Kage Baker, as must be pretty obvious by now, really liked free-range strangeness. She was a connoisseuse, a collector, a delighted vector for tales of High Weirdness. Like gossip, she was happy enough just to hear of it and not necessarily spread it – but she wanted to know; and, if it was harmless, she liked to be the one to pass it on.
Kage loved being the messenger. She was ordinarily quite shy, but she’d leap into conversations like a gazelle on speed to be the bearer of unusual news. When we attended the 2009 World Fantasy Awards, she took a genuine delight in being able to tell people she was, yes, actually sick! I’m sure several folks were taken aback at the cheerful way in which she imparted her cancer – please bear in mind, if she took you by surprise with that information, that 1) she thought she was going to survive; and 2) it was such a tidbit of news!
Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. Storytellers gotta tell people stuff.
She collected tales of weirdness avidly. She would always look over at me as we settled in to some hour-long special on demon Laotian catfish, and observe virtuously that you just never knew what tidbit might lead to a story … which was true; but the deeper truth was, she just loved that shit.
The radio show Coast To Coast AM (now hosted by George Noory, but originally with the redoubtable Al Bell) was one of her favourites – before the Internet really got going, it could be found late at night on public access cable television in Pismo Beach. Which was weird in itself, ’cause it was a radio show … The only visual display was closed captioning of the dialogue running across the telly screen, but it was – fascinatingly!- often interrupted by static, scraps of other broadcasts, and weird beeping noises. It suffered inexplicable failures of transmission often, and Kage would be in hysterics of laughter, wondering if it was incompetent engineers or sinister government agencies? We got a lot of alien news from good old Coast To Coast. It’s main charm was the unflappable calm of Mssrs. Bell and Noory, no matter how excited their guests became.
Another interesting source was Blogsquatcher podcasts on Blog Talk Radio. Kage loved the combination of personal gossip (Sasquatch hunters are a quarrelsome lot), bad research and the occasional gem of actual scholarship. Those gems rarely had anything to do with cryptid hominoids, but we learned a lot about game cameras, UV and IR light, ultrasound, and trespassing laws.
Kage drew her personal line at purveyors of total nonsense. The Weekly World News was always one of my favourite brainless reads (Bat Boy Joins The Boy Scouts! Titanic’s Captain Found In Coma On Abandoned Whaling Vessel! Housewife Grows Man-sized Parsnip!) but she scorned its over-ripe journalism. On the other hand, the various “reality” shows on supposedly-respectable stations like The Learning Channel and History were always on her top 10 list; cryptids, legendary beasts, ghosts, strange lands and dubious islands … that was what she liked.
Her research into the murkier aspects of phenomenology was constant. My especial field was actual science – I read dozens of magazines, journals, abstracts and aggregate sites, looking for interesting leads on solar prominences, poisonous phosphorescent fungi, anti-matter, neuron regeneration, prostheses, apoptosis, telomeres, crackpots, rumpots, and How are you, Mr. Wilson?
There was a giant solar flare yestreday; it should hit is in a day or two – maybe on Kage’s birthday! – and who knows what will happen? I will hope for low-latitude aurorae, and pray it’s not the 1859 Incident Redux. Attempts are being made to breed the last few of some of the Galapagos tortoises – aside from the general hilarity (tortoises are determined but not graceful lovers) there is hope for information on why lady chelonions not only do not experience menopause, but seem to get more fertile as they age. Giant jellyfish are swarming round Japan – why? Aside from the obvious, I mean – proximity to abyssal deeps and excess radiation – why?
So much to wonder at; so much to discuss. I am most fortunate that I have you, Dear Readers, to bounce some of these trace signals off of and debate them. For instance, an exploration of modern camping gear (thinking of you, Mike R.) has just shown me how my intrepid Martian living in a survival tent is getting her drinking water …
Always read the weird news. It’s where the treasures are.
Do you remember a short-lived TV series called Shadow Chasers? One protagonist (Trevor Eve) was a serious anthropologist and the other (Dennis Dugan) worked for a tabloid. In each show, they were sent to prove or debunk some new bizarre-phenom report. I think it was in the first episode that we were taken to the tabloid’s newsroom, where everyone was brainstorming headlines for upcoming stories that some poor sod would then have to write to fit the winning headlines. What comes to mind (I may be combining several) is Elvis Found on Mars, Pregnant with Hitler’s Twins. I’d love to have that series on DVD.
Margaret – no, I don’t remember this. We’d have watched if we’d ever noticed, I am sure. But (believe it or not) we went several years without a television at one point in young womanhood … We did watch several of those “reality” shows with a similar premise, except they were non-fiction – but they featured mixed teams of scientists and laypeople, all scurrying about looking for relict dinosaurs and UFOS. Pretty fun, actually!
I went and looked it up – the show was on in 1985, programmed opposite The Cosby Show on NBC and Magnum, P.I. on CBS – no wonder it didn’t last.
Yeah – that was in the TV-less years. Momma finally decided it was too weird not to have a telly, and gave us one … but even then, all we watched was PBS and Star Trek reruns. We were odd. Pity, because that sounds like an interesting show.
I can’t believe this post has me listening to George Noory again. I also have an appetite for High Weirdness and I’d forgotten about the sublime ridiculousness of Coast to Coast. Fortunately, I can’t stay up that late anymore, so it’s a more limited exposure. 😀
PJ – the main charm of Coast to Coast is – well, it’s George Noory. Like Art Bell before him, he is almost unflappable and unfailingly polite. No matter how insane his guests get (and some of them really do) he always gives me the impression that there is a rational core to all this weirdness. His shows are archived online, by the way, at the online site: http://www.coasttocoastam.com/. If he’s on too late for you, you can still get the occasional giggle grazing here.
I can’t believe I am actually recommending this site … but you know,it is free fun!
Oh yeah, I used to listen to Art Bell all the time in another era of my life. The computer was in the bedroom and I’d lay in bed reading while Art and his guests chattered on. Just me, and Art, and the frontiers of high strangeness in the strange part of the night. I did like the balance of ridiculousness and Art Bell’s calm. As you say, he was always polite and unflappable—George Noory is much the same. I have listened to him sometimes from the archives, but not as much as in the old days. You reminded me that it’s fun to drop in now and then.