A Cabinet of Wonder

Kage Baker liked lists. She made them all the time, from prosaic lists for groceries (though her grocery lists were rarely mundane) to royal jewels lost, found and/or cursed.

She liked brainstorming. That was when we sat around in the gum drop lights of the Lava Lamps and aimlessly explored wild varieties of topics. Often it was the current state of a story in progress; she would lay out the ideas she had stored up for possible inclusion, and we’d try to find ways to fit them into the plot. Sometimes she actually used them; sometimes they changed the plot entirely because she just had to have a scene with a Patent Gravy Strainer in it.

She blamed that latter tendency on the influence of Vincent Crummles from Nicholas Nickleby.*

Sometimes that sort of thing led to an entirely different, second story, as whatever dramatic necessity was gnawing at her got shunted onto the Future Ideas List. There is a scene in, I think, A Night On The Barbary Coast where Mendoza glances at a weird timepiece and tells Joseph he has to get her out of San Francisco by 1906 – the central image of that scene, Mendoza hauling out a huge gold watch that isn’t quite a mere chronometer, was originally composed on a bus on I-5 somewhere around, oh, 1980, and tried on for size in a dozen different stories before she finally used it in 2003.

Of course, any missing library was automatically on the Gotcha List. Either its loss or salvation was a story in itself, or it was a throwaway somewhere. It’s almost a requirement for writers of Time Travel stories to account, somehow, for the fate of the Library of Alexandria, and Kage dutifully tossed a reference in early on. The library she really rooted for, though, was the Botanical Library whose 1500 type specimens were rescued from the 1906 San Francisco Fire by the redoubtable Alice Eastwood: Alice was one of Kage’s personal saints. Mendoza’s, too.

Kage also kept lists of needy wonders. Those were things that had supposedly vanished, but that she thought were probably still there – reduced in numbers but grown in canniness, perhaps, and hiding out from Homo sapiens. There were also the many, many things she was sure had already been collected: thylocenes, the Irish Royal Jewels, Judge Joseph Force Crater. She saved them up to use them in future tales, gifting them with Company rescues, like an historically-minded fairy godmother.

I also keep lists of oddities, paradigms, miracles and such, collecting them because Kage would have. (Also because they are frequently hilarious and always entertaining.) Then, from time to time, I can share them with you, Dear Readers, or use them to monopolize conversations … And as I am now mustering blog energy for the first time quite a while, (and because it is Saturday and I am lazy) I have gone back through my notes and found a few interesting bits to disseminate without burning out my brain.

Many science fiction writers have postulated long space flights preserving their crews via hibernation. To my amusement, however, the model of choice is not bears but ground squirrels. Apparently the little buggers are especially good at it. I’ve my doubts about its efficacy, though, as humans are a lot closer to being bear-sized than ground squirrel-sized … https://www.realclearscience.com/video/2022/016/could_squirrels_be_the_key_to_long_distance_spaceflight_821948.html

This one is neat – a book that seems to be cursed, as it both sank in the Titanic and was burned to ashes in the Blitz. Kage figured the Company has both of the originals, and someone is collecting the set. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-57683638?utm_source=pocket-newtab The Great Omar

I noticed years ago that the most consistent oldest-human-age seemed to be about 119. It’s a weird age, but it happens again and again and again. Here’s the latest. https://tinyurl.com/45y8je8k Oldest person dead at 119 – again

The famous New Zealand Kakapo parrot once had a svelte Australian cousin. And now it has one again. Huzzah! More kakapos! Breeding these must have been hilarious. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_parrot Night parrot

And speaking of birds – which I love to do – are these extinct? Or not? Proponents of both sides are loud and insistent. Again, think of the fun had by the Operatives who’ve been breeding these gigantic guys. https://tinyurl.com/y5t9xxsb Ivory-billed woodpecker

Garlic festival: one of Kage’s favourite festivals. This year’s edition of the beloved Gilroy Garlic Festival has been canceled and the future of the annual event is uncertain. Oh, woe! The Associated Press reports.

UPDATE! The Garlic Festival is back! Huzzah! https://tinyurl.com/3s6yccsy

Google’s AI, LAMDA, has achieved sentience, according to one of its engineers. And Google promptly fired him. Hmm – sounds suspicious to me. https://tinyurl.com/59snb8h8

I have to admit, I have no idea why on earth I saved this fragment of The Goblin Market. Maybe it was the reference to wombats. The mysterious “ratel” turns out to be a honey badger. Neither wombats nor honey badgers are native to England, of course, but they can be excused on account of being goblins. “One had a cat’s face, one whisked a tail, one tramped at a rat’s pace, one crawled like a snail. One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry, one like a ratel tumbled hurry scurry.” From The Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti.

Lastly, here is a photo of a tree-climbing albino alligator. Once again, I don’t know why – there were a lot of very hazy days in the past couple of years. However, it is both terrifying, and possessed of a high aesthetic. Enjoy!

A white arboreal alligator. Why not?

I hope these amuse you, Dear Readers. Some of them may be a little funny, some a little scary; that alligator certainly gives me the colly wobbles. Suggestions on any of these topics will be happily entertained by me. Pass them around your friends and families, if you wish to share. All knowledge is useful, you know?

Even those bits bits for which I have not yet found a purpose.