It may be that Jacqueline Carey will never recapture the magic she created in Terre d'Ange, but for once I agree wholeheartedly with one of the quotes...moreIt may be that Jacqueline Carey will never recapture the magic she created in Terre d'Ange, but for once I agree wholeheartedly with one of the quotes on the book jacket. "At the novel's heart is the kind of grace Carey is known for: an illumination of the strength that lies hidden inside all of us." (Eric Van Lustbader) Loup is a fabulous character, and the way Carey keeps the perspective focused on her allows the reader to see the subtle changes her fearlessness creates in those around her despite Loup not understanding them herself.(less)
A delightful YA-oriented novella from one of the most awarded SF writers of this generation. Her screwball version of Orson Scott Card's Battle School...moreA delightful YA-oriented novella from one of the most awarded SF writers of this generation. Her screwball version of Orson Scott Card's Battle School is great fun, and the message of the importance of independent thought is always timely. Definitely worth seeking out, despite the limited release.(less)
WARNING: No spoilers for Chill, but plenty of spoilers for Dust.
Chill picks up almost directly after Dust ended, when the ship is reeling from the nov...moreWARNING: No spoilers for Chill, but plenty of spoilers for Dust.
Chill picks up almost directly after Dust ended, when the ship is reeling from the nova blast and the crew is reeling from all of the deaths, particularly Rien's sacrifice to bring the new angel -- an A.I. integrating all of the splinter A.I.s that developed when the ship broke down centuries before -- into existence. Perceval is now captain, but she is barely functional as she deals with her grief, and there is an enormous power vacuum that the remaining Exalts of Rule and Engine -- both those for and against Perceval's captaincy -- are scrambling to fill. And while the A.I.s have all been integrated into the new angel, it is bothered by enormous black spaces in its awareness of the ship, due either to damage or enemy machinations.
And then a very dangerous prisoner escapes, so two teams -- one led by Tristen, the other by Benedick -- are sent in pursuit.
The plot is made up entirely by that pursuit, and I found that choice disappointing. The entire plot of Dust was Perceval and Rien fleeing through the fascinating landscape of the half-ruined ship; to have the entire plot of this one be another chase through a now-much-more-familiar landscape just seemed repetitive. There are a couple new and exciting set-pieces -- particularly a scene involving massive intelligent fungi doing something deliciously unexpected -- but ultimately I felt a bit let down by Bear's imagination. What stood out most about Dust for me was how gloriously imaginative the world-building was; with that thrill behind me this was just another SF action novel.
Or would have been, were it not for the characters.
If there was one flaw in Dust, it was that all of the characters were ciphers to me for 2/3 of the novel. Not so here. Dust and Chill ended up being mirror images of each other: the first all ideas and no character development; the second few (new) ideas but wonderful, complex characters with long histories and complicated relationships. The chase plot is really just window-dressing for internal, character-driven action, as the characters left standing after Dust figure out who they want to be in this new world.
Unfortunately, window-dressing or not the chase plot was still there, and it required a resolution, and that resolution was something of a deus-ex-machina. It also left a pretty significant plot thread dangling, as this is the middle book of a trilogy. But for these characters I would forgive a great deal more than that.(less)
Dust is a difficult book to review. It is a work of glorious genre- and gender-bending. It had moments of hilarity and moments of heartbreak, and way...moreDust is a difficult book to review. It is a work of glorious genre- and gender-bending. It had moments of hilarity and moments of heartbreak, and way more sensawonder than any book I've read this year (including Zelazny's Lord of Light and M. John Harrison's Light). But the characters were ciphers to me through the first two-thirds, and I'm positive that I didn't get any of the allusions fully. Still, I shall do my best, and talk about the elements that occur to me in order.
