Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kage Baker's In the Company of Thieves

Company of Thieves
In May 2001, I contacted Kage Baker via email about a collection of Company stories; at the time I was acquiring and editing for Golden Gryphon Press. Kage responded the very same day, stating that she was intrigued with my proposal and that she has forwarded my letter to her agent, Linn Prentis. On May 9 I received a response from Linn: the collection was a "go."

Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers premiered at the San Jose WorldCon on August 29, 2002. The book was even more successful than I had anticipated: Publishers Weekly gave the collection a starred review; the first printing of 3,000 copies sold out in only two months; there was a second hardcover printing, and the trade paperback edition was published in October 2004. In a blog post dated January 27, 2010 -- just four days before Kage Baker passed away -- I detailed how Kage and I worked together on this book, how it all came together.

Black Projects, White Knights
And now, nearly to the day and twelve years later, I have the good fortune to be able to work on what will, unfortunately, be the last new collection of Company stories by Kage Baker: In the Company of Thieves, forthcoming from Tachyon Publications.

Working on these stories is like meeting up with old friends again, like the immortal cyborg Joseph (in "Hollywood Ikons," a new story original to the collection; more on this in a bit), Edward Bell Fairfax and Lady Beatrice, of the Gentlemen's Speculative Society and Ladies Auxiliary, respectively (in "The Women of Nell Gwynne's" and "The Unfortunate Gytt"), and the evil Labienus and his Plague Cabal (in "Mother Aegypt"). Note that I didn't say they were all "good" friends....

So many memories have come flooding back since I began work on this collection of stories: working on Black Projects, White Knights and then the limited edition chapbook story The Angel in the Darkness; meeting up with Kage at cons -- she was always with her sister Kathleen and I was usually with my wife Diane -- which typically entailed a long chat over lunch or dinner. Did you know Kage's favorite drink is (was) a mojito? Meeting niece "Emma Rose" (read the novel The Hotel Under the Sand, also from Tachyon Pubs) at Kage's appearance at SF in SF on July 25, 2009. And... I could go on, but you get the drift. We were friends, and I always looked forward to the next meeting/lunch/dinner at the next con.... And now we (Diane and I) get to continue that friendship with Kathleen, hopefully sharing a meal at BayCon over the Memorial Day weekend.

Only six stories make up In the Company of Thieves, but those six stories entail more than 100,000 words of very fine fiction. Three of the stories are novella length, at 25,000-plus words. Two additional stories clock in at around the 12,000-word mark. And one story ("The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park"), one of my very favorites, is a mere 3,700 words. I am constantly amazed at what Kage can accomplish in so few words.

Previously I mentioned a new story, "Hollywood Ikons" (one of the 12,000-word stories mentioned above), to be published in this collection for the first time. The story is a collaboration, as it were, between Kage and her sister Kathleen Bartholomew. From the draft copy of Kathleen's story notes:
Before Kage died in 2010, this was one of the stories she told me to look at first....Kage had already assigned Joseph as the hero of this one, so all I had to do was channel her and connect the gold-limned dots."
So I can only hope that Kage has left behind piles of notes and outlines and that Kathleen is able to continue channeling Kage into new stories of the Company, of Dr. Zeus Incorporated, of the Gentlemen's Speculative Society... Or, better yet, I can hope that Kathleen eventually graces us with her own unique tales of wonder.

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