Looking Around The Corners

Kage Baker was a cautious person. She’d have been a happy conspiracy theorist, except she didn’t trust other people’s conclusions.

She disliked change. She was suspicious of new things. She preferred to check out a situation from afar before she tried it out; the Internet was one of the best things that ever happened to her. She even used to check out new routes to places via Google Earth: she’d map out the road, then zoom in to just above road level and travel the whole thing in VR, memorizing landmarks not dependent on season or weather.

I don’t know anyone else who does this, although I know there is a whole class of people who examine Google Street View for anomalies in the photos. Kage was the only person I have ever known who actually used it to learn landscapes. “I know that hill”, she’d announce, pointing as we drove. “We’ll find a Shell station just around the curve and we can get cold drinks.”

It might be a BP or a Valero by the time we got there – those Google photos are always several months behind – but it would indeed be a gas station. A couple of memorable times it was a charred ruin; which, although not useful, was interesting and kept Kage speculating on its fate for miles afterwards. But this kind of research made her familiar with vast stretches of various cities, in various seasons and even years – she saw them in the kind of transparent overlays you used to find printed on tissue paper in the encyclopedias. Only, these were in Kage’s head.

It made for the fascinating experience of having her describe streets we were traversing in real time, but that technically were no longer there. Kage, happily leaning out the car window, would describe to me the buildings that used to be there – actually, I don’t actually know where she was, in real life. I mean, I was driving down a San Francisco road in the early 2000’s, but I think Kage was leaning out into one in the 1880’s. She did this on foot, too, which made me extremely nervous – I was always afraid she was going to step off a curb into another century; one I couldn’t reach into to catch her.

And yet, she was indeed cautious. This pervasive confusion of temporal zones was the direct result of Kage’s determination to be prepared, to know a subject thoroughly before she set foot in its environs. It wasn’t her fault she saw around the corners, or that the 19th century Sanborn Fire Maps were as real to her as Rand McNally Road Maps – of which, by the way, we had a bulging PeeChee folder in the car at all times.

Nights, stopping on road trips, she’s take out those maps and go over our daily mileage in great satisfaction – marking off the miles we’d traveled, the long path she had visualized before we left our front door, now accomplished precisely according to the parameters on the maps. Careful, you see. And the maps were realer to her than the road we were on, I think – our path was only really real when it could be checked off against the record.

That was how she did her writing, too. She was, mostly, an outline user. Authors get asked a lot how they manage the whole plot thing: do you plan it all at once? Do you have an end in sight when you start, do you have an outline or are you a bibliomantic navigator? Some writers swear by the outline method, and sternly abjure young authors to make their maps and stick to them – others praise randomness, and encourage novices to go haring off in every enticing direction. Every writer has to experiment and choose their own way; I think that those who cannot make up a large part of that crowd who just never finish a story.

They may be having a great time on the way, though … for years, Kage’s stories were utterly open-ended, with never even the intention of an end. She wrote every day, adventures for her characters that just went on and on and on. I read what she wrote, and we were both quite happy with this system. One of those stories (that we wrote together) is now in New York, with Tor – I finally nailed it to a frame, like a wild rose to a trellis, and grafted an end on it. But it was initially born via Kage’s habit of dancing in the street and seeing where we ended up.

She did keep an element of that in her proper works. She was always willing to take a sudden unexpected side road. The entire plot of “Standing In His Light” was re-worked when she discovered that Vermeer was suspected of using a camera obscura. Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax was meant to survive Catalina Island, until Kage learned about the anomalous Union barracks there.  “What The Tyger Told Her” was derailed by a BBC commercial. Kage was always worried about entering a strange room, but a strange dimension was a piece of cake.  Her stories go off in all sorts of directions, because she examined every direction she could find.

And looked around all the corners.




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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5 Responses to Looking Around The Corners

  1. Tom says:

    Mary Lynn was pretty sure, from the reading of the novels and short stories, that Kage saw across universe bubble boundaries and other barriers. Her opinion might have been accorded extra weight, since she herself seemed to see into other realities on occasion.


    • Kate says:

      Some people do see across those boundaries. While I don’t myself, I’ve learned to recognize the look in the eyes of those who can – a talent I suspect you share.


  2. Tom says:

    Early exposure makes a difference; someone I knew back in high school would confound me more and more often. Eventually she was there and not there at the same time, most of the time. So I guess you’re right.


  3. A story with Tor? A match made in heaven! I am vurrry excited.


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