Baker, Kage

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Working name of US writer Kate Genevieve Baker (1952-2010), who worked in insurance and the theatre before publishing In the Garden of Iden (1997; vt In the Garden of Iden: A Novel of the Company 1998), the first in the series of Company or Dr Zeus stories, which occupied most of her career. The sequence, whose implications gradually darkened, focuses on the actions of a cadre of twenty-fourth-century agents (> Time Police) working for "the Company" (properly the Zeus Corporation – Dr Zeus himself is finally revealed to be an AI) who use their limited access to Time Travel to visit previous epochs, where, through surgical interventions and the use of Nanotechnology, they transform selected small children (adults are untreatable) into Cyborgs whose Immortality does not come cheap, as they are required to fulfil the Company's remit: which is to preserve, for the good of all and for profit, the flora and fauna of Earth against the erosions of history, as well as saving those human artefacts which are deemed collectible. That such a programme is open to abuse and manipulation soon becomes evident; and as the year 2355 approaches in "the Company's" own era, it seems more and more likely that the indentured immortals they have created to do grunt work over the aeons are not likely to flourish.

The main protagonist of the sequence is an agent named Mendoza, recruited after her rescue from the Spanish Inquisition, whose experiences up the line, both as an operative and as a consistently unfortunate lover of the men whose lives she must necessarily transcend, inform several of the subsequent volumes of the sequence. The second Company book is Sky Coyote: A Novel of the Company (1999), in which one of Mendoza's colleagues almost literally becomes a Trickster god in order to enlist the doomed Chumash nation of California into the Company (> Anthropology). The sequence continues [for omnis see Checklist] with Mendoza in Hollywood: A Novel of the Company (2000), set in 1860s California with adumbrations throughout of the interaction of film and reality, all cyborgs having been taught twentieth-century American English; The Graveyard Game: A Novel of the Company (2001), in which relations between the Immortals and the Company become more difficult, as is typical of the Time Opera in full spate; Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers (coll 2002), which assembles Company stories; The Angel in the Darkness (2003 chap), a domestic interval set in contemporary California; The Empress of Mars (2003 chap); The Life of the World to Come (2004), set in an implausibly time-bound future Britain but otherwise convincing in its portrayal of the Dystopia that the whole enterprise risks enforcing. The last several instalments – The Children of the Company (2005), The Machine's Child (coll 2006), Gods and Pawns (2007) and Rude Mechanicals (2007) – show some weariness; but the final volume, The Sons of Heaven (2007), though congested, very competently concludes the central strands of the long, intensely felt and extremely complicated story. Not Less Than Gods (2009), which may or may not have been intended to start a new Company string, is a Steampunk tale set in nineteenth-century London.

Responses to Baker's work have been surprisingly mixed, though The Women of Nell Gwynne's (2009) won a Nebula and a Hugo for best novella. This may perhaps be laid down to two circumstances: the necessary but sometimes undue complexities of the kind of multi-layered narrative she constructed in the Company sequence; and an almost vaudeville-like scattiness in how verbal and other registers infiltrate her tales, with an antic effect that requires a good ear to perform (and to appreciate), plus a strong comedic vein, especially in earlier volumes of the sequence.

A sometimes inspired effect of casualness also informs Ancient Rockets: Treasures and Trainwrecks of the Silent Screen (coll 2011), which assembles a series of short essays on the early years of sf Cinema originally published on Tor.com (> Tor Books) in 2009. [JC]

Kate Genevieve Baker

born Hollywood, California: 10 June 1952

died Pismo Beach, California: 31 January 2010

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