The Kage Baker Memorial Edition

Editor's note -- Most of this edition originally ran in July of this past year when her illness was in remission. We are running it again to honor this wonderful person who just passed on.

The following is from Kathleen Bartholomew, Kage Baker's sister, in an email on the afternoon of the day she died that she said can be shared.

She died at 1:15 this morning. She had begun to have difficulty breathing early this evening; I gave her atropine and morphine for the breathing problems and the pain, but by about 8 PM she slipped into unconsciousness. The last thing she requested was to have her pillows adjusted -- she said she was more comfortable, and after that she said nothing else. She became unresponsive very shortly thereafter, and by her own request, no heroic efforts were made.

Her sister Anne and nieces Kate and Emma were up this weekend, and watched with me for most of the evening. At about 1 AM her breathing got louder and lighter and more urgent, though her pupils were not responsive to light; there was a rush of bile from her mouth, and then she passed away very quietly in our arms.

Kage's body will go to MedCure, a body donation program working on training surgery students. They will cremate it and return the ashes to me in about 3 weeks. Her ashes will then be scattered half from Catalina Island and half from Plaskett Creek beach near Big Sur.

Up after these words is the eulogy that Richard Dansky wrote on behalf of her many friends here in the extended GMR community that knew her as a friend, a writer, a teacher of Elizabethan English, creator of the very the first Renaissance Faire, as the barkeep at the other Green Man Pub, as a reader of her stories, and a cook who made fine Christmas pudding. and a person who loved, as I can attest, engaging in detailed email conversations covering everything from Bruce Campbell (one of her favourite actors) Jethro Tull (one of her musical passions), and damn near everything else that came to her mind.

Speaking of Green Man Pub(s), she was in large part responsible for the development of the fictional metanarrative that forms the back story here -- indeed our Green Man Pub is directly inspired by the pub enterprise run by her and Kathleen Bartholomew, who you can see in full regalia in the photo here in the mid-'80s at a Ren Faire in Southern California. And Kage's obsession with chocolate is a direct result of the cyborgs in her Company series getting drunk on Theobroma, the stuff that gives chocolate the kick it has. And oh, did she love chocolate -- with bacon, with chilies, or just plain as long as it was as dark on sin itself.

Gardner Dozois, the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, said recently that he 'considered her the best natural storyteller to enter the field since Poul Anderson' and I can't disagree. A brilliant writer who was also a really nice person to know -- a rare occurrence indeed!

To be a reviewer, one must have distance. That’s the conventional wisdom, and by distance most people mean detachment, a dispassionate approach that allows for neither enthusiasm nor excitement. That’s the only way to be fair, to be equitable and proper.

So sayeth conventional wisdom.

To conventional wisdom, Kage Baker said 'Nuts,' and for that, all of us here at Green Man Review are thankful.

At the end of January, Kage lost her running battle with cancer. She will be remembered by most, one suspects, as a prolific and marvelously talented author. Her Company novels, impeccably detailed yet vast in ambition, comprises the bulk of her published fiction: novels, novellas, and short stories as well. Other works included the young adult novel The Hotel Under the Sand, the dangerously funny Empress of Mars, and fantasy novels such as Anvil of the World and its followup, House of the Stag. The winner of the Theodore Sturgeon award for Empress, she was also nominated for a Hugo, for multiple World Fantasy Awards, and the Gran Prix D'Imaginaire. Her works were reviewed on this site often and enthusiastically, and with good reason. She was a remarkable crafter of fictions, with a gift for welding the most human minutiae into the grandest of backdrops and make them part and parcel of the same thing. Sharp, sly, and deeply human, her work was -- and is -- a joy to read.

Many authors have their work perused behind the doors of the Green Man Pub, however, that's as far as they venture in. Occasionally, a few go a little further -- an Oak King here, a Winter or Summer Queen there. Kage herself graced us by taking a turn as the Summer Queen last year, and shared with us her note on the Summer Country she had known. But more than that, Kage was one of our own. And the Green Man Pub? She built it.

It is not out of line to suggest that were it not for Kage Baker, Green Man Review itself would be vastly different. The fiction that surrounds, weaves through, and presents the reviews here -- right down to some of our more or less fictional reviewers -- sprang in large part from her. Her words, her thoughts, her ideas and unshakable conviction that one could tell a story and review well at the same time -- that a review should be as enjoyable a read as any piece of fiction -- run through every issue that we publish.

