The Borders

Kage Baker liked to explore ruins.

She loved history, and the pieces left behind from it in the abandoned lots of time. One of the things she wished she had done with her life was archeology – or one of the other things, at least; she still would have been telling stories. Her Company tales were her particular kind of archeology. She dug through history for scraps and anomalies, and speculated on what they might have meant. Science’s loss was fiction’s gain, as she could range much farther afield and into much wilder lands. But the actual past was her trigger for the writer’s irresistible question: What if …

Growing up in Los Angeles might seem like especially barren soil for such an enterprise, but that’s only if you believe what you see in the movies. We grew up in the Hollywood Hills, in a steep-angled neighborhood where the back street wasn’t even  paved until Kage was 7 years old. This wasn’t the part of the Hills where money lived. It was where painters and propmen, grips and extras, and the people who make furtive cheap movies lived. The house next door (which Momma rented out when we were kids, and where our brothers lived later on) had been built in the early 1900’s as an illegal film processing lab; the porches that ringed it were where the lookouts kept watch for Thomas Edison’s Pinkerton men, who might come up the Cahuenga Pass at any moment with axes and kerosene and matches. The house across the street housed a series of nocturnal film companies who spent more on thick curtains than on clothes …

A lot of movie people, the rank and file, built their houses up there. Carpenters and prop guys built the best and craziest ones, furnished with studio cast-offs and tawdry leftovers. The architects were eccentric and amateur, the buildings were romantic and ramshackle, and you never knew what sort of mad palace you might come on, wandering around up there. Some we admired from the street; others were falling down by the 1960’s, when we rambled, and so we rambled on right through them, sifting the wreckage for mysteries.

Kage always made sure we had a camera and a leash with us. The camera had no film and we had no dog, but a couple of girls could always claim they were looking for their lost pet if challenged while climbing over a wall. We never got arrested or raped. God knows why.

There’s half an abandoned castle up there, made from hand-cut blocks of the native golden granite. There are several Moorish miniatures, pashas’  pieds-a-terre, that have been continuously re-tiled over the last half-century as drunks ran into the pillars. There’s a Tudor house decorated with Bavarian gargoyles. There are garden follies without end, apparently marking  the line where imagination shades into hallucination.

Those were Kage’s favourites.  Every weird facade and unlikely vista was an entry into another world. You could go there, if you could just figure out which narrow dirt road led to which overgrown driveway, or which sagging hand-laid wall of rocks and Redicrete you had to climb over. She swore  it was so, when she was small. By the time we were grown, she didn’t insist on it – but I think she believed it even more. I can point to a dozen front walks that lead right out of this world, where the sidewalk is Los Angeles but the front porch is … somewhere else.

The power of borders is profound. Edges, says Sir Terry Pratchett, are where the real power is; Kage agreed completely. Identifying those borders, marking them, crossing them: it sets up a current like electricity between opposing poles, and that energy flows like a river in flood.

Kage and I grew up on the border of Faerieland. On that edge is where I mean to stay.

Tomorrow: bicamerality