Fanboys

Kage Baker was always cautiously willing to like her fans. Being almost paralytically shy, getting used to meeting them in real time and space was one of the most arduous author’s challenges she overcame.

But she loathed …   fanboys. (Insert theremin music here, and a faint, background scrabbling noise – like a million tiny filthy claws.)

They aren’t fans. They may not even enjoy the genre, and prefer semi-scholarly works like The Physics of Star Trek; or maybe The Tao of Pooh. They live to embarrass authors. They read to pick holes in the plot, they usually exhibit allergies to character development, and they do not like either humour or sex in their stories.

Being an observant member of the artistic class in Los Angeles, as well as a reader of letters in science fiction magazines, Kage was well aware of the lifeform. She knew all the stories about science fiction being a boy’s club; about the ladies who wrote under male pseudonyms and carefully initialized by-lines. She had encountered cousin species in the worlds of art shows, Holmesian scholarship, and live theatre. And she knew that the typical fanboy was a particular kind of larval male. Even the ones that were technically  female.

However, Kage also knew about the growing and splendid community of science fiction writers equipped with 2 X chromosomes: Ursula K. Le Guin. Madeline L’Engle. Lois McMaster Bujold. C.L. Moore. Sheila Finch. Joanna Russ. And those were only the ladies who wrote fairly hard science fiction, and whom Kage had found (on my shelves, mostly. I read everyone). She only learned about Alice Sheldon and the James Tiptree Jr.  Award when she had published a few stories. However, armed with example and anecdote, Kage was ready to survive fanboys when she had to.

The Internet made that much easier for her, too. She met the first examples on open forums in online  chatrooms like Asimov’sAnalog, and several of the defunct communities Gabe Chouinard left behind him on his scorched-earth progress through fandom.  They taught her when and how to hold her ground, and when to slip her anchor chain and set sail for Tortuga; the special qualities of aetheric gathering sites let her meet, contest – and sometimes escape – from fanboys at need.

Meeting them at conventions was easier than she expected, too. Being at a convention exposes you to fanboys, yes – but it does so behind a palpable energy field of friends, positive fans, psychotic retinues (me and my minions) and the impassable event horizon posed by the edge of a speakers’ panel table. Once Kage found her feet as a writer and speaker, she could not be intimidated.  And she was always polite, no matter how daft the question or objection from a fanboy might be.

Because those questions and objections from fanboys (as opposed to other correspondents) did tend to be fairly peculiar. Kage was many time challenged to prove how her version of Time Travel worked. Fanboys objected to her establishing a magma pool under Olympus Mons. She was informed that immortality was impossible. She was accused of “making things up”.

That last one left Kage in hysterics. Of course I’m making things up! she would howl in disbelief. Don’t you know why they call this stuff science FICTION?

The disgruntled fanboys would usually mumble that she wasn’t making it real enough, then. And Kage would share with them the advice her own mother had given her – if you don’t like the way the story goes, then write your own.

Her responses online or in person were courteous. Her responses to mail – e or snail – were usually not. That was because she didn’t write them: nor did she read the letters that came in complaining, for example, about her postulating frozen aquifers on Mars (which are actually there, by the way.) No, fanboy letters were my purview. And I am not nearly as nice as Kage was, Dear Readers. No, not even in the blossoming days of our youth.

Now, of course, I don’t see as many fanboy objections. I do get a few, though; they seem to be picking up a bit as this blog spreads and as the new, me-written stories get about. There are new things to which to object. There are most of the old ones, too, and so there will be in everything I write in Kage’s Universe. I’m not going to alter the rules she laid in place. And I’m still not nearly as nice as Kage was.

So: I’ll answer questions. I’ll explain science, pseudo-science, para-science, and the stuff Kage concocted out of Archimedean special effects and The Martian Man Hunter. But don’t tell me I’m wrong unless you can prove it – because I will be stern with you if you can’t. It’s still science FICTION we’re dealing with here. Don’t tell me how to do it, because odds are you are not a science fiction writer yourself.

And even if you are, you aren’t me. And you sure as hell weren’t Kage Baker.

