I asked a fellow Green Man staffer what he liked best about Kage Baker as a writer and his answer was illuminating -- 'What do I like best? Well, I admire her vision, the breadth and depth of the worlds she's able to create, whether it's the whole of human history as portrayed in The Company novels, or those small, polished facets of times and places that show up in her stories. I very much enjoy the strength of her prose, subtle, supple and seductive -- there's a real talent behind a finely honed craft. And I treasure the fact that, like most of the best writers I've encountered, she takes her work seriously -- herself, not so much. But what do I 'like' best? Knowing that when I pick up a book by Kage Baker, I'll not be the same when I put it down.'
Equally illuminating is the long interview that I, Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, the Master Librarian here, did with her a few months back when the illness that would take her recently at a far too young an age was in remission. She joined me here in the Robert Graves Memorial Reading Room here at Green Man to discuss her works. We're having tea and quite delicious nibbles as provided by the kitchen staff as we discuss various matters. . . . You can read the entire fascinating if somewhat silly conversation this-away.
Indeed the Library here at Green Man has a complete set of first editions of Kage's books, which has led many a collector to be bloody envious! (There's a geis on these books that keeps them, like all of the Library books, from leaving the Green Man grounds.) Kage's professional writing career starts off with her first Company novel, a mere twelve years ago, but what a prolific career it has been!
Her Company series of stories of immortal cyborgs who get drunk on chocolate, and who loot the past for treasures for their employees at Dr. Zeus Inc., is one of the best best post-Heinlein science fiction series currently being written. Strictly speaking, there are eight novels to date in that series -- In The Garden of Iden (1997), Sky Coyote (1999), Mendoza in Hollywood (2000), The Graveyard Game (2001), The Life of The World To Come (2004), The Children of The Company (2005), The Machine's Child (2006), and The Sons of Heaven (2007). But there's also two collections of stories, Black Projects, White Knights -- The Company Dossiers (2002) and Gods and Pawns (2007,) which fill in some of the interstices in the Company story. In addition, there are two delightful novellas, The Angel in the Darkness (limited edition chapbook, 2003) and Rude Mechanicals (limited edition chapbook, 2007). Lately she's been filling in the background of the series with The Women of Nell Gwynne's being the first novel set in the Victorian Era. It should be noted that The Empress of Mars novel is also set in The Company universe. It just takes a keen mind to spot where it fits.
Oh, a digression of sorts. . . . I don't think I've mentioned that Kage was a wonderful reader but it shouldn't surprise you 'tall given that she was an accomplished actor as well. I am pleased to say that you can hear her reading from The Empress of Mars as recorded a few years back here. This recording was made at the KGB Fantastic Fiction Reading Series at the KGB Bar in New York. The event was produced by Terry Bisson and Ellen Datlow, and broadcast over Hour of the Wolf, WBAI, 99.5 FM. It is protected under Creative Commons. Please respect the rights of the artist and producers, all of whom have given freely of their work. Visit Hour of the Wolf for more info on this show.
Reading The Company series really does mean starting at the beginning as, like the later Heinlein metaverse novels such as The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, everything is connected in some way to everything else. But unlike the later Heinlein material, Kage told her stories in a manner that is clear enough for the reader to keep track of the many, many interconnected storylines she is developing over the course of the series. Her writings compare very favourably in this series to Simon R. Green whose various fantasy series (Forest Kingdom / Secret Histories / Nightside and so forth) and Neal Asher's sprawling Polity science-fiction series in being both very complex and highly entertaining.
She also had a fantasy series cut short with two novels out to date, The Anvil of the World (2003) and The House of the Stag (2008). Denise Dutton said of the first work that 'What do you get when you take an assassin sick of killing, a petulant half-demon and his hubba-hubba aide 'Nursie,' a barely pubescent girl who would leave a marathoner in the dust, and a cook so amazing she could make gruel taste like foie gras? The beginnings of The Anvil of the World, one of the most enjoyable romps I've had between the pages in a very long time.' And The House of the Stag gives us the background history of the Lord of the Mountain, the half-demon father of spoiled lordling Lord Ermenwyr, whom we met in The Anvil of the World.
Finally, I must mention Or Else My Lady Keeps the Key (2008), her first pirate novel. Must I note that she is such a huge Jack Sparrow fan that she even has one of the better action figures done of him, the eighteen inch motion-activated talking one to be precise? Or that she has a pirate flag in her office? Or that she's reviewed pirate songs for us? Why she's even the co-owner of Harry, a parrot who's thinks he's a a space going dinosaur pirate! 'This short novel is not a sequel so much as a continuation of the adventures of John James, fugitive, sometime pirate, and free-lance muscle, who was introduced in her novella "The Maid on the Shore" in the Dark Mondays collection.'
