THE BEST OF KAGE BAKER
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
There are some books that the reader wants to savor, enjoying every word as it floats into view. Sometimes this is because the author uses language in a lyrical manner. Other times, it is because the world-building is so exquisite that the reader wants to remain in the author’s creations. The Best of Kage Baker offers a volume which meets both of those criteria, along with the less joyful knowledge that with Baker’s untimely death in 2010 means that there will not further new stories.
The first half of the book contains stories which have already been reprinted in various of Baker’s collections, with the second half stories which have previously not been collected by Baker, although they have appeared in their original publications and, on occasion, in reprint anthologies. Many of these stories are linked by their setting in the world of Baker's "Company" novels, and offer a look at that world with such examples as “Noble Mold” or “The Catch,” the latte of which provides background to the founding of the Company.
Due to the length of the volume, two of Baker’s novellas, “Son Observe the Time” and “welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst,” are included in the collection. These serve as detailed introductions to Baker’s Company series as well as demonstrate Baker’s ability with the novella length, with many additional, worthwhile novellas not included.
The book also includes several high quality examples of Baker’s shorter fiction, like the humorous “Are You Afflicted with Dragons,” about an innkeeper who finds himself beset by a plague of small dragons analogous to roosting pigeons, or “Calimari Curls,” a Lovecraftian tale which offers a different look at a resort. Baker's "Caverns of Mystery" is also an excellent example of her work with historical tales, in this case, stories which have a strong affect on the world in which we all live.
The same themes show up in a variety of Baker’s stories and this collection allows a reader to track the these ideas. One of Baker’s strengths as an author is that she found different ways to approach the same basic ideas and so despite some similarities, her stories don’t get stale and, even when reading them together, there is a lack of redundancy which other authors’ collections occasionally have.
The sad part of The Best of Kage Baker is knowing that there are no more original stories, although the twenty stories included in this volume are only the tip of the iceberg, and, despite the title's claim, many of the stories which are not collected within the covers are just as good as the ones included. Baker published several collections during her lifetime, including Black Projects, White Knights, Gods and Pawns, or Children of the Company. Not only does this volume point out those (and other) collections, but many of the stories tie in to Baker's other works, making The Best of Kage Baker and excellent introduction to her stories for those who have not yet had the pleasure of discovering them, and a reminder for those who have.
|Noble Mold||Speed, Speed the Cable|
|Old Flat Top||Caverns of Mystery|
|Hanuman||Are You Afflicted with Dragons?|
|Son Observe the Time||I Begyn as I Meane to Go On|
|Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst||The Ruby Incomparable|
|The Catch||Plotters and Shooters|
|Leaving His Cares Behind||The Faithful|
|What the Tyger Told Her||The Leaping Lover|
|Calamari Curls||Bad Machine|
|Maelstrom||The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park|
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