 

 

 

 

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What Lenses Reveal Gold?

Kage Baker was not much given to moodiness.

She had moods, of course – anything with a biological rhythm and chemical responses to its environment can claim that. If you are one of those sensitives souls who are also susceptible to sea-changes at every tide of the world – if you are brought to tears by Hallmark commercials, and frenzies by a hot tune on the radio – you know how easily one’s emotional chromatosphere can alter its colours in response to every change in the environment. Some people are just easily overcome by vibes.

Kage was not one of those people. She could be preternaturally responsive to vibrations, groups feelings, whatever you want to call them – she could also be as deaf to the voice of the zeitgeist as your average rock. Quite deliberately, too; she was happy, more often than not, to live unaware of what people were saying about – well, anything. Kage enjoyed blissful ignorance in many circumstances. High on the list of what she never wanted to know anything about was whatever was a current event, including what the rest of the world felt about it.

So, moods – yes. Moodiness – no. She preferred her emotional states to be expansive and in primary colours, with lots of gold embossing. And very probably glow-in-the-dark. She always claimed she didn’t want subtlety in what she felt; and she was suspicious of it in other people’s feelings.  Honesty, she believed, called for strong colours and clear outlines. Pastels were sneaky things.  Uncertainty was a probable sign of moral weakness.

I used to occasionally observe that, considering the complicated, conflicted and downright moody characters she wrote about so well, hers was an attitude walking dangerously close to hypocrisy. She didn’t agree. I write stories, she would explain to me airily. I write fiction! People shouldn’t behave the ways I write about – it’s dangerous and neurotic. But that’s not my fault; you have to exaggerate to make a story interesting.

I’m not the one moping around over lost loves, she’d say virtuously.  I’m not even going on binges! But who’s gonna buy a book about a middle-aged lady making the best of things in a small town?  You gotta be Jane Austen to make that trick work. Readers want glamour. Romance! Excitement! Really wild things! But the writer can’t be like that, not and keep her focus.

And she’d go back to writing. Until it occurred to her that she needed to see a particular hillside road above Cambria, where bramble bushes were hung with enough ripe berries to make one really ill – and we’d head off into the slightly-known, looking for the barely remembered turn off. When we got there, we’d fill empty Slurpy cups with dusty sweet faceted blackberries, until a bobcat or a wild pig or a herd of deer sent us scrambling desperately for the car, laughing and cursing. And we’d flee somewhere that had restaurants, and stop for dinner, and spend the first 15 minutes taking turns in the ladies room trying to scrub berry stains off our hands and beat golden dust off of our boots  …

Kage had no idea these things don’t happen to most people. She had no idea that what made the world around her scarlet and gold, embossed and bejewelled, was her. She had no idea that nothing dared stay pale and thin and moody in the flame of her regard.

It’s why I am so busy these days, making masks  heavy with  goldwork and gem-pure colours; trying to fashion something like her eyes through which to see the world. Because I didn’t figure it out either, until she was gone.

And I want to see the world like that again.

 

 

 

 

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The Doctor Is In

Kage Baker invented Dr. Zeus Inc., as the lynchpin of her time travel stories.

Dr. Zeus became semi-affectionately known to its Operatives as “The Company”. The Company invented Time Travel, and immortality. The immortality process was an addendum to the Time Travel project, developed when the Company realized that it would take extraordinary people to actually survive travelling through time. Somewhere during the process of justifying these corporate decisions, Dr. Zeus …  morphed in Kage’s vision.

Originally, Dr. Zeus was an heroic organization; its cabal of businessmen and scientists were wise, wizardly  – you know, white beards and clear eyes, paternally omniscient. By the time she was really into the first story, though, Kage had actually begun to work for a few corporations. That changed her viewpoint pretty quickly.

The idea behind Dr. Zeus remained one of high ideals and human compassion, but the agents of those sterling qualities became the individual Operatives. As they themselves morphed from clockwork (she did so love gears … ) into cyborgs, the Operatives also were endowed with all the human virtues Kage realized could never be embodied by a corporate entity. Her vision of the Operatives worked on her conviction that long life would enhance – not diminish – human-ness.

