Just The Facts, Man

Kage Baker loved the collecting of diverse facts.

Any facts, on any topic. If the topic was peculiar, that gave it bonus points. If it wasn’t weird to begin with, she sought strange facts with which to burnish a dull subject. It was all prime entertainment, for her.

She could happily spend whole evenings tracking strange trails and footprints through the Internet. If a topic turned out to bore her, or confound her, or just not be accessible, she would usually assign it to me. I will read anything; I’m never happier than when immersed in the printed word. I’m a junky. Sooner or later, after all that work, we’d turn on all the Lava Lamps in the living room and brainstorm – which meant just opening the stopcocks on our mouths and babbling until Kage grabbed hold of a plot.

It was like playing darts with live dragonflies. I miss it.

Sometimes the facts Kage hunted were in the initial pursuit of a story point, in the course of research. She was a steely-eyed researcher, always in search of a fact so odd it would put the most lurid story in the shade. Luckily for the world in general, I think, she was honest to a fault: she hated lies, had half a hundred tells to give her own away, and just found it easier to never, ever lie

“But, hey -” you say, Dear Readers, ” – but, hey, she wrote fiction. Isn’t fiction falsehoods?”

Well, no. Not the way Kage did it. Not when she was doing it. If it turned out to be fake later, that was neither Kage’s doing, nor her fault. Everything she wrote was based on a true story, when she wrote it down.

That was how she composed. It was the premise behind her conception of time travel. It was the base line of her reality: which was, reality is situational. Being situational, it was in the control of whomsoever had the most facts. Or the loudest ones. Or maybe the ones in ultraviolet or infrared, or woven of shantung silk, or chocolate flavoured. And there was never a map or a menu on offer. All you could do was hang on and wait to see how Kage was interpreting a fact.

That included Kage, too. She was often surprised (and occasionally appalled) at how characters insisted on behaving, or  how plots designed their own evolution. I suspect all writers feel that way from time to time, especially the ones who let themselves get immersed in their stories.

What made the surprises so startling to Kage was that she was absolutely not one of those artisanal writers who let the Universe flow unhampered through her hands. Kage kept stern control of her hands, and a jaundiced eye on the damned Universe. This stuff just happened. Which was why she was always on the hunt for good, cold, hard facts. She knew they were going to turn to melty cobwebs and moonshine as soon she took her eyes off them.

But they certainly were good cobwebs, and splendid moonshine, weren’t they? And that’s a fact you can trust.








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I Think I have a Shoggoth Allergy

Kage Baker was an annual victim of warm weather respiratory infections.

She caught colds all spring and summer; by August, midway between the Spring and Autumn Renaissance Faires, she was usually working on a repeat round of bronchitis. She used to morbidly predict the onset of bronchiectasis – from which her idol, Robert Louis Stevenson, suffered- but she was tougher than poor, dear RLS. All he did was grow up in Edinburgh, affectionately known as Owd Reekie: Kage grew up in Los Angeles, and her lungs were probably up to resisting mustard gas.

We are tough breathers, we natives Angelinos.

But she still spent part of each Summer hacking spectacularly.

I was immune. I rarely caught so much as a cold  per year. This, despite smoking for 30 years and also growing up in California’s Valley of the Smokes; however, when my warranties all began to run out in my 60’s, I started catching colds. And flu. And strange unknown respiratory complaints, doubtless  from the cold dark spaces between the stars.

Or maybe I’ve developed some sort of allergy, too. I seem to be reacting to something blowing all unseasonal on the hot red wind, something that hasn’t bloomed since the last Ice Age; something ancient and evil now sending up its antique spores from the bottom of the sea ..

I sneeze on you, R’yleh, in drippy defiance! I blow my nose on you, you Elder gods! Even though and as my sinuses dissolve and run festering down my throat. The Black Goat with a Thousand Young can eat my used Kleenex!   … I just do not need this shit, you know?

Or maybe it’s just a summer cold. You never know. I’m gonna have some tea, hoard tissues and go to bed early. And I’m going to the Convention on Friday, regardless!