First, the science fiction. This is a broken-down generation ship novel, and the ship itself is a glorious bit of world-building. It is the world to its inhabitants, but they're under no pretenses that it is also a ship, and they curse accordingly -- Space! is the usual ejaculant, and the Enemy of vaccuum is present in several wonder-and-horror-tinged E.V.A.s. The ship is enormous, and much of it is dead, and what is left alive is incredibly strange, full of both nanotechnology and plain old terrestrial biology run amok. The people who set out in Jacob's Ladder (the ship's name) loved tinkering with genetics (for reasons explained about a third of the way in which I shan't spoil but which have bearing on the next section) so the humans now on board are split into the Exalt -- people whose blood literally runs blue due to their nanotech symbionts -- and the Mean, baseline humans who are forced to serve. The Exalt have clearly played with their genetics, many being winged, or furred, or otherwise altered, but even the Mean are not quite humans like us, as Bear makes it clear early on that there are at least three genders present -- men, women, and kant, the ungendered. (She invents new pronouns for the kant: "hir" and "sie" which function well enough but when first presented look unfortunately like typos.) And there are any number of artificial intelligences running around, greater and lesser ones, some diffuse throughout the ship, others contained in rather unlikely places (like a laser-torc that is also a basilisk, or a nuclear reactor leak).
And running through all this SF coolness are biblical and Arthurian and gothic allusions that make the novel look and feel quite a bit more like high fantasy. One of the two protagonists is called Sir Perceval, and she (I did mention the gender-bending, didn't I?) is also a celibate knight on a quest; the Exalt, as mentioned before, are literally blue-blooded and have split what remains of the ship into domaines which they rule through primogeniture; and the A.I.s are referred to as "angels" and all (except one) have taken (or were given? it's unclear) names straight out of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
But this is NOT fantasy dressed up as science fiction. It has all the trappings of a quest fantasy because it draws on those sources that quest fantasy evolved from, but these characters chose them consciously. The Exalt created their high-tech Medieval world, and their ancestors built the Biblical A.I.s, and the fact that there are two different sets of referents being used by two classes of individuals (the Exalt and the A.I.s) is totally consistent and meaningful. This is a consciously feudal future, one where terms like "Exalt" and "angel" are thrown around divorced from any sense of reverence or religious connotation (but again, not without a meaning that I don't want to spoil).
There are also all the social SF elements -- this is the future, and one of the understated ways Bear makes sure we don't forget that is the way their mores are not our mores. There are the three common genders, and there's a double-gendered individual (I couldn't tell for sure, but I don't *think* that was a common thing; there weren't special pronouns for the single double-gendered person so I'm assuming that that choice isn't common, though it didn't particularly surprise or apall the characters who met him/her/hir); there's sexuality of all stripes presented matter-of-factly, including incest (after all, if there's no worry about inbreeding leading to monsters. . .); there's also cannibalism as a matter of course, because an Exalt who consumes another Exalt gains access to their identity -- memories and personality included. And yet alongside that cannibalism everyone appears to be very casually vegetarian, because humans are wonderful at maintaining two mutually-exclusive world views, and I wouldn't expect that to be any different in the future.
Did you notice that this is only a 342-page novel? That's a lot to unpack, and that's one of the reasons I was engaged but not enthralled through the first 200 pages. Bear never hands the reader information -- all this world-building was accomplished without a single info-dump, and without any of the characters having those terribly awkward "As you know, Bob" conversations. But getting all that across and moving the quest along left less time than I would like to get to know the characters. Bear starts the novel at the last possible second (as you should, but as very few authors do, preferring to give their readers a few introductory chapters to make sure they're solidly grounded in the world and the people and the power structure) and that unfortunately means that I didn't have a clue why Rien and Perceval were acting the way they were at first. I had some guesses, and my guesses ended up being right, but it took 200 pages for me to be really comfortable in their skins, to feel like they were acting rather than reacting.