And conversely, she saw that no amount of legislation, clever names or even artistically designed mascots would turn a corporation into a Real Boy. She had Dr. Zeus finally embodied by a desperate madman,  as a bronze automaton with no soul  and the self-protective instincts of a shark. Kind of prescient of Kage, eh?

In the meantime, though, it amused her enormously to be occasionally identified with the fictitious Doctor herself. When she registered new software, she put “Dr. Zeus” on the line asking for company. Ditto for mailing labels and packing slips. It’s a silly but enjoyable game that I have continued since the mantle of being the Company’s amenuensis fell on me. I get advertising addressed to “Dr. Zeus, Inc.”, often with cunning samples of tiny flashlights and emery boards and pens and plastic magnifying bookmarks marked Dr. Zeus attached. Levenger’s, that delicious candy-store of professional leather goods, sent me a passport holder embossed DZ in one corner.

Of course, there is the occasional drawback. Dr. Zeus may decide to shut me up and collect me one of these days; not that I would mind too much being incarcerated on some version of Catalina Island. However, I did not enjoy the months-long struggle with the City of Los Angeles, proving that I was NOT running an illegal business out of my home … I’d be pretty damned sloppy as a Facilitator to get caught by so purblind an organization as the City of the Angeles. That made it doubly offenseive.

I think I have finally convinced the implacable clerks that Dr. Z. is not operating within the legal limits of the City of the Queen of the Angeles (It is, of course, but not from my sister’s house …) However, unable to resist the ongoing joke, I may have just shot myself in the foot once again. Word Press, my redoubtable hosting platform here, has offered me a personalized domain all my own – and I’ve yielded to the temptation.

Kage always wanted a site called Doctor Zeus. Well, Dear Readers, if you examine the URL of this blog, you will see that goal has finally been accomplished. If you type doctorzeus.co into your address bars, this blog is what you will find – as well as access to all the past blogs, of which there are very nearly a thousand these days … so it certainly took me long enough to get this done, but at last I have.

I hope Kage’s shade is pleased, if she looks up and notices between snogging with God and sipping rum cocktails. I’m gonna giggle every time I see it.

Let’s hope, as well, that the City of Los Angeles doesn’t.

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Grumping Is Out

Kage Baker, being a basically courteous person, acknowledged that sometimes people are just not in a good mood.  She never told people to smile or to just get over themselves; she hated it – though silently and with  ladylike restraint, of course – when someone did that to her.  She tried hard not to commit against others the things she felt as cruelties to herself.

“I don’t know a better way to observe the Golden Rule,” she fretted once. “I don’t know what’s going on in other people’s heads. But I know it hurts if someone hits me with a stick with a nail in it, so I shouldn’t hit anyone else.”

“Not for us to judge,” I agreed.

“Oh, I’ll judge ‘em to hell and back,” she said. “I just won’t hit people with sticks with nails in.”

Practical, cautious and virtuous.

I am less inclined to judge. While ignorance may be faulted, stupidity is a tragedy that cannot always be helped.  However, I am far more prone to lose my temper and whack the crap out of somebody being what I regard as egregiously stupid. Especially if it’s hurting someone else – like  the people who’s response to a celebrity death is to avidly recite every scandal the deceased were ever in, or who announce that victims of misfortune must have somehow deserved it. They pop up with every natural disaster, riot, domestic killing or epidemic, virtuously explaining the will of God to anyone in ear shot.

I’d like to hit them hard with some pointed object. However, the satisfaction is brief, and the repercussions can be quite severe, and further involve the innocent. So I usually just leave. I’ve eaten a lot of lunches in my car rather than listen to the venom in the break room, as it were. I am cautious of online forums, do not text, seldom  message, and take sabbaticals from Facebook whenever it gets too High School Confidential over there. Right now there is an unusual level of spite, ill-temper and asininity among my correspondents – rather than vagueBook something mopey and sad, I just announced it was too uncomfortable for me for a few days and left.

