Kage Baker considered herself a rational person.

It had nothing to do with sanity, or intelligence, or whether or not one can control and/or access one’s emotions. She was just sure that even her deepest impulses and decisions were firmly rooted in logic. She considered herself an observer of rational rules of thought. Cause and effect, Occam’s Razor, reasonable doubt, reproducible effects – all, Kage believed, were underpinnings of her thought processes.

Anyone who knew her probably thought this was hilariously funny. I certainly did …

But Kage was, by nature, a tool user; and by her own lights, tool-using was a primary mark of rationality. Therefore, she was a rational person. Never mind that she couldn’t tolerate a hat on a bed, spilled salt, an epithet spoken  in a theatre, a dream told before breakfast: she considered certain superstitions rational as well; or, at least, actions in the service of rationality – because, she said, indulging them cleared her mind of panic by making her feel safer, and therefore contributed to a more controlled emotional atmosphere.

Kage trusted acts of faith. According to her, faith was also rational: it was an illustration of deep thought. Unconscious logic made leaps, and thus inaccessible ratiocination produced  conclusions apparently unsupported by evidence – but that apparent lack of evidence was an artifact of the unconscious process, and so faith was a rational response.

She said she relied heavily on her subconscious. She trusted it implicitly, too. No one else’s, mind you! But she had a perfect relationship with her own unconscious processes.

I think her belief was a reflex based on suspicion of other people’s thought processes. Kage expected consistency of the Universe, and that included the behaviour of its denizens. When she didn’t get that consistency, she was frightened and repulsed. She herself was  inhumanly firm in her convictions – the ability of most people to perjure, deceive and cheat themselves and others hurt her terribly. And since it was something she did not do, and something she did not understand, it was labelled IRRATIONAL in her mental files and her own behaviour became, by default, RATIONAL.

Kage didn’t believe in situational ethics. Nor in subjectivity. Experimental bias was foreign to her. It wasn’t rooted in rationality; it was bedrock deep – and bedrock hard – personal morality. It meant she was sometimes narrow-minded, and always stubborn, and changed her mind as swiftly as granite grows into mountains. But it also meant that when she did change her mind, it was a complete and clear-eyed change.

I’ve never understood how she was able to illustrate so much about human nature in her writing. Kage didn’t understand individual people very well. Not face to face, anyway. She watched them, she studied them, she compared their diverse actions and reactions to all the other people she observed: and she wrote down what she saw. Her conclusions were few, and not delivered as Revealed Truth – she had a horror of authority or proselytizing, and those character traits were almost always assigned to her villains. She just wrote about people as she saw them, and she saw them pretty clearly.

She was honest to a fault: as in, Yeah, those pants do make your ass look big. And when her own opinions were refuted by her research, she dumped them without hesitation. Though it wasn’t facts that affected her so much as her reactions to them – it wasn’t tests and studies that made Kage believe sentience did not reside solely with Homo sapiens. It was watching elephants and whales when humans were not around, or looking into the eyes of a living ape.

When her characters proved her wrong, especially, she changed her mind. Her own adolescent fear of homosexuals disappeared in the clean white light of actually meeting some; as an adult, she wrote decisively that there just isn’t enough love around to make a fuss about who loves whom. She paired her characters up romantically with regard only to necessary plot development or aesthetics – who looked best together? She was very big on aesthetics …

Lots of fans wrote to her, confidently assured that Lord Ermenwyr was gay, and happy about it. That delighted Kage, although she maintained that Lord E. simply didn’t restrict himself in any way … And Lewis – possibly her most popular character ever – has been widely assumed to be gay. Kage said she was never sure, but she sort of thought he was in love with Love Itself, and so was  a much deeper personality than mere gender preference.

Kage was terrified by mental illness or anomalies as a young woman: undoubtedly because she had a very strange mind herself, and was constantly frightened by it. In her 30’s, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It calmed her fears, gave her confidence, and turned her into a public advocate of what she called “autiform disorders.” She spoke about it at conventions, and wrote it into two major characters, in Empress of Mars and “The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park”.

She couldn’t have written any of this when she was 20. The people she wrote about would have scared her. But when they insisted on being themselves anyway, she changed her mind and wrote them as they demanded. Rational? I don’t think so – but Kage did. She considered it an ultimate rationality to  bend to the characters’ will, instead of warping them to her own.

It was once believed that glass was a supercooled liquid, a belief inspired by the way some old window glass seems to be melting slowly towards the bottom of the pane. Kage loved the idea of that glacial flow, the slow stubborn heat of the glass still melting it even in the cold air. But it’s not so – glass is an amorphous solid, not a liquid, and the melting trick is an illusion caused by antique methods of rolling hot glass flat. The amorphous solid does still flow: but so slowly that the Universe will run out of Time before the windows in Notre Dame actually manage to drip out of their stone frames. However … if they stand long enough, they’ll do it. They really will.

An amorphous solid, changing somewhere outside the boundaries of rationality. And at the same time, more solid than the heartbeat of the Universe.

That was Kage.





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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2 Responses to Frangibility

  1. mizkizzle says:

    Beautifully put, as usual. I agree that irrationality is terrifying, willful ignorance even more so. I suppose that’s why I find creationist museums like the awful one in Kentucky to be horribly fascinating in a creepy sort of way.
    How would Kage have responded to the clown car of the current crop of GOP presidential wanna-bes, I wonder? And the dreadful Duggars?


    • Kate says:

      Creationists and their “museums” were already around during the last few years of Kage’s life. She held them in considerable contempt, but also thought they were pretty funny. The growing power of creationists these days, though, would probably scare her. As for the Duggars, she knew they existed, of course – and thought they should be neutered in the name of Humanity. And she died before we hit our current population extremis absurdum of 7 1/2 billion …

      As for the GOP – Kage was a life-long Democrat, having assessed the other parties available as fools and/or villains. Even more so than the Dems, who have certainly fielded some of both – but not as bad as the GOP.


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