Reflections In The Season of Change

Kage Baker didn’t think things ought to end. She appreciated the rhythm of cycles, that  life-death-rebirth thing, the spring to winter path. What she didn’t like was endings. It was one of the reasons she invented Dr. Zeus and the Operatives, to save what would be otherwise lost.

She pretty much refused to tolerate the steady march of chaos.

Kage said that kind of thing was just too depressing to put up with: the heat death of the universe, the slow decay of inevitable entropy. One day in our teens (on one of those endless summer afternoons when you’re 15 and solve all the mysteries of life), she asked me how long the Universe was expected to last. I was the science fan, I read that kind of thing. When I first told her about the then-extant concepts – how the most current model of the Universe had it just spreading out until it was an infinite soup of cold hydrogen, one atom thick everywhere – she was outraged.

All that sturm und drang of the Big Bang, and then it dissolves into next-to-nothing? No way, averred Kage. She held out instead for the Big Crunch option, where the Universe reaches its limit and then springs back like a bungee cord: SNAP! And then, as Mr. Grimaldi said, here we are again! A constantly repeating Phoenix’s nest and fireworks display: that’s what Kage firmly envisioned. Dissolution was for weenies.

I first told Kage about that – the Big Crunch alternating with the Big Bang – way back in high school: at least, the few crumbs of information I had proudly gathered by age 15. Interestingly enough, it has evolved  more acceptance since then., from people who hopefully know more about it than I did. Maybe physicists are no happier with the idea of the End of Everything than Kage was.

Kage was concerned about the passage of time. And she had a curious trick of prophecy.

She saw the current social insanity rampant in the UK  coming – ASBOS, universal surveillance, intolerance of children or public displays of affection. She predicted the growing fundamentalism burning higher in the US, and the rise of a New Puritanism. She foretold the return of the No-Nothings, as people (Americans, in particular) grew ever more arrogant about being stinking ignorant. She predicted the rising tide of Animal Rights carried to insane extremes: outlawing aquariums. Calling domestic animals “dependents”. Turning thousands of farmed minks loose in the countryside to savage poultry and be run over by trucks – and that last one has happened two or three times now.

I keep hoping she’ll turn out to have been right about the Moslems going Amish, but it hasn’t happened yet. Still, the Arab Spring is bearing strange and wonderful fruit; pacificism and tolerance may yet blossom. The loss of a few tyrants is good no matter what.

Kage’s hunch that Mars would hold more water than we expected has proven accurate, too. I’m not sure if it was something she tossed in because her storyline needed it – relict water was a necessity to make Empress of Mars work – or if she hopefully conflated something in the early data coming back from the rovers. It doesn’t matter, because the later reports have shown she was right. There was a lot of water on Mars in the past, and the proof is still there. Better yet, it appears a lot of the water is still there, frozen in cliffs at the poles – two continents of potable water, under the glaciers that are the breathing air. The Truckers may yet roll to bring them home.

And Mars does have the isolated cyclones she postulated. We knew, peering from a distance, that dust storms could rise to veil half the planet at a go – it turns out the smaller, lither eye storms can form locally, too. Kage watched dust devils dancing across the stony plain inside Gusev Crater, over and over, like an enraptured hunter in a blind – she built the Strawberry out of that.  And you can watch them here:

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20050819a.html

Even her guess that the heart of Mars had not yet cooled was right. At least, it appears to be – there is evidence that Olympus Mons may yet hide a reservoir of molten stone. Whether or not lava chambers exist to be blown up has yet to be seen (and will hopefully be avoided), but Kage’s estimate of Olympus Mons’ ability to do it is looking vaguely possible.

Certainly, her assertion that space flight would have to be made profitable is coming true. NASA is leaning more and more on robots, and splendid machines they are. But the human exploration of space is coming more and more to rest in the hands of private men – men with money and dreams and no bosses, who are even now testing rockets and building a space port in New Mexico.

Here and now, with the leaves beginning to thin and rattle, with the Hollywood Hills roasting under storm clouds all the way from New Zealand, I think inevitably about changes. How Kage disliked them, but how she domesticated them into her own life: she took the best parts, as far as she could, and built them into a future that really does have a happy ending. Think about the last scenes in her last Company novel: everyone finds true love and closure and redemption – or at least a date. Evil is punished. Virtue is rewarded and given an upgrade.

And nothing ends. Not really. Not forever. The Company – and Kage – have the blue prints for everything.

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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3 Responses to Reflections In The Season of Change

  1. While I’m sorry (for myself) that I didn’t read the Company books sooner, I can’t tell you how much i appreciate having read them this year at last. The series has given me a vocabulary, at least in my own head, for so much of what I see developing in our own society. Too often I find my self mid-gasp, thinking: Kage wrote about this behavior, or about the ultimate consequences of that trend! This is exactly what’s happening now! I should tell you it also sometimes leaves me breathless that you were the science-girl, collecting and explaining so many things that she, not all that scientific, could then build into such amazing stories. And–

    Sorry, as a rule I try so hard to avoid fan-girl gushing, but there it is. I think you’re becoming an extraordinary writer in your own right, my girl, and it’s a privilege to watch it happen. There. I said it.

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  2. Kate says:

    Thank you, Maggie. I gotta tell you, the help of a sympathetic audience – which all you patient people share with me – is an astonishing help. No wonder writers have always had their special groups! Lacking the likes of Arthur Clarke’s White Hart Pub, (or a conveniently-located sister close to hand) the Internet has given a lot of us a cozy place to meet and brain-storm with friends. That’s a necessity too often overlooked.

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  3. Tom says:

    You have done very well here, Kate. I wouldn’t have forgotten Kage in any case, but you have made her much more vivid – and painted-in much more of her life than I knew existed.
    Your own work – that’s another treasure. Write On, Sister!

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