Kage Baker gave her Company Operatives the most black and white, intractable, and tunnel-visioned work ethic she could imagine: Nothing matters. Except the Work.
After which, Kage then spent a great deal of time putting her Operatives through various wringers as they fought to either maintain that ethic, or live whole lives outside of it. It was one of the dramatic engines that drove the multi-levelled plots, and came to be a separate level all its own. I don’t know how much it showed to the reader, but Kage became determined to prove that work ethic wrong, Wrong, WRONG.
Naturally, there were Company wonks who never even contemplate violating the rule. (There are always organisms that like being in a box. Other than cats, who only like it if it’s someone else’s box …) Some of them stick to the party line because they can’t imagine revolting against it; it confers security, safety and comfort. Some Operatives end up, despite the technical enhancement of intelligence and memory, common sense deficient: they are emotionally stupid. Kage spent decades in the Pink Collar Ghetto; she worked beside a lot of people so cowed by their work, or rendered so callous, that they had lost all love or awareness of life.
Some Operatives actually try to live up to the Nothing but the Work ethic because they are good people. They are trying to do their duty, live up to their responsibilities. In some cases, like Nefer, they actually do love their work more than just about anything – Nefer, I happen to know, prefers relict breeds of cattle more than anything but chocolate and bodice-ripper ring holos …
Eventually, though, even the folks who are truly and honestly devoted to the Work realize what the Company is demanding of them. Ignorance of abuse, tolerance of cruelty, blindness to the hot white light of truth – and these things become intolerable, to the point where the good folks either join an insurgency, or walk into the wilderness to await the end of the world where they cannot harm anyone.
Nef does that, heading into the immensity of the Serengeti to meet the end among the animals she loves. Joseph starts his own rebellion, under the aegis of Budu and the Enforcers, to take everything down. Art the end, he has to face the consequences of what you do when you’re prepared to die for a cause – and yet you don’t. That’s a hard, hard fate, which is why Kage gave it to Joseph. She depended on his strength.
Louis, on the other hand, wanders fecklessly along, being misused almost more than any other Operative by the villains of the Company and the Facilitators. When he finally realizes that he has been used, that evil he could never imagine has discarded him to his fate, Louis is astounded – bu he becomes a shining if eccentric hero, and rises with the determination of an archangel to strike a blow for the Right. And, I suspect, musical theatre …
Mendoza, of course, never really gets the message at all. She does what she should until Temptation arrives and stretches out its hand. And every time he does, Mendoza runs mad and throws it all over for love.
Which of these might have been Kage’s personal ethic, I don’t know even now. Not for sure. She was utterly committed to accomplishing what she intended, always. But sometimes it was because it was all she wanted to do; sometimes it was a duty whose grip she could not eluded, sometimes it was because the Work – her own Work – kept the pains of everyday life at a safe distance. Sometimes she wrote until her fingers were sore and her eyes were red all for sweet love’s sake: because the story – and more, the act of telling the story – were the truest of true loves.
Life’s been ugly this last year, Dear Readers. It’s been increasingly nasty and brutish, although at least it has not succeeded in being short. I’m awfully weary of all the crap, though.
In these dark days, when priceless crystals seem to line up to fall and crash on stone floors, Kage’s ethic still seem the best. It really does keep the dark at bay, for awhile; and who would quibble at the duration of any possible relief? I love where it takes me, I love who I meet in that Wood outside Athens.
Maybe nothing matters but the work, and maybe nothing matters at all. All I know is what works. And as long as does, I’ll be here.