The Joys of Spam

Kage Baker, unlike most people, enjoyed her spam email. It was a daily source of amusement and surprise for her.

When she initially went on line, I set up Spam filters of various sorts; I kept them updated on a regular basis, because of her purse-seine net method of exploring the Internet. One never knew what might follow her home. Luckily, she caught on at once about not following links or opening attachments from unknown correspondents – she was naturally suspicious. Which was a good thing, considering she’d follow a trail anywhere, as oblivious of the surroundings as any focused  hound. That’s how bears get Scooby-snacks …

But when something relatively harmless came along, Kage was always ready to be entertained. Not by jokes and cartoons – she hated getting those, unless they had been selected by someone who knew her well. But the ingenuosly fraudulent, the invitations to unlikely sexual customizing or dubious financial projects: she loved reading the details of those. What most intrigued her was how the classic old wheezes and con schemes had successfully mutated to life in the electronic universe.

The ever-popular Nigerian scam was among Kage’s favourites: it’s just a modern update of the classic Spanish Prisoner Scheme, and its survival delighted her. In fact, she kept a file of really good letters she received, graded on entertaining details and verisimilitude and how funny the English mistakes were. She even sent corrections and critiques to a couple of especially ingenious ones. She said she was encouraging creative writing.

She kept newspaper accounts, too, of the idiotic city officials who occasionally fell for these – when a private man got suckered, Kage was sysmpathetic, but an astonishing number of public servants gamble with municipal treasuries and pension funds. And when they got caught, she was blackly, cynically amused. Some professional politico in Orange County – who sure as hell should have known better – was one of the better known morons in California to fall victim to this, and Kage laughed her ass off.

“The old gypsy woman says, you cannot cheat an honest man,” she would intone, and crack up. “You can, of course, but it’s easier to cheat another cheat!”

The story Mother Aegypt is, among other things, Kage’s celebration of the career confidence man. The characters of Joseph and Lord Ermenwyr owe more than a little to that brotherhood, as well. She just loved Tricksters.

And so she cheerfully read through her daily share of correspondence promising her shares in gold and diamond and uranium mines; she kept the best examples of corrupt African officials who had inexplicably done major business with her deceased uncles; she howled with laughter over the offers from  herbalists and unlicensed endocrinologists to enrich the male anatomy of her choice. “I like ’em big and stupid,” she’d sing. “But this is ridiculous!”

So that part of unsolicited mail was fun. And electronic junk mail has not only increased the amount of fancy crap in the mail, but improved its detail and finesse, as well. When all your printing and picture needs are satisfied with pixels and data packets, you can turn out a prettier grade of crap. Kage appreciated that.

What made her insane was the stream of jokes, riddles, games and surveys that come in from friends. The chain letters. The magic spells. The fans who sent actual letters were always answered promptly – but the other stuff was filtered out. When someone was especially nice and/or persistent, she would ask them politely to stop; citing (quite truthfully) her need not to be distracted when she was writing.

(When anyone proved incapable of stopping themselves from sending out photos of kittens or political jokes (and some folks apparently just can’t help themselves) I’d build them a special filter all their own and their daily yucks were consigned to the abyss.)

Folks who asked questions were answered. Folks who raised critiques were, too, if they were polite about it – Kage had no time to spend arguing her plot points with annoyed pedants. (“Are you aware I write fiction?” she would respond – once, and never again.) Folks who sent her examples of probably Company work – extinct animals , lost manuscripts, miracle drugs, Lost Cities found – were effusively thanked.

Kage liked talking to her fans. She just didn’t have a lot of time. But she tried to make sure everyone got a response. Some of you, Dear Readers, know that she she could be a faithful correspondent, if one were patient.

I still check her email from time to time, though the initial flood of mail has slacked off. Kage would have been both touched and wildly amused to learn how many people sent letters to her, saying “I’m sorry you’re dead.” The faith that she could somehow answer would have cheered her, too. Though I am sorry to report that she hasn’t managed that trick. Yet.

But today I got another Spanish Prisoner letter for her, which will go into her file. I got a lovely offer from some lady offering “comfortable methods of getting pregnant” – sadly, they weren’t outlined in the email, so I don’t know if she has come up with a better way than the old method. I thought that one was pretty cool, personally … some well-intentioned person also wanted to warn her that Prozac has been added to the Hollywood water supply, along with the long-standing evils of fluoridation – but I think not, because fluoxetine costs money and Los Angeles doesn’t have any …

Still, it’s nice to know people are looking out for their neighbors, you know? Worried about their teeth and their depression and their sex lives and their finances. As Kage observed, the smaller the world gets, the more it has to say each morning. It amused her. It still amuses me.

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 Joys of Spam

  1. Margaret says:

    I’m wondering whether Kage got a copy of an email I received several years ago, from some ‘company’ brazenly identifying itself as TANSTAAFL. I can’t remember now what the specific scam was, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t selling Heinlein books.

  2. Kate says:

    I think I recall that, yes – because we laughed hard at it. I think they didn’t know that it’s not a word, it’s an acronym; or what it means. As I recall, it was a self-marketing publishing scam – scam in that the hopeful author paid this company for what were supposedly marketing “aids” and then did all the work themselves.

    Piracy does not always wear a cutlass and sea boots!

  3. Mark says:

    The flipside to the various Internet scams is the lovely practice of scam-baiting, which turns the tables and provides instant karma to the scammers. If you have the time, take a look at http://www.thescambaiter.com/ , especially their audio and picture files of scammers abused via their own greed.

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