Thus we have her lengthy and magnificent demolition of Gene Wolfe’s An Evil Guest, and her reveling in the sublime pleasures of kiddie-themed pirate band Captain Bogg & Salty. We have her zestily extolling the notion of the history buff’s guilty pleasure in her sly admiration for Jack of All Trades, and her straightforward dare-you-to-argue-with-me advocacy for a Jethro Tull live DVD. And each of these reviews was more than a review, it was the story of her reading, or watching, or listening as much as it was a judgment of the work itself. They were, in a word, fun. She had that gift. Not many do.

There are and will be other eulogies for Kage. They will speak of her books, as well they should. They will, one hopes, note her many and varied interests: her extensive work in theater in multiple capacities, her facility with Elizabethan English as a second language, and hopefully, her unabashed love for all things piratical. They will talk of a skill as an author, of her wit and generosity of spirit, and possibly of the fact that she lived in Pismo Beach, of Bugs Bunny cartoon fame. She deserves to be remembered widely and well, her books read and enjoyed for many, many years to come. We here at Green Man have more than that; the pleasure and honor of, in some small sense, collaborating with her, and of continuing to dwell in a space that she has left an indelible and fundamental mark upon. It also is a gift, and we treasure it.

In 2009, Kage co-authored a review, with her sister Kathleen Bartholomew, of the collected DVDs of the British cooking show Two Fat Ladies. Toward the end, after a frolicsome and frothy appreciation for the joy the titular ladies brought to their work – and the obstacles they'd overcome to create it -- the review shifted to discuss the DVD extras included with the shows. They included 'a tribute to Jennifer recorded after her death. This last feature should be depressing, but isn't. The viewer comes away marveling that one life should have been lived so vividly, with such enthusiasm, and with such bravery on learning it had to end.'

We, too, have had the pleasure and the honor of seeing a life lived vividly, with enthusiasm and bravery: through email, through reviews, through 'Best of' contributions and her reign as Summer Queen and the very structure of GMR itself. Kage Baker shared it with us, and, gentle readers, with you.

How can we ever know the truth about the past? Historians lie; time wrecks everything. But if you're careful, boy, if you're methodical, if you measure and record and look for the bloody boring little details, like potsherds, and learn what they mean -- you can get the dead to speak again, out of their ashes. That's worth more than all the gold and amulets in the world, that's the work of my life. That's what I was born for. Nothing matters except my work. -- Egyptologist William Flinders Petrie as imagined by Kage Baker in 'The Queen in Yellow' (Collected in Black Projects, White Knights -- The Company Dossiers)

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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Author Editions

Kage Baker (1952 to 2010)

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J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 to 1973)

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Series Reading

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Words and Music

Kage Baker reading her
The Empress of Mars

A reading from Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn

Peter S. Beagle reading 'The Fifth Season', 'Marty and the Messenger', 'Mr. McCaslin', 'None But A Harper (Ibid.)', 'The Rock in the Park' and 'The Stickball Witch'

Excerpts from Peter S. Beagle's forthcoming novels, Here Be Dragons and Summerlong

Elizabeth Bear reads The Chains that You Refuse

Black 47's 'Liverpool Fantasy'

An excerpt from Paul Brandon's The Wild Reel novel

Tunes from Paul Brandon's old group, Rambling House and his new group, Sunas

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 Oak King March' (featuring Will Harmon and Zina Lee on fiddles and Pete Strickler on bouzouki), composed in honour of Peter S. Beagle

'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'

Jennifer Stevenson's 'Solstice', plus a reading of 'Solstice' by Stevenson herself.

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'


Kage Baker

Peter S. Beagle

Steven Brust

Emma Bull and Emma Bull & Will Shetterly on the War for the Oaks screenplay

Tom Canty

Glen Cook

Ellen Datlow and Gavin Grant of YBFH

Charles de Lint in 1998 and 2006

Gardner Dozois

Brian, Wendy and Toby Froud

Neil Gaiman in 2004 and 2005

William Gibson

Christopher Golden

James Hetley

Michael Kaluta

Patricia McKillip

James Stoddard

Catherynne Valente

Gordon Van Gelder

Charles Vess

Terri Windling


Uploaded 23 January 2010 1o -- 00 pm PST