Kaleidoscopes

Kage Baker loved kaleidoscopes. Between her fondness for coloured glass and a love of symmetrical patterns, there was no way she couldn’t. And yet she didn’t own a lot of them. Usually just one, small and cheap and made of cardboard, the sort you win at a Halloween festival. In fact, a lot of hers came from Halloween festivals.

She greatly admired the huge fancy ones that you see in expensive stores and catalogs, though. She just never got one. I regret that quite a lot, now.

I always meant to get her one – in polished wood, perhaps; or better yet, brass. Kage loved polished brass. A kaleidoscope that looked like a brass telescope (one of which she did have) would have been perfect. But she always said:  No, not just now. I still have that one I got at the carnival last year … but when we went into fancy stores, she’d pore over the ones for sale there, one after the other.

Maybe, with her amazing memory, she remembered all the patterns she saw. I wouldn’t find it unbelievable. Or maybe she just liked keeping them as chance encounters – a sudden unexpected glimpse, a few minutes’ peering into the faceted mysteries. Because, believe me, her coming across the keepsakes in her desk was usually purely chance, and what came to hand depended on the continental drift across the desktop. She was as likely to find a notebook from high school as a kaleidoscope. Or a wind-up brain. Three mismatched earrings (none of them hers). A Hugo pin.

The best thing about the little cheap cardboard ones, I think, was that they eventually came apart. Sooner or later, Kage would spill a Coke or a cuppa coffee; or the lid would come off one of the jars full of sea water she always kept around. Cardboard kaleidoscopes, of course, dissolve … they can also be dissected, to see how they work. Kage dissected or autopsied many over the years.

What amazed her was not the mechanism (she figured out the angled mirrors as soon as she saw them) but the mundane objects that made the competed patterns: beads and random bits of broken glass. Paper clips. Flower petals, dried beans, buttons. Coloured sugar – that one was most grotesquely invaded by ants, some of which then died and became part of the pattern themselves. (Very karmic, that.) Torn bits of coloured paper.

While a fancy kaleidoscope can have fancy ingredients – and it is rather cool if you know you are looking at specially designed millefleur beads – it’s no less beautiful if the pattern is made of old postage stamps. The one with stamps was rather neat, in fact, as sometimes the pattern would yield a mouth or an eye, repeated a dozen times like a detail from delirium. Kage was deeply moved to see  scraps transformed into ordered beauty. She said it was spiritually fulfilling.

Maybe that was also why she never wanted a fancy kaleidoscope of her own. Then it would have been a toy, a personal indulgence,  instead of a bolt of geometric lightning. It wouldn’t have been a miracle.

And Kage dealt in miracles.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to Kaleidoscopes


  1. When I first met my late wife, (Christal) She was doing deliveries for a dental lab and, as the good hippie she was, working in a Kalidscope factory in Hollywood. I think we have at least one of her manufacture hanging around in the detritus of our lives.

  2. Kate says:

    Oh, what a wonderful skill! (Kaleidoscopy, I mean. Not that there is anything wrong with dentistry.) That’s marvelous. Considering what a seamstress and costumer she was, I am not surprised.

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