Techno Toys

Kage Baker loved techno toys. Which was to say, elegant machines or advanced electronics; things that were cunningly made and worked as if by magic. She was absolutely enthralled by shiny mechanicals that did something silent and complicated, with the mere push of a button.

It was what she always hoped for in her computers, from the first little desk top I brought home to her. That one still used 5 x 8 floppies, but it was such a wonder to get thousands of words on a piece of black plastic, that Kage was thrilled. After she learned about Moore’s Law, she considered it a pact between her needs and the computing industry, and expected improvements to show up on time.

As domestic IT staff, it was my job to make sure that the computer was configured so as to keep its operation as close as possible to the Magic Button Model. Every IT person, professional or amateur, knows about that Model. It’s what your user is invoking when they’ve just converted the word processing language to Croation or deleted half the security system; and they turn wide eyes on you and say, “Well, can’t you just press the Language button?” Or the punctuation button, or the Restore Everything I Triple Deleted Over The Last 8 Hours button: in other words, the button that dispenses Magic.

They are always quite certain it takes only one button to effect repairs, too. It’s a bizarre syndrome that would probably bear some research by neuro-scientists. Or maybe voodoo priests. It readily illustrates Clarke’s Law, while we’re on the subject of recently-described laws of nature; but it would be fascinating to find out why so many computer users think that way. Why do they believe that repairs to the most extraordinary machine ever built – with almost no moving parts, composed of electricity and magnetic ink, its chips of rare metals designed to simulate the billion neurons of the human brain – would be effected by pressing One Single Button?

The only possible answer is Magic. And the fact that people do, yes, believe in Magic is nowhere so aptly demonstrated as in this way they regard their computers.

It soothed Kage’s Luddite tendencies to do so. She’d pat her computer – or make obscene gestures at it, depending on the situation – and invoke Clarke’s Law. That reconciled her basically mystical  soul with the hard reality of needing to use a machine. It allowed her to write with speed, comfort, and faith in her magic typewriter. It gave the machine a soul of its own, look you, to which she could relate in the close personal way she required.

A side effect of coming to terms with scary modern technology was that playing with each new techno-toy became (as it should) an endless source of fun. Computers shrank steadily over the 20 years Kage used them; her last one, the tablet she called her Buke, was barely the size of a paperback book. She loved it. She ignored cell phones until they got tiny and did tricks – then they were fascinating artifacts, and acceptable to use. She never saw my Smart Phone, but would have loved it: once I got the touch screen tamed so she could zip around without accidentally sending mass emails or automatically ordering Chinese food.

My Kindle – well, it wouldn’t have been my Kindle. The first one would have been hers. It would have been a grand piece of magic to spring on her, too.

These last couple of days, I’ve been wrestling with the Kindle, figuring out how to upload documents from my desktop computer to it. I need to be able to consult various stories to continue with some of the ones I’m working on now. It turned out to be pretty easy, once I had the right USB cable and had argued my desktop computer into compliance – it’s getting up there, and I’m going to have to replace or upgrade it soon.  But four years ago I added a dedicated hard drive to hold all (and only) writing projects – all of Kage’s finished books, and my ongoing ones. That made it a lot easier than trying to remember which part of C Drive they were in – Kage herself stored things in more than one place, because she tended to forget where she’d put them in the first place …

And I had a hankering to re-read Maid On The Shore, the first of Kage’s pirate stories. Well, now I am. I can upload her entire oeuvre, and carry it with me everywhere.  That gives me such a feeling of safety, and satisfaction. The Kindle just gets more fun all the time.

I’ve gotten it a cover of tooled leather, showing oak savannah and wild lands. For Kage, though,  I would have had to get one done up Steampunk. She’d probably have decorated it herself, with brass gears and wee diodes … A real techno toy.

She’d have loved it.

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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6 Responses to Techno Toys

  1. buggybite says:

    Magic all right …unplug it, plug it back in and PRESTO, it works again! A basic trick I learned long ago from an IT technician…now if that’s not magic, what is???


  2. Miz Kizzle says:

    Etsy has some interesting Kindle covers, including repurposed book covers. I’ll bet they have some steampunk ones, too.
    When unplugging and plugging the computer back in doesn’t work, and you try hitting reset (that’s the button the noobs are referring to), sometimes you can make it work again by donning your Esoteric Order of Dagon headgear and chanting “Ph’nglui Mglw’ nath Cthulhu R’yeh.”


  3. Kate says:

    Many people develop rituals around turning their computes on – another interesting phenomenon!


  4. Shannon says:

    Personally, I just rely on enthusing to my computer about what a handsome gentleman he is. So far it’s been a success.


  5. Lynn says:

    My wonderful husband, who bought me my first Kindle six months before I was brave enough to turn it on and them my Kindle Fire upgrade for Christmas last year, found a wonderful book about demystifying the Kindle Fire for my Christmas present last month. I wish I could remember the name but it seems to answer many questions users have. I think it was something simple “How to Use your Kindle Fire” or something obvious. ( I haven’t been able to read through it just yet – new research topic has my brain on fire – but it looks quite promising.)

    Here’s hoping that someday there’s an app that will let us all purchase and download everything Kage ever wrote for us to read. I can’t imagine trying to track down every story she submitted to SF journals over the years….


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