Scary Monsters VIII

Kage Baker, as is well known, loved chocolate. She liked a lot of candy but nothing as much as theobromos. Her fondness was so well known that she got chocolate from strangers in the mail; people came up to her at Conventions and offered her exotic varieties; there were always bars of the local favourites left as gifts in her hotel rooms.

It was because she made theobromos THE intoxicant for her immortal cyborgs, of course. Kage used to say sometimes that she wished she had imbued the Operatives with a mad craving for rubies or Apple stock certificates, but she was an honest artist. She wrote from the heart. Also the limbic system, where pleasure circuits and addictive behaviour conspire to give us our more eccentric habits. And Kage’s limbic system liked chocolate.

But there was also an immortal truth in that plot point: because chocolate is an intoxicant for everyone. Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night will someday find that chili-infused, Breton-sea-salt semi-milk bar with cocoa nibs waiting for him in an alley: and when she’s done with him, he will wake up in a mall in the Valley, licking crumbs out of a cheap See’s wrapper …

It’s fitting, I guess, that in this season of monsters and scariness, there should arise news of  threats to the world cacao supply. Crinipellis perniciosa and Moniliophthora roreri are fungi which cause, respectively, witches’ broom disease and frosty pod rot. The disease course differs in them, but the end result is the same: no cacao pods. There are no known preventative or curative agents for either of these evil mushroom relatives, and so far only two real strategies seem to work.

The first is to destroy infected cacao trees – the old hoof and mouth remedy. Isolation is a part of this strategy as well, preventing the fruit of affected trees (mostly in their native South America) from infecting healthy crops in Africa where most cacao is now grown.

The second, still in its beginning stages, is to breed fungus-resistant trees. Some trees are always immune or at least harder to infect, and work is now underway locating these hardier specimens and breeding naturally resistant strains from them. (This has been tried before, notably in  Cambria CA with pitch-pine disease, and has shown good progress.) Scientists have  also been busy mapping the genome of the cacao plant. A first draft should be released by the end of this year, which will make identifying the resistant strains and then breeding them much easier and faster.

There was also an interesting little transaction over this summer that seemed to evade most people’s notice. In July of 2010, someone bought 241,000 tons of cocoa beans: the entire European supply for the year, and then some. It’s said to be worth over $650 million dollars. No one knows who did it. But someone, someone with a major sweet tooth, now owns most of the cocoa beans in the world.

So, what do we have here? Evil fungi attacking cacao pods – straight out of H.P. Lovecraft, that, sporulating minions of the cthonic depths contaminating our theobromos supply! If you eat the stuff, do you gradually turn in a grey, powdery, misshapen thing, mewling in a dark corner? Lots of things like that mewl around in dark corners in Lovecraft’s universe …

Opposing that is a valiant group of geneticists frantically mapping the helpless cacao trees’ genome, determined to awaken their latent superpowers. And if you don’t think that’s Kage’s Company in action, I – I just don’t know what to say, that’s all. It’s Dr. Zeus, I tell you!

Lastly, some unknown person with lots of money and a fondness for chocolate has acquired the entire European supply of raw cacao beans. Who can it be? Not Dr. Zeus this time, I think; the Future Kids don’t approve of theobromos. No, I think it has to be rebel operatives – the cyborg revolution is upon us! Or at least, the electronically enhanced buggers are gonna take all the chocolate for themselves …

These are pretty damned scary monsters, kids. I think I need a Hershey’s Bar …

Tomorrow: getting close