Once I was there I was with them body and soul, and the ending kind of floored me, but it took a while.(less)
This is a glorious book, Baker at the top of her form. It is indeed a "rollicking" adventure, full of high-jinx and one-upmanship, but more than that...moreThis is a glorious book, Baker at the top of her form. It is indeed a "rollicking" adventure, full of high-jinx and one-upmanship, but more than that it is an ode to the pioneering spirit in general and the Old West in particular. It is what Joss Whedon's Firefly was at its best, full of broadly-drawn but charismatic characters scrapping together the sort of life no longer allowed in more "civilized" parts of the galaxy. There is a gold rush of sorts, and a cattle stampede, and skeezy nefarious types looking to balk our heroes at every turn; there is also corporate espionage, religious intolerance, and some major technical obstacles to overcome in the still largely un-terraformed landscape; but mostly there is just a group of misfits bands together with ingenuity, stubbornness, and a judicious application of force to forge a kinder -- but much less gentle -- society in the wilderness.
For longtime readers of the Company novels some familiar faces appear -- Eliphal and Joseph, though Joseph is going by another name -- and the hand of the Company is clear in everything that occurs; but that backstory is largely opaque to the newcomer to the series, so this novel does read well as a stand alone. A newcomer might find some of the implications about our future a little peculiar, but rest assured that any strangeness is explained in the larger series, and it's really not the point of this novel anyway. This is not science fiction with any particular scientific or political or philosophical bone to pick; it's pure, unadulterated fun, much like the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom novels that the colonists lovingly pay homage to, except with less problematic gender and race relations and a veneer of scientific plausibility. (Baker does manage to keep the canals though.)(less)
This is an odd book, a standalone Company novel that I think would actually work better for someone who does not know the series than for those of us...moreThis is an odd book, a standalone Company novel that I think would actually work better for someone who does not know the series than for those of us who know and love it (which might explain the very lackluster reviews I've seen of it online).
Not Less Than Gods is written in a third-person omniscient near-objective mode, meaning the narrator knows everything about everyone in the story but rarely delves into their thoughts and feelings, staying detached. Despite what the jacket would lead you to believe, it never enters Edward's head -- he is a cipher to those around him and to the reader. I resented this mode at first -- it seemed to leave a great gaping hole in every scene -- but the introduction of Rabbi Canetti reveals that this was a very deliberate choice on Baker's part and one, in fact, that I believe would make the book for those who have not read the Company novels (and have the eyes to see it).
To one who has not encountered the Company before, this novel has a central theme -- the danger of creating a monster and then giving it a soul. It is a Frankenstein tale, plain and simple, with Dr. Nennys as Dr. Frankenstein and Edward as his monster -- a subtler monster than Shelley's, but just as horrifying to the average bystander and just as innocent. We the reader cannot see Edward's perspective for this to work, however, because he does not know that he is a golem; the objective tone Baker uses reinforces her message.
The novel still is not entirely effective; I think it would have been stronger had Baker dipped more into the ancillary characters' heads, and it is rather slow starting and episodic throughout. It is also more steampunk than I expected, paying far more attention to the workings of all the wondrous machines than were really warranted by the story. But I think that if I did not know the Company novels already, I would have been quite moved by the climax as Ludbridge watches Edward realize what exactly he is.
However, I do know the Company novels, and I have met Edward before. I know his history already. Most importantly, I know how much more of a complete person (as opposed to a golem with a soul) he is than this book gives him credit for, so I am resistent to giving him the pass that this book provides him on all those shady ethical issues. With all that extra knowledge, I was left almost entirely cold by the novel. I wanted, instead, the novel that the book jacket led me to believe this was -- a real dip into Edward's psyche before Mendoza ran into him in California, something more realistic psychoanalysis than allegory. Or, at least, something with a bit more humor and action, some of the dashing zest for life it seemed Edward had (in amongst his raging egomania).
So all in all I'm frustrated by this novel, but I nonetheless hope it does well, and it would be very nice if it finds an audience outside of Baker's core Company fans.(less)
I was worried there after The Machine's Child. I had begun to doubt that Baker had it in her to bring all of her plot strands together in any sat...moreWhew!