No need to contribute to the rising tides of unhappiness. When I get irritated by this kind of thing, I’m as nasty as whatever is annoying me; better for all concerned if I just go away and do something else.

So if no one sees me round the ol’ Facebook tables for a few days, Dear Readers – don’t worry. I’m outside smoking illegally in the Arcade. I have a story to write, too, which has been coming along pretty well – I want to make sure I don’t lose momentum. I’m planning a wonderful final scene involving desperate squirrel harvesting during the onset of a brush fire in the Coastal Range on the Pacific Coast Highway …

Then there is the time-consuming anxiety of waiting for Fantasy and Science Fiction to say me Yea or Nay on the story they still have. And a few new books that have appeared on my Kindle unexpectedly – such fun, to pre-order books and then forget, so they show up like sudden gifts!

Really, there is so much to do! And all of it is so much of it better than quarreling over the Oxford comma, or whether Exene is still a viable artist, or if you should sue your kid’s school because they served him uncut oranges.

Kage would run away. And so can I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Normalcy Is Back In Effect

Kage Baker approved of normalcy. For a given value of normalcy, anyway. A value mostly exclusive to her household, and not in particular alignment with anyone else’s definition.

On the other hand, she felt strongly that other people ought to identify their own version of what was normal, and stick to it. It would make people happier, she felt, and maybe even promote peace. Especially the versions of those whose idea of “normal” included defining it for other folks – and applying same by force. If those people could be taught to be happy in the privacy of their own homes and leave the rest of the world alone, they – and the world – would be a much nicer place.

She figured that in most of the cases, this would actually be easier for the frantic would-be enforcers of a lowest-common-denomination “normalcy”. Think of the energy expended by people like Glenn Beck, and that lady down the street who demands to see the plastic poop bags being carried by every dog-owner who passes her porch. Consider the wear and tear on their nervous systems; contemplate the damage done by their blood bouncing more and more anxiously against their capillary walls! People don’t seem to die of apoplexy as much as they used to, but that’s no excuse for Society to ignore the needs of those still prone to the ailment.

There’s a guy on my block who sneaks out carefully after dark to edge his neighbor’s lawns. That’s because none of us apparently do it the way it’s supposed to be done. Those of us converting to drought-conscious xeriscaping are giving him even more problems … it’s hard to edge gravel or Hottentot fig. And of course, he only comes out at night, so as to minimize the chances someone will come out and offer to insert his damned edger in an anatomically awkward place … which tactic would work better if he didn’t use a loud gas-operated machine. Imagine how much easier his life would be if he could learn how to be content with his own “normal” lawn!

Another neighbor is growing more and more strident about the local wildlife. Here on the edges of the San Fernando Valley, Griffith Park and the LA River, we have a broader and more diverse ecology than pugs, Chihuahuas and house cats. The mere sight of skunks, possums and raccoons is upsetting her. The bob cats, pumas and coyotes are driving her to a dangerous peak of terror. She doesn’t even care for deer! You have to pity someone who is afraid of Bambi. I don’t think anyone has had the heart to tell her how close the bears are getting – but I really think some mild re-education on what constitutes “normal” wildlife would help her peace of mind; and discourage her from hiring bounty-hunters.

These sorts of contretemps are why Kage preferred to live at some distance from her human neighbors. Living in the Hollywood Hills for her first 40 years established an unusually cosmopolitan view of what is normal … and how privacy and common courtesy help keep it all smooth and pleasant. None of Kage’s habits were especially peculiar. For a writer … but she needed more total silence than most households produce; ours was thus one given to long periods of utter quiet while Kage wrote. At the same time (sometimes literally) Kage needed specific music input: soundtracks for the stories. Hence, in our house, listening to, say, A Pilgrim’s Progress  or the 1812 Overture, over and over for 8 hours at a time was – well, normal.

So was ice cream for dinner, midnight Chinese food picnics, lighting the entire house with candles (guests sometimes had difficulties in the bathroom, but most adapted well) and getting boxes of armour pieces via UPS. Having the neighbors call the cops when they observed us carrying life-sized wooden statues wrapped in Turkish rugs up the stairs. Accidentally dying the back stairs orange with gallons of onion peel in hot water. Having an armed encampment of swordsmen in the back garden.

