Find me online!

twittergoogle plusemail

February 8, 2010

Kage Baker - RIP

Kage Baker is one of my favourite authors, with her "The Company" series being some of the best science fiction I've ever read.

Sadly, I was just cruising her web site, as I am wont to do (but unfortunately haven't done so in a while) and discovered that she died of cancer on January 31.  Frankly, I was stunned.  I don't know how much it was common knowledge that she was sick, or whether it was more sudden than that, but I had no inkling that she was even ill.  This saddens me greatly, as I have been looking forward to her books and stories for many years.  She was more than just "The Company," with her fantasy works being brilliant as well.

I couldn't even tell you how I discovered her.  I'm pretty sure it was her short story "Her Father's Eyes" that appeared in Year's Best Fantasy 3 a few years ago.  It's a story of a young boy on a train (I said plane in the review, but it's actually a train) who is on a visit to the English countryside with his parents a year or two after the end of World War II.  He meets and begins chatting/playing with a young girl who's also there with her parents.  But both the girl and her parents are very strange, in a way that may not necessarily be natural.  I grew to love Baker's characterization skills, and this was the perfect example of them for me.

I went on to devour her short stories in Asimov's magazine, and that's where I was introduced to "The Company," a brilliant science fiction concept of time-travel and immortality, with just the right spice of corruption, greed, and insanity as well.

The Dr. Zeus Corporation has invented time travel and the ability to give humanity immortality. Unfortunately, the immortality can only be given in childhood, and it's not always successful. The time travel is limited in that you can only go backwards, and you can only return to where you came. So what's the solution when you want to preserve as much history as possible (both for posterity and for profit)? You send people back to prehistoric times, set up bases all over the world and give immortality to certain people. These agents are then dispersed around the world, recruiting new agents and performing missions for the company to take things that will soon disappear, study and hide them away for awhile, until the present day is reached and they can be "discovered" again.  There's also a coming point in time where nobody knows what's going to happen.  The Company is trying to maneuver itself so it will be all-powerful at this crossroads.  

Meanwhile, the Immortals who are living their way to this point are beginning to have doubts about the Company and its methods and goals.

There are quite a few books in the series, as well as a number of short stories (many of the short stories have been collected into two books, Black Projects, White Knights and Gods & Pawns.)  But it's well worth the time and effort to track them down at your library, if not your bookstore.  The first book in the series is In the Garden of Iden, and right from the get-go you see Baker's wonderful plotting and intricate characterization skills.  From my review:
"Nobody knows her name, not even her. Thus, she's called Mendoza. She's the latest operative to be recruited away from horrible circumstances (in Mendoza's case, she was imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition) to serve Dr. Zeus Incorporated in its eternal quest to make money and preserve some semblance of humanity. Mendoza is made into an immortal cyborg, and trains to be a botanist. It will be her job to find certain species of plant that will become extinct and preserve samples so that it may be reintroduced in the "current" time.

Her first assignment is Renaissance England, and she is not looking forward to it. It smells, there are no flush toilets, bacteria runs rampant, and she has to deal with people, who always seem to be trying to kill each other in some conflict or another. However, she accepts it grudgingly, since she really doesn't have any choice. She is to collect samples from the famous Garden of Iden, a garden owned by a British landowner. But the Spanish are not well-liked in England right now, with their prince now married to the current queen and the papish religion being reintroduced to the country (by pain of death, if necessary).

In other words, it's not high on the list of Mendoza's favourite time periods. Then she meets Nicholas, the landowner's assistant and anti-papist zealot. He's intelligent, witty, intense, and extremely sexy and he attracts the innocent Mendoza like a cat to a can opener. They fall deeply in love and make plans, which unfortunately will go against what the Company wants. The Company might not be the only thing standing in the way, however, with more people being burned at the stake all the time. Will Mendoza and Nicholas figure out how to escape everything and give in to their love? Or is Mendoza doomed to an eternity of missing him?"

And it goes on from there in quite a few books. If you can track down the short story "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst," you'll find another great Company story that also intimately involves some real historical Hollywood people, and it's another great read.  That one's collected in Gods & Pawns

But Baker is more than just The Company.  Her short stories are almost uniformly excellent.  A whole bunch of them can be found in Mother Aegypt and Other Stories, and they are almost all top-notch.

Kage Baker was very prominent in the SF field and, in my mind, a legend as well. It is very sad for me to think that there will never be a new Kage Baker book or story out.  Thankfully, there's still some recent stuff that I haven't read yet, so I will have some new things to devour.  But after that?  There will be no more.

In a way, I'm jealous of you.  If you sample one of her stories on my recommendation, you've got tons and tons of stuff to catch up on.

Take the plunge.  You will enjoy it.

And the SF world will mourn because there will be no more.


  1. Awwww. That's a shame. :(
    - the wife

  2. I am sorry for our collective loss Dave. My prayers go out to all those who weep at her loss.

    Now, you know I can't comment your blog without leaving you with something: snarky, funny, or the like.

    Since your fave SF female writer has passed, I will let you make me your fave now. I know, I know, very generous of me...but I'm that way.

    My first/only public SF story for you to fall in love with:

    Enjoy. LOL and hugs to you and yours!!

  3. I will definitely take a look at it when I get a chance, Widow. I'm sure you will quickly rise to the top. :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.