I was worried there after The Machine's Child. I had begun to doubt that Baker had it in her to bring all of her plot strands together in any satisfying way, and I had half convinced myself that she had grown fed up with her characters and was going to toss them out with the rest of the trash. I was even more worried that I was going to agree with that decision -- I certainly didn't like anyone much at the end of the last novel!
But this is the author that somehow turned every trope of heroic fantasy on its head in The House of the Stag to write a tale about a man destined to change the world who wanted nothing more than to be left alone to live and be happy. And The Sons of Heaven is very much in that vein. There are plots within plots within plots within plots centering around 2355, each plot encompassing the ones beneath it, and at least four other rogue strands that no one knows about; every character introduced in the series is brought back and dealt with in some fashion; and yes, the ending is just the tiniest bit too pat, too deus ex machina to feel completely right. But so much else is exactly right about this book -- Mendoza's family life, the Preservers' response to the Silence, the A.I.s. Baker answers questions I was worried she wasn't going to answer (the absurd linearity of Company time travel, for one) and questions I hadn't even bothered posing (the prevalence of idiot-savants in the future).
There was even some leavening of heartbreak (or at least melancholy), though it could have used a little more to make the ending feel deserved. Lewis and Princess Tiara under the hill; Ancilla back in 500,000 B.C.E.; Victor -- those moments made the blood and sweat and tears real, even if they were few and far between (and one of them, at least, got wrapped up too neatly too). I still think Baker wasted Joseph and Budu, but I loved the line of causality that tied Budu to Aegeus and Labienus -- a little selective amnesia is good for the soul. So all in all, while this series is far from perfect, it is one to be recommended -- quirky, irreverent, decidedly optimistic overall, and best of all warm and funny and wise. Ms. Baker will be sadly missed, and I am humbly grateful that she completed this series (and wrote much else) before her untimely death.(less)
Well, this was the one I was waiting for, but I'm rather sorry it is. . . Plenty of plot happened, characters that had been sidelined got reactivated...moreWell, this was the one I was waiting for, but I'm rather sorry it is. . . Plenty of plot happened, characters that had been sidelined got reactivated and moved into position, and there was actually enough time travel that I no longer feel guilty calling this a time travel series. (Though what happened to time travel being horrendously expensive? I guess only making the machines is expensive, because using them certainly didn't seem to be.)
Unfortunately, I absolutely hated Baker's rendition of the major characters. Mendoza as an amnesiac was fine, though without her memory she also lost the passionate ferocity that made her so winning. But in this book Alec became a caricature, nothing but the squeamish child of the future that he struggled so hard to rebel against in The Life of the World to Come; Nicholas Harpole's faith was broken and, while that's understandable, Baker's treatment of it wasn't particularly gripping; and Edward, who at the start of the book was the only man of the three worthy of Mendoza, maintaining both his adulthood and his faith in Reason, quickly degenerated into a single-minded fanatic. While I agreed with Joseph's assessment of Nicholas' type in Sky Coyote, I could understand Mendoza's love for him because he did cut a wonderfully romantic ideal -- but that ideal is totally lost in this book, and I was left wanting to consign all three of them to Options Research.
The worst tragedy for me, however, was that Joseph returned to the scene, and he got worked over far worse than Mendoza's loves did. He's been rogue since the end of The Graveyard Game, working on repairing Budu, and that time alone under Mount Tamalpais has apparently driven him insane. (How did his sanity hold up under 20,000 years of humanity's most horrifying acts, then break after only a couple of decades under the California coast?) The Joseph of The Machine's Child is a snivelling, whiny, twerp whose fixation on Mendoza is a bit creepy, and his father Budu doesn't seem like much of a prize either. I wanted to throw the book across the room every time a section from Joseph's perspective appeared.
