Kage Baker paid a cautious lip service to omens. She readily admitted she was superstitious; in fact, she claimed to be much more superstitious than she really was, cheerfully avowing belief in all the goofier forms of prophecy. She claimed to read the entrails neatly packed into holiday turkeys; or ant trails; or coffee grounds (she didn’t drink much tea;) or the patterns left on her desktop coasters by innumerable glasses of Coke. Birds. Koi. Yarrow stalks. Wine lees.
Kage read Tarot cards, but disavowed any powers of prophecy through them. The cards operated on their own, she said; all she did was tell people their classical meanings. They could decide for themselves if the future indeed fell out as it was revealed in Kage’s hands. And usually, according to the seekers – it did.
She did believe in a few things; non-standard, most of them, but they seemed consistent in her. Being overflown by a raven meant good dreams; a hummingbird sighted on the road meant safe journey. Oranges by the side of the road meant good luck travelling, too. A double fortune in a fortune cookie meant a pregnancy. A blue heron in flight meant money was coming – and it always worked. If you persist, for instance, in selling stories … well, somewhere soon money will come in. But Kage was convinced the blue herons knew before she did. And, as payment schedules in the writing trade can be weird and irregular indeed, maybe they did.
Anyway, seeing a blue heron is always an occasion for joy.
Of course, as a science fiction writer, part of Kage’s stock in trade was prophecy. But it was a special kind, an informed and analytical sort of prophecy. Kage called it a form of cold reading (at which she was also pretty good. She’d have been a terrific grifter, if not for her crippling shyness.) Of course, there are some science fiction writers who just strike off madly in all directions; somewhere in the morass of crazy-ass ideas, they sometimes hit the bull’s eye in prophecy. But most science fiction writers work from research and rational extrapolation, even the ones who aren’t actually scientists in their day jobs – and Kage thought that was much the better system.
For someone who was not a scientist, she made some damned prophecies. She decided that the heart of Mars was not quite cold – and it seems increasingly likely. She wondered where water and useful atmospheric gasses were likely to be hiding: she chose permafrost, aquifers and the polar caps, and it turns out those were good guesses.
She looked at Great Britain as it set about becoming the most surveilled population in Europe, and prophesied the Nanny State – and while there is also a growing backlash against it, it still came to be. Just today, in fact, an article was released about the Home Office considering making nursery schools and baby sitters responsible for identifying small kids likely to become terrorists … and that’s nuttier than almost anything Kage proposed.
And food puritansim is on the rise in America; fueled, weirdly enough, by the corporate evil of Monsanto – but it’s still becoming socially unacceptable to eat meat or modern grains.
Animal advocacy was something Kage prophesied, too: but that one was intended to be a joke. No one would actually kill human beings to protect animals, would they? But some people would, and do. Worse, they also kill the animals to prevent them living with nasty humans. Kage would have been really horrified at that; who are any of us to say an animal is better off dead than domesticated? That’s pretty much the ultimate human arrogance in beast slavery.
Kage viewed the current human-caused extinction event (which many biologists do say is happening, Dear Readers) with horror and resignation. She figured people wouldn’t stop until they screwed up the biosphere enough to endanger themselves; but she also figured that the earth would survive, whether humans did or not. One of the many reasons she invented the Company was to make up for the casualties along the way; so the planet would not be permanently deprived of tigers or river dolphins or the nine species of moa: even if only in stories.
Or the pika. Kage would have loved this one, and all its antic repercussions …
The pika is a little rodent that lives mostly in China; it is distantly related to rabbits, and burrows in great numbers, like a prairie dog. China has decided they must go, and is embarking on a wide-spread campaign of poisoning them. Many Chinese are objecting, and now so too are many non-Chinese: pikas are alarmingly cute (See mother and baby below). However, it also turns out that poisoning pikas sends all that poison flooding out into human crop lands as the little victims die in their burrows and return their constituent elements to the bosom of the Earth.
You can read the original article here, at Running Ponies: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/2015/01/02/heres-why-mass-poisoning-pikas-is-a-terrible-idea-and-not-just-because-look-at-their-fat-little-faces/
Also, if all the pika die off, then there is a gap left in the ecosystem. One of the animals in a good position to move into it is the Giant Gerbil of Kazakhstan: and they are the natural reservoir for bubonic plague … there’s some nice irony for you, huh?
And speaking of natural disease reservoirs – Ebola’s has been finally identified. When Kage was researching hemorrhagic fevers in Africa for the dreadful purposes of the Plague Club, she discovered that many of the vain hunts on the ground circled around an area with lots of caves. So she made the carrier a bat. Turns out now, that the most probably culprit in the worst hit areas is … a bat. A small, cute bat, that children like to catch and play with and eat. Man, that’s right out of the Brothers Grimm!
Was it prophecy, what Kage did? I don’t know; I just fed her notes and watched her eyes spin round and come up dollar signs. Or cherries.
When I was a kid, many moons ago, it used to be fashionable to occasionally intone to friends and family: “Don’t …Mess …With …Mother …Nature….” But how right we were!
I remember doing that! And the commercials that prompted it, too. Man, has that one come back to bite us …
Didn’t Sherlock Holmes solve a case involving the Giant Gerbil of Kazakhstan? Or was that some rat from Sumatra?
That was the Giant Rat of Sumatra, yes indeed – a story, according to Holmes, ” … for which the world is not yet ready.” I don’t know why. There really are Giant Rats of Sumatra, as well as Giant Rats of Sunda (also in Indonesia) and Giant African Rats, who are currently being used as land-mine-hunting hero rats. They all run about 2 feet long (not including tail) which is pretty hefty for a rat …
Thank you, Jason.