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June And Other Summer Bugs

Kage Baker hated bugs. All kinds, colours, sizes, and sonic ranges of cries: she hated ’em. She couldn’t even tell the absolute difference between an arthropod, an insect and a bug, and she didn’t much care. As much as she was a stickler for details in most of her personal data base, anything with at least 6 six legs and a minimum dozen eye lenses was on her fecal roster.

Why am I on this theme today? Well, summer is the season for bugs, even in the barren flatlands of Los Angeles. And I have grown weary of large and serious subjects, and I got too little sleep last night due to a spider, and well – Kage’s arthropodaphobia was an integral part of her character. Therefor, let us light citronella candles and tell triumphant stories of the death of bugs.

Kage was a meticulous housekeeper, (I am a slob) and bugs in the house were a constant source of anguish to her. She was fond of Bug Bombs in our pre-parrot days, and I’m not sure how she never blew out a window. God He knows, she’d have counted it a small cost to rid the house of ants. But you have to go pretty green on cleansers when you start living with a bird. They have fragile respiration. Kage learned that nearly anything would derail an ant trail or daze a cockroach – screen cleaner, spray-on olive oil, Simple Green – and then she could do the Mortal Tarantella on them and wipe up the remains with a Swiffer.

She dealt with garden pests as grimly and efficiently as household ones. She made exceptions, though, for lady birds and praying mantises, because they are useful. Walking stick insects, though, were summarily thrown over the garden fence (while I gibbered in the background at the mere horrible sight of them). Butterflies were welcomed, unless their caterpillars ate flowers and vegetables. Culprits were removed to open lots where they could eat weeds. Except for tomato horn worms – Kage loathed them with a personal hatred, and executed them on sight.

Many natural remedies out of folklore turn out to be good for maintenance. Chili powder, cinnamon or lemon oil will cut an ant trail; oil of peppermint will repulse spiders. Lavender and cedar oil will chase moths away. The rind and scent of cucumbers will both dismay and kill cockroaches, doing something fatal to their nasty little chitinous carapaces. Tobacco will knock out aphids: breathe smoke on them if you like, as Kage’s Momma used to do, or make a spray solution of tobacco and water. Don’t spray it on fruit, though: only flowers.

There is always the ancient remedy of boiling water (because nothing really benefits from having boiling water poured on it). Some of you Dear Readers may recall Kage’s story “The Two Old Women”, wherein a woman widowed by the Sea keeps the revenant spirit of her sailor husband in the house by  surrounding the place with Borax Powder; that was drawn from  life, as it were, since – as the old woman says to her flabbergasted sister –  It works  on bugs.

Citronella doesn’t work much, especially on a type of extremely fair-skinned white woman (like Kage. And Kimberly.), who are just natural mosquito chow. DEET works, though. So does Avon Skin So Soft lotion. And so do bug zappers, which not only clear the night-time air on a summer porch of flying bugs, but provide amusing sizzles and bursts of what looks like Cherenkov radiation as they fry the skeeters and moths. And! Now you can get LED Bug Zapper light bulbs! They screw right into an ordinary porch light socket, and last for months, as well as providing safety on your front porch from mashers, muggers and werewolves.

With the Los Angeles summer having reached its now-normal triple digit temperatures, we have suffered from recurrent ant invasions and occasional forays by cockroaches. Housekeeping has nothing to do with it: the bugs don’t want to be out there in the heat any more than we do, and they will assail any weakness in our defenses to get indoors. I can deal with the ants, annoying as they are, but the cockroaches send me ballistic – I actually like many bugs, but not roaches. Fortunately, Michael has been handling most of them, including finding the cracks and holes in screens whereby the little bastards are getting in, and it looks as though he has defeated them. Which is good, because Ashby the Maine Coon cat is a champion bug hunter; and there is nothing quite as unnerving as having a proud and affectionate kitty bringing you her not-quite-dead German cockroach prey …

