Sunday, January 31, 2010

Kage Baker, 1952-2010

Kage Baker, short story writer and novelist, died today at age 57, far too young. I don't think it's hyperbole for me to say that, of all the science fiction and fantasy writers I reviewed during that awful decade from Jan. 1, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2009, Baker afforded me the greatest amount of unalloyed reading pleasure.

I tend not to get caught up in long-running sf/f series, like those by George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan. As good as individual installments might be, most multi-volume sagas run out of steam or become so unwieldy with plot complications that it becomes a chore to keep up with them to the bitter end. Even Stephen King's "The Dark Tower," which amazed and delighted me for most of its 3,000 pages, wound up something less than I had imagined.

Not Baker's novels about The Company, though. She kept every damn promise she made in that first book, "In the Garden of Iden." She found a glorious new wrinkle in time-traveling immortal cyborgs, and she played fair with it across 10 volumes, adding complications and fresh faces with panache, but never betraying her premise or her characters or her readership. By the time she reached the final volume in the main sequence, "The Sons of Heaven," she had tied up all the loose ends and delivered a climax and denouement worthy of all the delicious build-up.

I came to The Company novels late, foolishly starting with "Mendoza in Hollywood." It didn't particularly grab me, so I'm glad I persevered with "The Graveyard Game." That did the trick, making me go back to the books I'd missed. From that point, I was hooked, and I eagerly awaited each new volume. None of them disappointed.

I saw Baker at the World Fantasy con in October. I'm not very out-going, and it often takes some real effort for me to introduce myself to a stranger. But I approached her and let her know how much I enjoy her work.

I'm glad I did. I had no idea her time with us would be so short. I'm just glad there will be a few more books and stories with her byline, starting with a new Company novel, "Not Less Than Gods," to be published by Tor in March.

If you haven't read any books by Kage Baker, start with "In the Garden of Iden" or the story collection, "Black Projects, White Knights." If you want just a small taste, Subterranean Press has posted a new story, "The Bohemian Astrobleme," online.

If you're already a fan, read Marty Halpern's lovely appreciation of her and her work.

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