The Objective Eye

Kage Baker watched humanity like she wasn’t a member of the species. Writers tend to do that. Especially science fiction writers.

Ideally, this is how all  scientists should work, too, especially  in the biological fields. One should cultivate a completely objective perspective, laying aside the empathies, antipathies and appetites that you may have in common with your target species; treating the subject of study as if they were aliens, to be studied in a cool, unemotional vacuum. In reality, most folks cannot even summon enough objectivity to avoid identifying with flatworms or fruit flies, let alone fellow fuzzy mammals. Heck, even physicists have assigned qualities like “charm” and “flavour” to subatomic particles.

I think writers actually can get closer to this objective view than many scientists. They certainly  get closer than anthropologists, who do the most direct studies of humankind and yet display the least emotional detachment. There are few fields as acrimonious as paleoanthropology, where opinion and interpretation provoke verbal blood-feuds among those who study the few sad bones of our ancestors and cousins. There are anthropologists who get invited to be on panels with one another just to liven up conventions.

Neanderthals were long excluded from the direct line of humanity, mostly because no one wanted to admit we were related to them. In fact, only in the last year has it been accepted that some our genes were actually acquired from them – which, as people don’t indulge in the broadcast chastity of fish (spreading milt impersonally and anonymously), means there had to be some genuine intimacy involved. But the paleontologists who first examined Neanderthal bones – and most of the ones who studied them subsequently – couldn’t bring themselves to admit a close relationship with such brutish ancients … it took a generation of study before anyone calmed down enough to realize that the original skeleton was of a guy with serious arthritis, and had been assembled carelessly to boot. Kage loved that story – she thought it revealed more about human nature than the actual study of the fossils.

Of course, now that we have pretty good proof there was some hanky-panky going on after all, it’s become necessary instead to inflate Homo neanderthalensis virtues and similarities to Homo sapiens: they still aren’t being taken much on their own unique merits. But it’s better than relegating them to the trash heap of history. And I suppose it’s less embarassing than acknowledging that our ancestors would not only screw anybody, but that they passed the habit on to us.  As Kage said, the Cro-magnons probably would have had sex with the Neanderthals even if they had belonged to a different genus, let alone a species. And it’s a fair bet the neighboring Neanderthals had the same inclination, because they were human, too. And humans are an indiscriminately randy lot.

Kage studied archeology because she loved history, and was fascinated with the qualities of sapience, intelligence, humanity. She had a childhood horror of actual bones, though, so she confined her study to books, preferably books about rocks and pottery and ancient technology.  She left most of the physical anthropology to me to research, and then read my notes: photos of skulls creeped her out. As a serious curiosity about human origins grew and continued through her life, though, she got easier with the pictures. Eventually, the distinctive faces of the last 4 or 5 editions of humanity were as familiar and friendly to her as photos from our childhood.

And that is one of the reasons Kage invented several sub-species of humans in her Company series. She developed a fondness for them, all those great-grand-to-the-nth power folks. And when she loved someone, when she could not bear the thought of ever losing them, she wound them into her stories. In a bit of a disguise, usually, but she conferred immortality as best she could.

So at the end, I guess her objectivity failed a bit. The more she studied humans, the better she liked them. In the abstract, anyway, at a decent distance – say, about 50,000 years or more. Everybody’s virtues show up better that way, she said. After all, we have much more evidence that they all made love than that they made war.

Tomorrow: more examination of Kage and her species.

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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4 Responses to The Objective Eye

  1. widdershins says:

    One of my favourite expressions is, “Bloody Humans!” when they do something really silly of annoy me, so I do understand that outsider perspective.

    … and as for that blindness about the ascendancy of the current human species? I often wonder if the ‘monsters’ of myth aren’t just tiny branches of the great experiment that continue to survive in the shadows of homo sapiens, waiting their turn at the grown-ups table.

  2. Kate says:

    Well, Kage decided that the space aliens of the 20th century were just that: a branch of hominid. Perfectly natural native sons and (rare) daughters; just not Homo sapiens.

  3. Mark says:

    “Kage Baker watched humanity like she wasn’t a member of the species…”

    Well, are you *sure* she was?

    While she was a lovely person and lady of impeccable taste, I must confess to having regularly believed she was a halfling, changling, half-elf, or relative to Heinlein’s irrepressible observer, Jonathan Hoag…

    You seemed to indulge most of the human appetites, Kate, while Kage seemed more enamored of passions not-quite like the rest of us. Close. But not quite the same.

  4. Kate says:

    Mark: Nope. I’m not sure. Our shared genetic heritage includes just about every kind of Celt, plus Native Americans, so there would have been ample opportunity for some interesting hybridizing somewhere along the line. Her own mother used to joke about it (I think she was joking, anyway.) Although, for what it’s worth, I’ve seen multiple X-rays of Kage’s skull and skeleton, and it’s classical Homo sapiens sapiens …

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