Spiders: well, Kage didn’t care for them, but they also didn’t freak her out. Me, they often reduce to hysteria. Except for jumping spiders. They are charmingly furred, their 6 eyes are usually an exquisite shade of emerald, and you can pet them. Also, they don’t bite humans much. Something around here does (I suspect the common dust spider) and it is making my all-too-hot nights an even greater misery. But the A/C discourages them nicely, and there is always peppermint oil …

Kage never wrote about aliens, much, because she thought the most interesting aliens were actually other people. And because one of the great goofy tropes of science fiction is GIANT BUGS, which she hated with the heat of a thousand suns. I told her to write about non-bug aliens, but Kage said she couldn’t: no matter what she did, they came out bugs in the end. She said it was a race memory. Or something … the closest she got to aliens were the demons in Ermenwyr’s world.

Mind you, she did make some notes anyway. She never threw an idea entirely away. So I can always go through the files and see what may be found. There are whole universes in the files.

And, of course, all of them have bugs …


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WorldCon76: A Prespective

Kage Baker loved science fiction conventions. Oh, she had a good time tagging along when I went to a yarn convention – I recommend the Stitches Conventions for real or wanna-be fibre fanatics, BTW – but she had only a mild interested in textiles (despite being an excellent embroiderer). She just enjoyed the multitudinous toys, the huge assortments of colours, and the general atmosphere of a crowd all glassy eyed and half-insane on the same subject.

Kage was a connoisseuse of obsession.

Science fiction conventions are premier sites for such indulgence. Nearly everyone there is obsessed with something; there’s a huge array of things to be obsessed over, and everyone is willing to argue about the singular excellence of their own, particular madness. Print media or film, animation or anime, comics or manga, mecha or  kaiju, space opera or alternate history: all worthy of attention, and – apparently – of dueling in the streets.

Hell, in recent years even such horrid topics as paternalism and white supremacy have actually managed to keep their manners intact long enough to get a (small) audience and a (brief) hearing at science fiction conventions. Consider it the dark side of free speech – for myself, I keep reminding myself of Robert Anson Heinlein ( a Wise Man of my personal youth), advising that you’re entitled to express your opinion but obligated to get punched in the mouth for it if someone disagrees…

It seldom comes to blows at Conventions, though. More than in the Old Days, because more attendees now practice martial arts from several millennia and worlds. But Security tends to be good boys and girls who take peace very seriously.

There’s less fun and games at a WorldCon, anyway, being as it is the occasion of the Hugo Awards. People tend to dress better; there are fewer panels on things like “S & M Knotwork” or “10 More Boring Ways WWII Might Have Ended” or “The Pooh of Tau”. There tend to be more authors, more agents, more publishers, more entire editorial staffs. They’re not dull, though, as the crowds are simply fascinating.

As you can perhaps tell, Dear Readers, I am looking forward to going. Mostly. Momentum being the 2-edged sword it is, there is still a lot of drag from the last three months muttering in my head: Too much trouble. Too far to go. No one really cares who you are. You haven’t published anything 6 years. Stay home and drink gin and tonics. I am resisting this sad, moaning voice, however: aided no end by Kimberly, who has been urging me to get off my butt and do something – anything! – for weeks now. At this point, with all the fuss I have made, she’ll probably kill me herself if I change my mind one more time.

SO. It will be a long drive, but I really miss the road. I’ll have to sleep in a motel, but it  will be in a bed, not a recliner or a coffin. I’m travelling alone. but I have a lot of friends in the North, and will undoubtedly see some of them. California is on fire, but it’s on fire everywhere, so it hardly matters through which smoke cloud I watch the sun set. It’s high Summer, I am suddenly free, and there’s fun to be had out there.

I shall be in the Dealer Room a little, especially Sunday at 2 PM – signing books at Tachyon. If any of you Dear Readers are there and possess The Hotel Under the Sand or the compilation of Kage’s essays on silent science fiction,  Ancient Rockets, or the anthology In the Company of Thieves … come on by, I will sign them for Kage and myself.

