Kage Baker always liked it when the winter rains finally came to California. Whether in Southern, Northern or Central California, those first cold rains sluice away the exhausted dust of our ferocious summers; our winter rain is rejuvenating, revitalizing.
It’s when our land turns green. All the imported plants in the gardens, or gone feral in the hills, drop their leaves and go nakedly to sleep. But the native plants – the sycamores and oaks, the native sages and poppies and grasses all begin to sprout anew in the December wet season.
Even the hardier of the imports have adapted. California bunch grass now shares pride of place with the ubiquitous wild oats – the oats grow everywhere, and are now what makes most of the hills golden in the summer; they are the carpet for the oak savannah that rolls over so much of California’s empty lands.
And it’s the oats that are springing up now. They are a green haze on the hillsides, not tall enough to wave in the wind yet; but later in the year, they’ll bow and dance like the sea, long silver-green waves on every curving hill and bare lot. Under the sycamores and royal oaks all proudly naked; under the madrones and live oaks still flaunting their foliage like harem dancers – the same green carpet rolls under all of them.
Winter is our wet season, our green season. The hills reach their peak of verdant beauty somewhere around the solstice, which Kage always said was a sign of the sacredness of the land – that it put on its best for the return of the sun. Maybe she was right. Probably she was. All I know, in my own heart, is that winter is not a season of death here in California. It’s instead a season of a lover’s sleep, breathing softly and quietly in post-coital bliss.
It therefore pleases me no end, Dear Readers, that – in this season of quiet growth and life – Nell Gwynne: On Land and At Sea is due to be released on December 31, 2012. Finally! Officially! With both our names on it! And it has this gorgeous caramel and chocolate coloured cover:
If you haven’t seen it yet – isn’t it lovely? I think that may be Dora, the middle Devere sister, in the foreground. She’s my favourite of those three.
And to add to my glee and delight, a good friend (Cat Eldridge, Editor of the online review magazine Sleeping Hedgehog) forwarded to me the review below – which I am informed is being printed in Locus:
“Nell Gwynne’s on Land and at Sea was left unfinished at the time of Kage’s death, and has been completed by Kathleen Bartholomew. No indication is given as to how much of the book was Kage’s, and how much Kate’s. I’m not sure to what degree this matters, either. In any case, the transition is seamless.
It’s a hard book to categorize. The ‘‘Nell Gwynne’s’’ of the title is a genteel whorehouse operating in 1848 London, named for the iconic Seventeenth Century orange-seller, actress, and courtesan. Two centuries later, as Victoria sits primly on her thrown, officially, English society keeps a stiff and puritanical attitude toward sexuality while all sorts of naughtiness goes on behind closed doors.
Mrs. Corvey, the proprietress of Nell Gwynn’s, had previously lost her eyes and had them replaced with fully functional, telescoping prosthetics. She habitually hides these devices behind smoked glasses while pretending to be blind. The young ladies whom she employs are an intriguing group, including the sexually ambiguous Herbert/Herbertina.
Ah, but this book is not merely a kind of latter-day Fanny Hill, although it swoops tantalizingly close to ultra-genteel pornography (or a parody thereof) on occasion.
Chief patrons of Nell Gwynn’s are the members of the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society, a kind of proto-Center for Advanced Studies, more a scientific think-tank with patriotic leanings than a purely academic association.
The Madame and her girls close up shop for a month’s holiday at the seaside resort of Torquay, where they encounter a half-mad American-born Anglophile who has invented a submarine steam-cannon and plans to use it to provoke a war between England and France. Our heroines communicate with their patriotic patrons via a wireless radio secretly invented decades ahead of its time, called the Aetheric Transmitter.
I won’t go on. There’s just so much fun here, not the least being the endless mouthwatering descriptions of Victorian feasts, and the presence of a marvelous little terrier called Domina. But then I’m a dog-lover anyway.
The story is madcap and further description might spoil the fun. It’s steampunk science fiction reduced (or should I say elevated?) to the level of opera buffa.The copy that I read is an ARC or advance reading copy, featuring a marvelous cover painting and interior illustrations by J. K. Potter. I hope the publisher retains these for the official publication of the book.
Kage Baker was a true ornament to our field. She is sorely missed, and all praise is due to her sister Kathleen Bartholomew for preserving and enhancing her heritage.”
Imagine me leaping around the living room, Dear Readers – dancing with the Corgi and Harry, and scaring the cats into fits.
It’s a pretty good December 1st around here. A fitting beginning to the green, green winter when California comes back to life, when the hills turn emerald and the grass grows.
Looks like there will be a spring after all.