Arctic Update: May 2, 2014

The birds came back to Kaktovik this week. It’s actually jarring. After months of silent streets, one morning the twittering of songbirds greeted us as we left the house for work. The streets themselves are also changing, as the snow melts and the actual roadbed is visible for the first time this year. Gravel, of course. Not sure why I was expecting pavement on roads that are covered in snow and ice half the year.

Of course, the sun is now up far too long to be reasonable (up by 4 AM, setting after 11 PM). When the weather is clear, all that sunlight puts it right around the freezing point most of the day. I guess I’ve acclimatized so much that “just under freezing” translates as “light jacket weather”, but it’s nice to go outside without having to put on four layers and a ridiculous hat.

It’s clear we are moving into “break-up”, when the ice and snow melts, and everything is wet and muddy for weeks. We have discovered that there is a substantial leak in our garage, which we’re going to have to do something about. As I’ve mentioned, during the winter, our nominal front door faces the prevailing wind and is constantly buried in snow drifts. We get around this by going out through the garage, around the corner of the house. The garage is really two (the smaller one’s for a snowmobile, I guess) joined by a door. It is at the frame of this joining door that we have the problem. It wasn’t noticeable in the winter, when the snow was solid on the roof, but now it’s all melting. We have ice stalagmites and stalactites (we’re past mere icicles at this point) forming in one doorway, and a pond in another. Fortunately, it’s in the poorly-insulated, unused garage, so it’s not a crisis, but I’d like to be able to get out the door without navigating an arctic obstacle course.

Believe it or not, we are less than a month out from the end of the school year, and my big focus is getting all the “lost” books (“checked out” or not) back to the library before school’s out. The school was without a librarian for so long that it ran on an “honor system” of “take books now, return maybe” which I’m trying to break past.

Kids are funny, though. They’ll come up to me and want to check out the dictionary, not because they actually want to read it, but because they’re seven and it is the biggest book they can find. (Sadly, I had to explain to them that the dictionary is not available for checkout because it’s a reference book and has to stay in the library, but they didn’t seem clear on the concept.) If one of them finds a book that looks cool, the rest of them will grab similar looking books, even if they have nothing it do with each other. I’m not sure how much reading of these books actually goes on after they leave my library, and some of them seem to just check out a massive pile of books for no other reason than to check out a massive pile of books (see dictionary example, above).

Every library is different, of course. Book selections depend greatly on local interest. What books we have say a lot about the community here. Unsurprisingly, there is an entire section devoted to Alaska in general, and Inupiat Alaska specifically. The Dewey Decimal System is dominated by 599.5’s: books about whales and other sea mammals, which are the lifeblood of the village in the fall. Other popular topics include folk tales (local and otherwise), astronomy, ecology, and polar bears (which are the other money-making mammal for the village). As for fiction, the primary junior series are Hank the Cowdog (good choice), The Baby-Sitter’s Club, Magic Tree House, and Goosebumps, because it’s still the ’90’s, apparently. Sadly, my favorite series of that era, Animorphs, is only represented by a lonely copy of the first book.

This weekend is May 4th, which is the ever-more-popular nerd holiday of Star Wars Day (as in “May the 4th be with you”, because terrible puns are terrible), so I think I will celebrate by enjoying the classic trilogy again. Which reminds me, the big news on the Star Wars front these days is the impending production of “Episode VII”, which is still far enough in the future that I’m not going to worry about getting too excited. More immediately, Disney and LucasFilm (it’s still weird lumping them together like that) announced a “new direction” for the post-film continuity, and a fresh lineup of novels to tell the story. Simply put, they were saying that the new series of films aren’t necessarily going to follow the course that has been laid out for the characters in the 30-odd years of Expanded Universe. Needless to say, the greater Star Wars community lost their minds and ranted about “killing the EU”, and I rolled my eyes.

Actually, I thank my lucky stars that Katrina has introduced me to the DC Comics universe, or I would probably be flipping out, too. Just to pick a random example, do you know how many adaptations there are for the origin story of Batman? Lots. It’s been done many times. Obviously, they don’t all take place in the same continuity. The same goes for the rest of the DC Universe. Even the animated stuff. The Batman/Superman/Justice League/Batman Beyond series are all assumed to be in the same continuity, which is great, but there’s also Brave and the Bold, and Young Justice, which are clearly not, even though they are done by mostly the same team of writers. In the end, it doesn’t matter. They’re all just stories about these characters. Why shouldn’t the same be true for Star Wars? As a matter of fact, this way, Star Wars fans have it relatively easy. There are two continuities, which share the six films as a starting point. As far as I know, anything before the end of Return of the Jedi (of which there is a lot) should still be the same, so the only thing we’re worrying about being different is the 30-or-so years of in-universe history that’s been written in various novels over the years. By comparison, the DC Universe got so complex, with so many parallel continuities, that the company had to have a big cross-series event just to tidy it up.

The cool thing they could do (which is what DC does all the time) is take popular, interesting characters from the already established books, and work them into this new continuity in slightly different ways. That way, we could get to see awesome characters like Mara Jade or Kyle Katarn, but doing different things. You get the thrill of seeing a character you love, while basically being introduced to them for the first time, and not knowing where their story is going to lead. See? It’s a good thing.


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