In fact, if you have any books at all you would like signed, and can find me – bring ’em on down. I will likely be in the lobby of the Convention Center, especially if it has a bar. If not, I’ll be in the lobby bars at the Marriott or the Hilton. I’m short and fat and grey-haired and NOT costumed, I look a lot like an over-educated hobbit, I carry a stag horn handled cane, and I will be knitting. If you pick the wrong old lady based on these characteristics, do remember what happens and let me know: it should be hilarious.

But don’t do it unless you already have a ticket! The prices are scandalous and ruinous.

My, this makes me even more eager to go! See you there, Dear Readers, some of you anyway: you are a resourceful and unafraid lot, and I’m confident some of you will make it. Watch out for eldritch beasts on the road.


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Toe In The Water

Kage Baker was some semi-divine embodiment of determination. She won stuff. She worked at it.

She never encountered a situation that actually stopped her. If halted in her progress, or thwarted in her intent, she would plan and scheme and even connive until she got what she had originally wanted. She would patiently do without, rather than settle for second best; and she would, eventually, succeed in her aims. It was amazing – and, watching her cold-eyed, relentless determination, just a little frightening.

It was usually to my benefit as well, though, so I did not stand in the way. It would have been futile, anyway. Kage always triumphed. It took Death to stop her: and even then, she wrote up to the moment she slipped into her final coma. She narrated an entire story about Scandinavian trolls, exogamy and Founders Effect genetics to me the afternoon she died. I have the notes …

I am, of course, not Kage. The last several months have come very close to stopping me in my tracks. I nearly took up a late career as a moss-covered stone. I have nearly foundered. Breaking my right humerus seems to have cancelled all my remaining warranties, and I have decayed. But yestreday, I was released to drive again – physical therapy has begun – I am no longer on brain freezing pain killers. Since I can now type two-handed, this is my official return to blogging – shallow waters, but a start. I hope someone is still listening ….

It’s been a weird, hard, fairly dreadful time. Do not break major bones in your old age, Dear Readers, if you can avoid it; recovery is a nightmare. Several times, half-asleep in the recliner where I have been since May 22nd, I woke convinced I had died and was in my coffin … only sometimes it appeared I had been interred in various cardboard boxes or dugout canoes. I woke my sister Kimberly, attempting to watch over me from the couch, several times – to demand how I had gotten into a graham cracker box or some such. She had to convince me I was still alive once or twice; so much fun in the middle of the night!

Kimberly finally got me an electric candle for a night light. It gave a nice low, yellow, flickering light, by which I could tell I was in a recliner and not in my grave or the cedar chest. Added benefit: Ashby, our young Maine Coon cat, is apparently afraid of the dark and had just been waiting for someone to get a night light. She immediately took to sleeping next to me on my night table, with the candle, so when I wake up I get light, instant orientation, and purring. Kimberly gets more sleep.

So, like I said, I can drive again. Consequently, I have decided to go to WorldCon76 in San Jose next weekend. Mostly, I planned to just wander around; sit in the bar and knit and people-watch. But then … I got invited to the Analog/Asimov’s party by Sheila Williams (the editor of Asimov’s !!!!). I was asked to come sign books at the Tachyon Publications table. Some other Important People inquired if I would be there just in general …

Kimberly was right. I really am not dead. I am remembered, even.

So, I’m going to WorldCon. I already paid my membership, so I could vote for the Hugos; it was just a matter of renting a room and a car at the last minute and seeing how presentable I can make myself after almost 3 months as an estivating sloth. My success in that has yet to be determined – but, by golly gosh, I am indeed going to WorldCon.

Kage would shake her head and ask me what in hell took me so long to get my act together. And I really don’t know what I’d tell her.

Except that at least, at last, I have.

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Kage Baker enjoyed celebrating birthdays – other people’s birthdays, especially. She said it gave her an excuse to holiday extravagantly, without being selfish. And she felt that all and any birthday ought to be celebrated over several days.

