Kage Baker liked designs. And pictures. She really liked stories with pictures, and would   rather have been writing comics, I think. Her first books – written in her early teens, typed and bound by herself in the incense-scented eyrie of her tower – all had copious illustrations.

Eventually, though, she decided the illustrations were taking too much time from the writing process. She stopped drawing, to my sorrow – I spent 20 years watching her draw all over every half-way flat surface in sight. I grew to know many of the people she drew – almost none, of whom, oddly, showed up in the stories she wrote later … different universes, I guess.

Anyway: designs. Kage especially loved fractal designs. She said the mathematics of them didn’t matter, because they were beyond her anyway. That didn’t bother her at all. What she liked was the smooth progression of forms that was produced, each growing smoothly from the next. She loved the idea that each smaller iteration of the design would reveal the same kind of pattern that the larger whole displayed. She said you could see the mind of God in them.

For similar reasons, she liked Mandelbrot sets – which are images of a point set that produces two dimensional fractal designs. In the ’80’s they were often produced in bright colours and used as screen savers – instant psychedelia! Kage loved that.

This was her favourite screen saver in the early days – evolving Mandlebrot fractal towers, that formed immense kelp-like pylons. At least, Kage saw enormous depth and volume in them …

mandelbrot tower

The image on the left below is a fractal design. The one on the right is a classic Mandelbrot.

fractal  classic mandelbrot

Kaleidoscopes also display them, and those Kage particularly adored. From dissecting her many, many kaleidoscopes over the years, she knew that the formal patterns in the tube were random bits converted from chaos to order with, literally, the use of mirrors. Good stuff.

Berry kaleidoscope

They also occur naturally. They’re said to be the underlying pattern in coastlines, especially fjords. Kage, being a long-time fan of Douglas Adams, thought that was hilarious just on the face of it. She said she couldn’t see the fractals in coasts, but she loved the idea that they were there; hopefully designed into them by a fussy old alien designer …

They also show up easily in many plants.  And crystals, like frost:

mandelbrot cauliflower???????????????????????????????????????

Cauliflower Mandelbrot! With the additional weirdness of being green …

Frost ferns are a classic display.

Recently, I came across an article on 3-dimensional Mandlebrot designs. They’re called Mandelbulbs, because I guess they couldn’t come up with a better identifier and wanted to make sure people understood the source. Marketing is everywhere, even in physics and mathematics. I wish Kage could have seen them. To my delight, these are even prettier than the standard kind:


This is not crocheted, tatted or knitted! It’s not even quite real; it’s a manipulated mathematical formula rendered in 3-D form. It is more tenuous even than the sea foam it resembles …

Isn’t that a thing? Kage would have loved it. I think shapes like this bloomed in her mind all the time; somehow, this is the seed of a story, wound all about itself and gently biting its own tail, an Ouroboros of quantum lace.

Maybe I can find a way to unravel it. Or at least knit it into reality. It would make a great hat …

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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1 Response to Pictures

  1. Greg Bell says:

    I think Kage would be delighted. And, yes, I can see you both wearing the Mandelbulb Hat!

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