Kage Baker often compared her computer to the palantiri from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. She loved the access to texts of all times and nations that the Internet provided, but what really zooed her was the ability to see stuff; real stuff, with her own two eyes, in a magic glass.
Her favourite characters in LOTR – predictably, given her love of tools and gardening -were the dwarves and the ents. She liked the palantiri because they were one of the few things in Middle Earth that seemed to be technology: and while she understood the lesson of Isengard with no argument (though she thought it unsubtle) and sided decisively with the ents, she liked good machines in their place. She liked artificers. She loved careful gardens. She’d have made a good dwarf, or an Entwife.
What she was instead was a middle-aged lady who wrote genre literature and had a computer. So she used what she had to secure a little magic for herself. She was fond of quoting Clarke’s Third Law: that any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic. Since, as she freely admitted, she didn’t understood her computer anyway, it was both convenient and sensible for her to regard it as sorcery.
Kage had a roster of web cams she checked daily, for her magical views of the real world. (I still check them myself, as part of the daily checklist that leads to writing.) There is a clear and potent magic to actually seeing the light of other lands with your own eyes, especially while sitting at your own desk – the sunset on the coast of Cornwall with your morning coffee, fog crowding the Golden Gate Bridge while a hot wind is blowing in your window from the Mojave … and Kage also liked to make sure certain portions of the California coast hadn’t fallen right off the continent in the night. Between San Simeon and Pacifica, that happens rather a lot.
She could check on Mars, if it took her fancy, or a growing assortment of asteroids, comet heads, Jovian and Saturnian moons. She could roam the world and not only get current news within minutes, but watch current events half the globe away in real time – if there was a news crew, or a site cam, or even an office worker on break with a decent phone. And that thrilled her.
This morning was a bit blurry for me; one of those white nights where one never sleeps at all. My activities degenerated with my neurotransmitter levels – first reading some interesting emerging archeology on the continental shelf of Europe; then reading science fiction; then watching steadily worse and worse science fiction films on my desktop. I finally reached the level where not even a simple game like Solitaire or Phlinx was still in my grasp, so I just started surfing news sites …
Where I discovered that Egypt had risen, like a levitating stone, and claimed a new freedom for its people. Six thousand years, give or take a millenium, and Pharaoh may have finally let his own people go. The Egyptians were among the first to invent a middle class: a society where every man could buy immortality and the children of farmers and merchants had worth in their own right. For the last 18 days they have patiently waited, like the born bureaucracy they are, to take power into their own hands – today they achieved it, without the blood of any tyrant to sully their victory.
And I watched it live, on a feed from Al Jazeera, narrated in English by a man with a lovely accent and perfect diction and a name out of the Arabian Nights. I sat there at my palantir, clutching my Turkish coffee, brain burned out on special effects and fantasy, and watched – with my own eyes – as The Black Land, The Two Lands, Musur, Musri, Misri, Misr danced for joy and freedom in the streets.