Things Unseen

Kage Baker was a great believer in things unseen. Or, more precisely, almost seen; the shape glimpsed from the corner of the eye; eye-shine or a glint of crooked grin in the moonlight. Shadows with nothing to cast them, and lean shapes that paced through firelight with no shadow to warn at all.

Part of it was a genuine faith that Things Beyond Our Ken were out there – and, in fact, prowling round the back fence and just beyond the campfire’s reach. It was born as much of  a spiritual inclination in the blood, as by childhood tales of faeries at the bottom of the garden … and the garden she grew up in looked like the entire Unseelie Court probably weekended there. In fact, sometimes they did – or at least the Hollywood Contingent of that Court, all the Beautiful People from the 1950’s and 1960’s, holding orchid-coloured cocktails and feeding the fruit-spears from them to the dazzled 5-year-old Kage. Which may go far to explain her fondness for rum and plastic toys in her drinks, as well …

Kage’s interest in faerie tales transmuted to real anthropological research in adulthood. Even casual reading reveals that people all over the world report seeing much the same sort of creatures hassling the cattle in the twilight, or sneaking into the kitchen for some bread and milk and free-lance cobbling. Her own conclusion, though, was that this spoke more of a similarity in the way people’s minds work than of the reality of what they saw: not that the world really was lousy with dwarvish artisans, but that short grumpy guys who were good with tools were a universal idea.

She was also fascinated to learn of Lewy Body Dementia. LBD arises from damage in a portion of the occipital lobe of the brain – and produces hallucinations of dwarves. No matter what your cultural background is, LBD will give rise to dwarves in your field of vision.

Kage built all this research, plus our mutual interest in paleo-anthropology, into a Universal Theory of Hominids in her Company series. To wit, the denizens of Faerie are all human cousins who did not go extinct; instead, they live on the edges of Homo sapiens‘ loud, intrusive, self-centered civilization, pursuing their own ends quietly. The aliens of the 2oth century UFO flaps – whose behaviour so closely resembles that of faeries – are the same lurking kinfolk. They haven’t changed – but we have. So where we used to see cranky, clever dwarves making shoes and fancy armour, we now find grey-skinned supergeeks driving advanced technology. They’re the same guys, though.

Her views on faeries and elves were a little different. More on those at a later date, perhaps.

Since there are almost more holes in the fossil records of hominids than there are fossils, Kage could invent species when she needed them. Or simply when they took her fancy – the Little Stupid Guys she invented for a specific plot need, but Homo crewkerniensis just wandered in one day from God knows where, and stayed to become part of Alec Checkerfield’s Outrageous Ancestry. On the other hand, some of her (at the time) unlikely speculations have since been proven true – it is now estimated that Neanderthals did indeed contribute to the ancestry of modern humans; as much as 5% of the genotype in some European and Middle Eastern peoples.

So, out of glimpses and edges and folklore and exotic neuropathies and wild imaginations, are entire worlds built. Sometimes, anyway. You just never know what half-seen remnant of a distant past is going to have relevance in the present.

One of the invisible genes those Neanderthals may have contributed to Europeans, for example, is red hair. Another is left-handedness.

Makes one wonder, eh?

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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