Allergies have grown worse over the last few decades, and the staggering numbers of allergy sufferers worldwide is likely to continue growing. An estimated 235 million people worldwide have asthma, and anywhere from 240 to 550 million people globally may suffer from food allergies. Drug allergy may affect up to 10% of the world’s population…There are, unsurprisingly, multiple theories about the cause. The hygiene hypothesis is one front-runner, positing that people who are “too clean” develop allergies. Many others think it’s our diet, that changes in the way we grow and prepare food have altered our gut microbiome, fueling allergies. Still others argue that manmade chemicals and plastics we encounter daily are making our immune systems more irritable.”
Hall of Small Mammals | Thomas Pierce, Literary Hub
[FICTION] A man takes his prospective step-son to see a family of rare monkeys at the zoo. Excerpted from Pierce’s short story collection of the same name.
See the full archive of curations on Notion