“The girl surprised everyone.”
This, the opening line of Kage Baker’s short story “The Ruby Incomparable,” describes Svnae, the magically-gifted protagonist who seeks power through knowledge. But it just as easily could describe Baker herself.
In March 1997, at the age of forty-four, Baker surprised the science fiction community with the publication in Asimov’s of her debut novelette “Noble Mold.” She followed it, in the October/November issue of Asimov’s, with her second novelette, “Facts Relating to the Arrest of Dr. Kalugin,” and then in December with the U.K. release of her debut novel, In the Garden of Iden (published in the U.S. in February 1998).
These stories introduced science fiction fans to Baker’s Company universe, in which a twenty-fourth century Company trains cyborgs to time travel in order to preserve historic artifacts. When asked by Nick Gevers in a 2002 interview why her SF series focused so much on the past, she explained, “I find the pageant of history more interesting than rocket ships blasting off to other planets. And, at the end of the day, people are more entertaining than technology.” Her fascination with history had been long-standing, leading her to a career at the Living History Centre and, like Svnae’s wanderings, away from the path her mother had envisioned for her.
Baker confessed to Gevers, “I obediently spent my childhood writing little stories, until I reached that age when you dig in your heels and tell your parents you hate them and you’ll never, ever be what they want you to be. And I more or less ran away with the circus for the next twenty years.” Her writing was the better for it. After years of writing, directing, and teaching the Living History Centre’s performances, Baker explained her idea for the Company series to her mother by acting it out. She captured the voices and mindsets of the cyborgs Mendoza and Joseph in her performance, and the story she told became the basis of “Noble Mold.” She continued to bring Mendoza, Joseph, and her other characters to life throughout the nine Company novels and dozens of Company short stories.
Although the Company universe saw her nominated for two Hugos and a Nebula, and earned her the title of Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Winner in 2005, her writing extended far beyond them. In 2003, Tor published her novel, The Anvil of the World, which was a Mythopoeic Award finalist. The following year her collection, Mother Aegypt and Other Stories, was published and nominated for a Locus Award. Her 2008 novel, The House of the Stag, was another Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Winner and a World Fantasy Award nominee.
Baker was prolific. She was award-winning. And much like Svnae, who declared, “There’s so much I can teach her, so much I can give her, so much I can share with her,” Baker enjoyed sharing her knowledge with others. Before she lost her battle to cancer on January 31, 2010, she entrusted her sister Kathleen with a message for her readers. “I want you to tell all these people that I wanted more time to spend with them. Tell them I meant to, tell them I wanted to hear what they said and tell them what was on my mind.” Although time ran out, through Baker’s writings, we can still know and be surprised by her.