Kage Baker: my constant theme, the bedrock of my ramblings here. I spent most of yestreday in a delirium, wandering through some of our more chemically-dependent youth; today, I return to Kage. .
Kage made most of her living, quite on purpose, in historically creative fields. She painted, and even sold some of her work; she used to say “Well, I’m not as good as Van Gogh, God rest his brilliant soul, but I have out-sold him.”
She performed for more than 20 years at both the original Renaissance Faire, and the Dickens Christmas Faire, in improvisational theatre, stage acts, and as a singer. She had a lovely alto, perfect pitch and an inhuman skill at inventing harmony. She could also remember, and sing, every commercial ditty she had ever heard; there wasn’t a lot of call for that, but it did mean she also remembered every hymn, folk song and opera she ever heard, as well.
And she wrote. Gods, how she wrote! I have manuscripts retained since her high school days; enormous fantasy novels that have never seen the light of day. She was writing fanfic before it was popularized; steampunk, too. Had I not, to my mingled relief and guilt, talked her out of powering the Company operatives with clockwork, she’d have been an early writer of that, as well.
These are all fairly liberal areas of creativity – bordering on eccentricity and downright wackiness, even. But Kage’s eccentricities were quiet and private. And she was never wacky. She had class.
She was, at heart, an extremely conservative person. At least, in reaction to any outside force – whatever originated in her own mind could and did go off in all directions and several dimensions; but her first reaction to change from the outside was to dig in her heels and say, “NO”. If something had worked once, it was likely to work again and should therefore always be the first thing tried. The longer or more often it had worked, the more likely Kage felt it was to work again. I’ve never been sure if this reflects a complete lack of comprehension of the laws of probability, or a very sophisticated view of them. Or if she had mixed up the laws of probability with the those of Energy Conservation, or possibly Returning to the Mean. Or maybe with how to make a paper airplane …
The respective depths and widths of our minds were calibrated to different measures. One of my duties as her writing assistant was to make the necessary conversions from Kage’s universe to something closer to the one inhabited by her audience. Sometimes it was easy, such as pointing out that a third of Iden was originally written in Latin and Greek. Sometimes I had to figure out just what Kage’s view of the source of the Universe or the pancreas exactly was, and sort out how to reconcile her personal belief with science and history. Unless her idea was a plot point, and then – heck, science fiction needs those weird and differing perceptions!
And lest you think I was a self-serving editor, Dear Readers, I maintain my innocence. Even real editors ran afoul of the adamantine wall of Kage’s convictions. And I was streaks better than the editor who objected to the Milky Way being visible in one book, because, he said “No one can see that because we live in it.” A brief explanation ensued of the Earth’s distance from the bulk of the Milky Way galaxy. out here in the Orion Belt, as well as the relative size of the Milky Way versus the size of the Earth. Kage put both feet down as hard as she could and said NO CHANGE; it was, no surprise, settled in Kage’s favour, but she gleefully told the story for the rest of her life.
I think most science fiction writers have run into something like this. Especially the ones who write much harder science fiction than Kage did. The facts that the writers do incredible amounts of research, and sometimes have pertinent degrees in their fields, was no barrier ever to the opinion of a low-level editor. The high level editors, BTW, don’t seem to make errors like that. The editor who corrected Kage’s date of The Amazing Year in The Catch was thanked and obeyed immediately: because baseball was not one of Kage’s fields of expertise, and because the editor was right.
The two or three fans who wrote to tell her that cyborgs were not real, time travel was not real, or to ask why had she never considered writing a story where the Nazis won WWII? were dismissed somewhat less politely than editors. I remember Kage writing back to one guy asking if he even knew what science fiction was? He didn’t answer back, so I guess he didn’t.
She didn’t really care. She wasn’t into arguing her plots with anyone, especially if they didn’t like them in the first place. She would talk at Cons (because why go to a Con if you don’t intend to talk), but that was because the people who wanted to talk to her usually liked her work. I think there were only a couple of times when Kage encountered people who had evidently come to a Con specifically to tell off the authors. But people are weird.
It did enforce her determination not to talk to most people. One of my jobs was to either fend off those who were bugging Kage, or enable her to disappear. Like one of Swift’s flappers, sort of, except instead of a bladder full on dried peas, I usually conjured urgent meetings or family disasters. We usually didn’t start giggling for 10 or 15 feet …
But Kage knew that, despite a focus and singleness of mind like unto a diamond drill, she had a limited amount of stamina and time. Especially time, though we didn’t know that in those years; but Kage resented anything that made demands on her writing time. She had 20 or more years planned out, in which to write – not only the careful expanding universes in her head, but with room carefully left for sudden, new ideas. If Kage had been this careful and thorough with her study notes, she would have made straight A’s.
I have tons of stuff that she never did write down, ideas she recited to me to keep us awake on long drives. I’ve written it down, as well as I can in her own words. Some was literally dictated to me as Kage was dying. You know how Emily Dickinson recounted how, because she could not stop for Death, Death had kindly stopped for her? I figure he had to sprint to catch up to Kage, his robe kilted up around his bony knees, as she obviously would never have stopped for him …
Sometimes I wonder, in despair and sometimes in hope, how far I will get on Kage’s work before Death comes looking for me. Four years ago, I too thought I had 20 years or so; in the last 2 years, I’ve realized I can’t afford to think I have all that still ahead of me. But I’ll take all I can get, and see just how much I might get out into the world before that skeletal knock comes at my door.
As someone reminded me yestreday: what is remembered, lives. And I remember.
Been a while, but you made me tear up again. I cannot imagine how much more I could have missed Kage, had I EVER MET the glorious lady (one of two I never knew, the other being you). I ‘only’ know her through her writing, but I miss her sharing this mudball at the same time I do. I want more of her stories…
I am glad we have her sister to feed us these tidbits of a life lived well and good and too damn short.
(And it’s nice to know that she & you share my addiction to coffee. I read a story once, of which I can remember nothing but the line, “I like my morning coffee strong enough to scrape the bat shit off my tongue.” Excuse the profanity).