The Peculiar Satisfactions of Careful Research

Kage Baker was, at heart, a researcher.

She liked to track ideas through the multiverse of available thought. That meant all forms of media, all sorts of communication, all kinds of art. She liked to start with a single concept or image – solid rocket fuel, perhaps; or the development of bread leavening; or how every written language seems to go through crude blocky printing before it tries for a cursive or demotic style. And then she liked to trace that one idea or picture through a variety of environments, and see what various people did to it along the way.

There’s a scene in the film Zardoz – which is a bizarre movie, and was one of Kage’s favourites, ever – where the idiot resident rebel intellectual is arguing with an early visualization of Siri, Cortana or Alexa, who is showing him a series of photos of evolving automobiles. But it’s not what he wanted – he wanted the evolution of a specific vehicle over the broad history of cars, not the development of just one model; he’s irritated as hell, waving away the images offered in glowing colour on the thin, thin air … Kage was totally enthralled. She loved that scene more than any glimpse of Sean Connery in a leather loincloth. “That’s what I want a computer to do” she would exclaim every time we watched it. “That’s what a search engine should be like! He just didn’t ask it the right way!”

Which was probably correct. When Zardoz was made, almost no one had any idea about search parameters; certainly, few ordinary people. That all had to wait for search engines: Webcrawler. Lycos. Alta Vista. We got them all as soon as we could, and Kage learned them all – it was the one and only area of computer use where she taught me, because she seemed to understand data strings and parameters and key words instinctively, from the git-go. She was the very Queen of Search Engines long before Google hove on the horizon. And when it did, she glommed on to it before I even heard of it, and had mastered it before I was quite sure it was safe …

Search engines were her security weakness. In her insatiable appetite for MORE INFORMATION NOW!!!, Kage was heedless and fearless. She’d follow a trail anywhere for just one more interesting detail or blurry ancient photograph. My job was to somehow – and she didn’t care how, as long as I didn’t make her get off the Internet – make it all safe for her to explore. Consequently, I learned a lot about security much sooner than most home users. I consider it a mark of my care that Kage only managed to kill one (1) computer system with a virus in her years of nearly continuous use.

I know other people do this, too. Skimming through the electron paths in the monitor screen is how an awful lot of people get their kicks – even without counting pornography. Kage understood perfectly the people who pored over Google photos, looking for anomalies and unsuspecting citizens caught en flagrante delicto … she even sympathized with the nutcases who spend hours examining pictures from the Mars Rovers, looking for faeries and Scotty dogs and jelly doughnuts – and finding them.

“Nope, it’s another rock,” Kage would pronounce in satisfaction, armed with a magnifying glass at her computer, in search of the newest alien skull. “Ha! Mars has more interesting things to show us than this silly crap!”

Which, of course, it did. And Kage tracked those treasures through all those Martian snapshots with the same intensity as the hysterical folks who keep finding tiny little men and giant worms and garden slugs on the Tharsis Bulge. Mars, once she began researching it, fascinated her totally. And she was determined to make her conceptualization of it true to the facts as we knew them.

She found dust storms much more magical than  Storm Trooper helmets. The blue sunsets and exotic ices – and on Mars, even water ice is exotic! – thrilled her. The enormous reality of Olympus Mons was much more exciting than a pareidolic Face in a Prince Valiant page boy bob.

Kage did her best to make the Martian setting true to life – true to some sort of life, anyway, and specifically to the sort that could be lived on a planet where the atmosphere is no more useful to breathe than the wisps of gas released from a popping Coke can … So she was more and more happy, more and more excited, every time one of our guesses about the physical nature of Mars was proven plausible.

There’s probably magma. Olympus Mons still has a faint pulse. There is fossil water, lots of it; and there are ice cliffs of both H2O and CO2 at the poles, just waiting for freighters and graffiti artists. There’s frost, there are clouds, there are Dorothy Gale-scale tornadoes, sometimes liquid water still comes shyly up to the surface where it could be trapped and used. There might be algae – in fact, if there isn’t now, there will be. Algae will be easy to grow on Mars, and help us grow real soil and more complex plants …

We made a lot of good guesses. Kage danced with glee whenever one was proven correct.

I just found an  article and a picture, about a new design for Martian dwellings:   

marshouseAin’t it cool? Of course, this one is shiny-new, smooth and clean and neat; the design specs call for it to be insulated with a shell of frozen water ice, like an igloo. Under that, it’s an inflatable. What I loved was the domed effect, that it is meant to be covered with something, and that it comes equipped with an exterior airlock.

Now: imagine the Empress of Mars. It would be covered with Martin concrete instead of ice, because ice is not really so common on Mars that it can be wasted as plaster. Besides, Mars has a micro-meteorite problem, and an inflatable would need a tough shell. And that airlock would connect to the long transparent Tubes running down to the Long Acres and out to the Trailer Park. And under the dome – enlarged, of course – would be all the little pigeon holes and lofts where Mary and her minions sling their hammocks in the steamy brewery air of the Empress …

Wild, huh? Kage would be dancing all over the house.


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 The Peculiar Satisfactions of Careful Research

  1. Luisa Puig says:

    I’m dancing for Kage. Martian research for the win!


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