Kage Baker liked questions. She loved puzzles, and questions were the doorway to her favourite puzzles: what’s it all for? Why is it here? What is Here? What happened? And what happens next?
She loved simply asking questions. A good question to pursue through various resources was like a huge, unwrapped sweet to her. If it led to more questions, and more searches, and succeeding layers of wrapping removed from succeeding layers of sweeties – so much the better. If she’d been able to unwrap the separate layers of a jaw breaker, they would have been her favourite candy. And even though you can’t, she still took jaw breakers out every few minutes to see what colour had been most recently revealed …
Luckily – ’cause jaw breakers in progress get pretty sticky – she usually reserved the technique for research projects. It was why she finally became so devoted to the Internet. One single parsimonious query could multiply through infinite time lines and dimensions, blossoming into a parallel Universe of facts that were just then connected in Kage’s mind. A lot of plotting went through its initial stages while she chased some outre image through the aether.
Did you ever see any episodes of a PBS show called Connections, Dear Readers? (Check it out on Amazon and imdb.) It was written by and starred author/historian/producer James Burke, one of those amazing polymath Englishmen that only that sceptered isle seems to throw at regular intervals. Connections I and II, and its companion series The Day the Universe Changed, were what taught Kage how she wanted to do research. Her style of gathering information, her preferred method of then disseminating it; especially – if you were ever fortunate enough to hear her teach, or speak at a Convention – her style of lecturing were all fathered by those shows.
The basic idea is that everything is connected to everything else: identifying the connections is the game, as well our responsibility as sentient organisms. Every path of connectivity (and there is seldom only one road between Fact A and Fact B) yields access to yet another world. Follow those paths further and you enter into an entire Universe, which is not the Fields We Know … that was where Kage always wanted to be. And for her, it always started with that one question.
She was therefore in the habit of asking every question that entered her mind. Not indiscriminately, mind you – you get some funny looks in restaurants doing that, and we got enough of them while discussing the behaviour of cows in low gravity, or what could create an Event Shadow. Does it have to be a Huge Thing, like Kennedy’s assassination, or could it be a Merely Large Thing, like the Beatles’ debut on Ed Sullivan? But in private – at home; on a quiet hay bale at Faire; in the car somewhere between the Giant Gopher Hills* and Coral Hollow** and the last gas station before the 580*** …
But Kage’s very favourite time to ask the truly deep and peculiar questions, the ones that often led to plot points or stories or even entire novels, was at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning.
Mind you, Kage was not by nature an early riser. Given her druthers, she stayed in bed until it was just barely still Ante Meridian. But that didn’t mean she was asleep. Oh no! She woke up, as she had from infancy, in the fizzing pearly light just before the sun broached the horizon. She loved to see the dawn, the first flaming edge of the light taking over the sky and spreading over the earth like honey. She had a dozen names for different kinds of dawns: the chalk-blue dawn. The tinsel dawn. The green bottle dawn. And she’d wake up and glory in the sunrise, and then she’d go back to sleep … unless her thoughts got up and took off.
She called it dawn-running. When she was little, she literally got up and ran when the sun rose; she was still doing it from time to time in her teens, and I saw a lot more dawns over the Hollywood Hills than I wanted to, staggering along behind Kage to prevent the mountain lions from eating her. In our eventual maturity and middle age (because somehow the mountains lions never did eat us), Kage would instead think up weird questions and then wake me up to ask me.
“Can you really transplant a head? Why not? What about those Russian guys who did it?”
“How do allergies work?”
“How many gallons of blood are there in a person?”
“Where can we get some squids around here?”
“How many planets are there? What are their names?”
None of these may seem especially weird on their own. But when it happens weekend after weekend – when someone comes padding into your room, or shakes you awake in your sleeping bag, or sings “Reveille” to you until you open your eyes (the Royal Navy version of course: Wakey Wakey, Lash up and Stow!) – and then asks you to describe how to cut into a living chest: well, you begin to suspect your sister has developed an even weirder habit than usual.
She hadn’t, though. She’d just added something to new to an old habit. Wake up early, admire the dawn, then start a conversation to get your mind running fast and strong. Pour coffee into your sister before she wakes up enough to kill you …
I find, Dear Readers, to my considerable surprise, that I miss that. I really, really do.
* A field full of dump-truck loads of dirt and several huge plywood gophers along I-5
** It’s actually Corral Hollow, but one year the sign was screwy … Kage never forgot.
*** It had restrooms, but no toilets. Just holes and hand rails.