Years when we were especially flush, the entire 3 weeks between her birthday and mine was one long party: trips and fancy meals and copious cocktails. Kage called it the “birthday charabanc”, and her favourite technique was to combine as many natal observances as possible in one long celebratory go.

Since all of our assorted sisters were born in June and July (as well as both of us) that could get pretty crazy. It was great. A lot of such holidays included Catalina Island, where we drank too much, played miniature golf (best course ever), saw weird movies, annoyed mariachi bands, took tours … there was always something. One of the better nights, I recall someone stunning a frog hiding in a golf cup; then we went and watched the original Nosferatu in the back room of a pizza parlour and were consequently awake all night in fear. Good times.

Today is my birthday. No charabanc nor weeks long celebration, but my family has been planning it for a while, and I am happy with the results.  I’m alive, for one thing. I am 65 years old, which seems like bad science fiction. And I am recovering successfully from a proximal fracture of the right humerus, which has prevented me from typing much for the last month. However: I am tons better. Surgery will NOT be necessary, as I am healing with inhuman speed and there is no dislocation of the shoulder joint. Huzzah for me!

I still can’t type two-handed, or drive, or sleep lying down. I can just barely scratch my nose, which is an actual improvement; I can hold at least a pound in my right hand (if I keep the arm bent) and pull my own pants up. This is an enormous relief not only to me, but to my ever-patient sister, Kimberly. Also, I can carry a coffee cup – though I cannot get it to my mouth with my right hand. I have a serious case of Tyrannosaur arm.

Still, the pain is better and every day brings an improvement. I start physical therapy in two weeks. Soon I shall once more be able to cock snooks, and make the Sign of the Star-Nosed Mole once again!

In the meantime … there was Chinese food for dinner, which was great. There will be tres leches cake for dessert. I got over 100 birthday greetings today, which has been the nicest thing to happen to me in a month. I feel loved. And thanks to the care of my family, I feel well enough to be happy at all this.

Thank you, Dear Readers, for your own care, good wishes, and continuing patience. Barring breaking more vital bones, I think I can return to writing more frequently. I mean to try, anyway.

So, happy birthday to me! Happy July to everyone, and let us all strive for a less exciting summer now.

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Just A Wee Note On Sunday Night

Kage Baker used to say that the cessation of pain is, in itself, a positive pleasure. She said she read it somewhere: maybe Kraft Ebbing, maybe Hints from Heloise. She said it was the justification behind hitting yourself with a hammer because it felt so good to stop. She said it was the best argument for masochism, and the worst for sadism. Or was it Democrats and Republicans?

Mostly she rolled her eyes and said it was load of vicious crap: because there was nothing, nothing, NOTHING! that was even remotely good about pain.

“It lets you know when you’re on fire,” I once suggested helpfully.

As I recall, Kage sniffed disdainfully. (She was one of those ivory-nostrilled ladies who could sniff without sounding as if they were on cocaine.)

“If I were on fire, I would notice without needing pain,” she said, and that the end of that argument.

But she was right. There really is nothing good about pain. If the human nervous system had indeed been Intelligently Designed – or even halfway deliberately – we would be alerted to broken bones and imminent immolation by a more elegant process than discomfort so intense we puke in our shoes or piss in our pants. Little silvery bells and bluebirds, maybe, as in old cartoons …

Kage would be relieved, and I am freaking delighted, to report that tonight my own pain is much, much better. I don’t know why. It’s probably that my usual inhumanly swift healing is happening. Though I suppose I may have had  a stroke and developed hysterical numbness, but surely even my ill-luck is not that involved. It’s probably because – against all expectations – my doctor renewed my Narco prescription, and so now I don’t need it as much.

Whatever the cause, I do not care. I am just grateful. I still can’t lie down to sleep, or scratch my nose right-handed, or pull up my own pants unassisted. But trying and failing to do these and many other simple tasks no longer leaves me weeping in despair.

Maybe Kage  called in a favour from beyond.

I’m simply happy to sleep in more comfort tonight. It really is a positive pleasure.



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