Then there is the matter of Kage's Summer Queen Speech. We don't select a Summer Queen by ourselves as we involve the Seelie Court in the selection process as a diplomatic courtesy. (Would you want to offend Titania and Her Court? Have you noticed the really lifelike statuary in our Courtyard? Or the horrific scarecrows down by Oberon's Wood? Need I say more?) So we had her meet over High Tea with the Queen's Court and they approved of her as a human Summer Queen.
As Kage noted of that meeting, 'First, let us thank the Committee for this honor. It's a swell crown; we like the blackberries particularly. We would like to assure the Committee that we have also met the residence requirements for the title, since we have resided in the Summer Country these fifteen years and don't plan on going anywhere but deeper into its light.'
Her Summer Queen Speech, which touches upon 'A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture,' picnics, and the Summer Country as a place to live can be read just below . . .
What a summer this has been! Some days I thought there was nothing for it but to give up trying to stay dry and grow a coat of moss and go about like a Green Woman. But suddenly here we are at Lammastide with the Dog Star in the sky a'mornings, and all the leaves and grass gone golden fire. More than once I've stood, staring up at that star through narrowed eyes, for it oft times seems to me that if you look at it askance, he looks more like a coyote than a dog. That's how men first got ahold of fire, I've heard tell -- Coyote, who always had more curiosity than sense, came nosing along too close to the Sun and set his own tail afire. Ran yipping and howling through the sky, scattering a flock of crows and singeing their feathers black as coal, and kept on running right down to the hot springs in the middle of the desert. Not that it was desert before Coyote came along, and the springs used to be cool running water, but once Coyote jumped in -- cannonballed right in to put the fire out -- that's how we ended up with hot springs in the desert. And that's why the growing things blaze up all golden fire whenever Coyote comes a little closer than they're comfortable with.
But who is this, you might be asking? I'm known as Meg, and sometimes Mad Meg, and sometimes other names, for far I travel, spring and winter and back again, and sometimes further afield than all but a few men have ever come back from (never look behind you is what I says).
But now, I was telling you about Lammas and the Lammas Queen.
Plenty of people take a fancy to her sister, the shy May Queen who goes about in silver-green, or her sister, the Midsummer Queen, Lady Greensleeves herself, and no better than she should be, I've often thought. As for me, I've always had a sneaking preference for the Lammas Queen, with her nut-brown skin and her hair like a storm cloud and her dress all amber and russet. She's not the predictable sort but she does let you know what's on her mind -- all sunny calm one moment and then, with a toss of her cloud-dark hair, here comes the thunder and lightning!
There's some I've heard call her the Queen of Storms, but I don't hold it against any woman, high or low, mortal or otherwise, for expressin' what's on her mind, changeable as it might be. If she's got a bit o' temper, well, she's also got a generous way about her. Whenever I steal a bit o' fresh corn out of the field or sneak a warm loaf of bread from where it's cooling near some kitchen window, I always say a 'thank you' to the Lammas Queen before going on my way. I've always thought the Lammas Queen has a soft spot for travelers of all sorts, whether they travel by land or dreams or time itself, for haven't you ever looked out over the fields of gold and heard her singing, had a sudden urge for going, for following the road shining like an unspooling bit o'ribbon?
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Kage Baker (1952 to 2010)
J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 to 1973)
Kage Baker reading her
A reading from Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn
Elizabeth Bear reads The Chains that You Refuse
Black 47's 'Liverpool Fantasy'
An excerpt from Paul Brandon's The Wild Reel novel
Emma Bull and Will Shetterly's The War for The Oaks movie trailer
Nicholas Burbridge's 'Open House'
Cats Laughing's 'For It All'
Charles de Lint performing his 'Sam's Song'
Charles de Lint -- Some thoughts on his fiction
Gaelic Storm's 'Kiss Me'
Christopher Golden's 'The Deal'
The opening chapter of The Weaver and The Factory Maid, the first novel in Deborah Grabien's Haunted Ballad series.
An excerpt from Deborah Grabien's Rock & Roll Never Forgets -- A JP Kinkaid Mystery
'The Winter Queen Reel' (played by Roger Landres), composed in honour of Jane Yolen
Chuck Lipsig on 'Star of Munster' variations
McDermott's 2 Hours' 'Fox on the Run'
An excerpt from James Stoddard's 'The High House'
Tinker's Own performing 'The Tinker's Black Kettle', a jig by Charles de Lint from The Little Country
Vagabond Opera's 'Marlehe'
A Vasen tune for your enjoyment
Cathrynne Valente's 'The Surgeon's Wife'
Cathrynne Valente reading a selection titled 'The Tea Maid and The Tailor' from The Orphan's Tales
Robin Williamson's 'Five Denials on Merlin's Grave'
Uploaded 23 January 2010 1o -- 00 pm PST