We put up with situation comedy soundtracks, football games, drunken quarrels, the perfume of burnt dinners, evictions, break-ups. fornication, and blood feuds from the neighbors. On the few occasions we had any – we did go to considerable lengths not to, and spent less than 5 years of our adult lives in apartment buildings. But normalcy, Dear Readers, comes in all flavours, after all.

So today, the world is pretty much back to normal. Robin Williams was accompanied into immortality by Lauren Bacall – what a ferry ride that must have been! – and the airways are full of praise and scandal for them both. Ms. Bacall is being remembered for exactly ONE line of dialogue from a lifetime of stardom. Mr. Williams is being castigated by conservative talk show hosts, and mourned by gorillas.

Yep, all normal around here.

 

 

 

 

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Temporarily Out Of Order

Kage Baker loved the work of Robin Williams. She also knew him to be a nice guy, as anyone who ever met him – no matter how casually – was wont to testify.

He died yestreday,  pretty much of being alive and turned up to  the SUPER MAX ATOMIC HIGH setting.. It’s an occupational hazard when you dance so close to the razor edge of the human condition as Robin Williams did.

This isn’t a eulogy. I have no anecdote to explain why my pain is worse than anyone else’s (there’s the usual amount of that going on, I’m sure.) I just wanted to acknowledge the fact that a good man is dead, and it’s a loss to the world, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Also, I stayed up until 3:30 watching his movies, and now my brain is fried. Metaphor, simile and all my usual attendant adjectives are mostly greasy smoke on the ceiling of my mind.

Take care of yourselves, Dear Readers. We’ll return to what passes for normalcy tomorrow.

 

 

 

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How To Work A Lazy Sunday

Kage Baker loved lazy Sundays. They have rules, though.

They have to be an unforced blossom in the garden of life. They can’t be made, or planned for in advance. They just happen. You wake up naturally – nothing wakes you from outside. You eat whatever occurs to you for breakfast, and it’s easy to acquire – Chinese food, cold pizza, birthday cake. Rice Krispies with a big scoop of strawberry ice cream in the middle.

You can take as long as you like with the Sunday paper, or your personal correspondence. (Kage always dealt with her mail first thing in the morning – email has returned us to the habits of Victorian ladies.) After that, Kage would slowly surf her way into the rest of the day, wandering with a carefully randomized curiosity until the vagaries of the Internet led her to a topic relevant to writing. If indeed it ever did …

I like this model. Sometimes I add a few hours of reading, if I am still working on an unfinished book; today, though, I reached the end of one last night and have not yet decided on what to read next. Sometimes I knit while watching movies, but again – nothing has so far presented itself. I nap, I research, I re-read something I’ve already written. I put away laundry washed two days ago, if by chance there is no longer a cat asleep in it. The orange kitten will coalesce from thin air to sleep on laundry.

The weather is clear and hot outside the windows, but not deathly so. The perfumes of barbecues I don’t have to tend drifts on the breeze; also the scents of roses, camphor trees, hot wet stone where some drought-defying gardener has spilled water on the sidewalk. Other people’s faint music is all the soundtrack I need; other people’s television choices a room away are all the entertainment I want.  I can be anywhere, anywhere at all, on a Sunday like this …

I’m floating in a coracle on a shallow river, in an out of the bars of coolth cast by oaks overhead. Reeds are flowering, and the motionless pools at the sides are covered with the jade green pearls of their seeds. Red-winged blackbirds and grackles sing from hiding, the sweetest voices of the icterids.

The Lady of Shallot was an idiot, to leave this delight for her deathbed.

Or, as Kage was often fond of quoting Ratty: “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”*

Ultimately, I’ll ground on some gravelly bit. And I’ll climb out, and up, and into the dim cool sanctuary of my room. My desk and my writing hat  will be waiting, and I’ll resume my journey on the river of my mind, as naturally as a leaf on the water …

The best of day, Dear Reader. The best of days.

 

 

 

 

The Wind In The Willows, Kenneth Grahame

 

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