Seeing Time

Kage Baker first tried to sell a novel in her late 20’s.

We worked on it together. It was an enormous book, made even larger by the fact that part of the plot called for one character to periodically spend several pages telling stories to another character. The size, and the convolutions of two  plots intertwining like a DNA helix, were among the reasons that it bounced around publishers for close to 4 years but never sold. People wanted to buy it, but it was like nothing they had ever seen, and they couldn’t figure out how to market it.

It also didn’t help when the (revered and famous) editor who was then reading it abruptly died. Kage’s novel was among the books that languished on their sadly abandoned desk while the publishing house got its bearings. Once the manuscript was returned, Kage threw her hands in the air and then threw herself into trying something completely different. That turned out to be In The Garden of Iden.

And the rest is history. And history rewritten, history with the serial numbers filed off, history invented, reinvented, stirred into a cauldron spiced with legend and myth and finally trotted out on the stage in a novelty corset to sing vaudeville tunes. Kage got the bit in her teeth, and ran wild through the ages of the world for the rest of her life.

Somewhere around the beginning of Iden (which we always called Mendoza’s Book, regardless), on a fine summer morning, she turned to me and asked “How do you envision Time?”

“You mean – the passage of time? The past, the future?” I sought clarification.

“No, the fabric of Time Itself. The whole temporal construct.” Kage twisted her fingers in her hair, making Moebius strips in it. “How do you see it?”

“Um – I don’t think I do,” I was forced to admit after some thought. “I see the year in a very specific way, but not just … Time. Do you?”

“Yep. How can you not think about it?” she demanded. “Don’t you want to know where you are?”

“Well, I do know where I am.”

“Oh, screw you.” And Kage waved one hand in the air (I remember very clearly how the other one, the left one, was now knotted into her hair.) and said, “Time is … a huge hollow cylinder with ridged sides. Rotating. It goes up and down as far as you can see, and somewhere out of sight the ends connect. But it’s so huge that wherever you are it looks like a straight tower. And you can follow the paths up and down like staircases, or trudge around in one place. Or you can jump from one ridge to another …”

“Most people think it goes past like a road or a river,” I observed.

“Nope. Time is vertical,” stated Kage. “Location is horizontal. And if you can adjust for both directions, you can travel in time.”

We sat there for a few minutes. Outside our living room, the Hollywood Hills – composed entirely of remembered time – loomed golden, studded with red-roofed houses, and the concrete pads where older ones had slipped and fallen downhill.   Kage extricated her hand, and the strands of her hair snapped like glass threads in a witchball as she did – Ping! Snap!

“Okay, that’s good. Thanks,” Kage said briskly and began writing furiously.

I had no idea what precisely had happened, although it became apparent pretty quickly. It ultimately ran on for, what, a dozen books – technically, there are 8 in the Company series as Kage originally planned it; but extras have crept in. And there you have Kage’s recipe for time travel.

Just remember, Time is vertical and Location is horizontal.Keep that in mind and you’ll be fine.

But be careful. If you get them backwards, I think you get the Tunguska Event.

Witch balls. See the fine threads of glass inside?

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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11 Responses to Seeing Time

  1. Betsy says:

    I just re-read the Catch yesterday, and my favorite of all her stories, The Angel in the Darkness. [I am saving several of her books, though – haven’t read all of them]. I appreciate your stories so much, Kate, about yourself, your life and your sister, too.


    • Kate says:

      Thank you, Betsy. The Catch and Angel In The Darkness happened to have been two of Kage’s favourite stories as well – there was a great deal of family landscape in them, things and places and events that has stuck in her mind from childhood. Knowing that her readers also liked them made her especially happy.


  2. Jan Foley says:

    Great post! I sat for a while, envisioning Time as a vertical cylinder. I can almost do it. And you’re right about being able to ‘see’ a year. I do that — probably everybody does — and I can see a week as well. But 10 years? Nope.

    I suppose the question needs to be asked …is there any chance that the ‘original’ Kage novel might ever get published? It sounds fascinating.


    • Kate says:

      Jan – the original Kage story was part her, part me. She mined out the “story told in the story” as years went on, and it became the Anvil of the World books and stories. What was left was a sort of web but the story is still there. I’ve been working on it for the last year, and hope to see it into publication as well. So, yes – it’s on the list to see the light of day.


  3. Brad Campbell says:

    Brad here…
    Good morning.
    I can’t even say why, but yesterday’s post on seeing time and the early days of Mendoza’s life just seemed IMPORTANT or something like that. It gave me a new insight into one of my most beloved authors & my favorite ‘fictional’ character. Thank you.

    But I do have a quick question about the tiny little picture….Hopefully, the Baker sisters, or perhaps just some passing strangers????

    Thanks again,



  4. Mary Lynn Reed says:

    Funny, since college I’ve seen time as a spiral going from zero to infinity. Too man years of the Calculus, I expect. That’s a lot like a cylinder.
    I also said, as a college student, that we placed an artificial template on time that was arbitrary; how could you tell exactly when a week began or ended. The week-end was over when one of two conditions occurred: the beer ran out or Monday morning arrived.
    As a geezer, I still see the spiral, but now it rotates with varying speed dependent on your position on the spiral.
    String theory and multi-verse theory seem to support this notion. Yup, time is vertical and location horizontal.


    • Kate says:

      Thank you, Brad. I must admit, conversations like that seemed important for me – especially 5 or 6 books down the line – but it is still gratifying to know my peculiar memories of life with Kage resonate with other readers. As for the picture – yep, that is us, in our late twenties. Kage is the tall lady in the wimple, holding the bowl of bread pudding and looking wry. We are in the Yard of the Green Man Inn, the set designed by Kage and built by our good folks at the Renaissance Faire.

      I’ve tried to attach a larger version of it here. Let me know if it works.
      wewereimmortal.jpeg wewereimmortal.jpeg


  5. Brad Campbell says:

    Didn’t get much from wewereimmortal.jpeg, but one click on the tiny picture & it becomes full size.
    Thank you for this ‘new’ pic of Kage (& yourself, of course)


  6. mizkizzle says:

    The Tunguska Event creeps me out (in a good way). I was delighted to find it mentioned in The Catch.


  7. Tom B. says:

    Mary Lynn, you never told me about Time as a spiral. After nearly 30 years, still surprises.

    Kage seemed so certain of so many abstract things – I suspect that’s the source of ‘The Catch,’ and the fascination with the otherworldly Banana Man.

    That’s a lovely avatar picture, Kate.


  8. Lise F says:

    I see time–specifically, the centuries–kind of like a timeline in a history book. There are breaks at the century marks, and there’s a slider you can move up and down the length of it to examine different time periods. I seem to spend a lot of time examining the 1880s lately.

    I haven’t commented here before, but I’ve been reading for a while, and I wanted to say: thank you for all you do. It breaks my heart that Kage could spend a lifetime being a storyteller, and only a decade or so being a published author. That you are carrying on her work relieves that a little bit. Plus I really appreciate these insights into the amazing, wonderful adventures the two of you had together 🙂

    (Like someone else commented upthread, I think–I too am rationing out the last of my Kage books. Just read Nell Gwynne’s, so I’m excited to hear that that’s the first series you’ve decided to work on).


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