In fact, many things made me want to throw this book across the room. There was a great deal of cheap conflict arising from characters not taking two seconds to talk to one another; Joseph appears to have completely forgotten about Lewis, who I thought was his friend; the Mars Two thing still just doesn't feel real enough for so many characters to harp on it (though to be fair, that's a problem with The Life of the World to Come, not this volume). It wasn't all bad -- I did giggle at Mendoza and Alec/Edward/Nicholas shopping in the supermarket, and in a couple other places -- but overall this was worst book in the series so far, and if it had come earlier on I don't know if I would have continued. But I have invested a lot of time in this series and these characters, and there's only one book left, so I just hope that the conclusion puts right the things that went horrible wrong here.(less)
There was finally a feel of momentum about the last Company novel (The Life of the World to Come) -- we finally reach...moreTwo steps forward, one step back.
There was finally a feel of momentum about the last Company novel (The Life of the World to Come) -- we finally reached the future, and quite a few events came to a head. The cast of characters appeared to be complete with the introduction of Mendoza's third (and final, I believe) lover and his devious Captain; we finally got into the heads of some of those poor short-sighted mortals nominally in charge of the Company, and we came within striking distance of 2355. Unfortunately, this volume squandered all that momentum by jumping far, far backward to fill us in on another event shadow -- the evil machinations of Labienus who, from sometime in prehistory, has been doing his best to undermine the Company's stated mission.
Which actually wouldn't have been terrible (though it was always destined to be frustrating) if Labienus had been rendered as fully as Baker's other viewpoint characters have been. Unfortunately, he remains throughout a caricature of frustrated desires and squeamishness. The implications from his being the only character in this universe to display homosexual urges left me a little queasy.
I don't think that Baker is particularly homophobic (she was in theater, for goodness' sake! in California!) and I believe she could have rendered Labienus a more complex character had she wanted to (though thinking about it, most of her bad guys have been a tad stock) but despite what the dust jacket says, Labienus isn't really the focus of the book. He's little more than a frame; the book literally shows us him going through his secret files for a page or two, then "remembering" a short story set from quite a few other Company operatives' perspectives.
We see Lewis at his best in an Ireland just being converted to Christianity; we see little Latif receive training from a Facilitator in Amsterdam; we see Kalugin's final dive into treachery; and we get Victor's story. Tragedies all, and most quite moving. We also see Budu and the ADONAI project from Labienus' perspective, as Baker maneuvers more of her plot into place. But I must say I resent the evil puppetmaster Labienus has been cast as, because (1) I just find it hard to believe a total sociopath could be produced through the indoctrination the Company uses on its Facilitators, and (2) it seems a rather creaky plot device.
Still, some of the short stories within nearly moved me to tears, and Baker's prose has become more polished -- there were several pieces of description that took my breath away. The series has come far enough from the passionate first-person narration of Mendoza and Joseph that I no longer crave that from it -- at this point, I just want the action to start! But the frustration shows how much Baker has me invested in these characters and this world, so of course I still have to recommend it. But just a warning to the universe at large: the payoff had better be fantastic!(less)
A word, first, on the publishing. Sometime between The Graveyard Game and this novel, Kage Baker switched to Tor. I am extremely grateful for that. Th...moreA word, first, on the publishing. Sometime between The Graveyard Game and this novel, Kage Baker switched to Tor. I am extremely grateful for that. The cover design is much sleeker, and there is a very definite style to the series covers from this point on, making it immediately obvious when you see the books lined up that they are, in fact, a series. The jacket descriptions, too, are much improved, as you can hopefully see from the one I included above. I just wish that Tor had the rights to the entire series, because the first four look very out-of-place on the shelf now. . .
To the story. The Graveyard Game felt unfocused, like nothing more than a transition; The Life of the World to Come does not have that problem. It's still told from the third-person, and does jump around in time, but it is entirely the story of Alec Checkerfield. Like In the Garden of Iden, it is a coming-of-age novel in the classic sense -- we see Alec from his very generation through to a major trial-by-fire and a falling in love. The one major issue I have with this novel, however, is the world Baker created for Alec to come of age in.
The future she has envisioned is pretty dire. It has been through several apocalypses of various sorts, and the few people that are left have emerged incredibly privileged, with advanced technology and all the resources of the planet at their disposal. As we got a glimpse of in Sky Coyote and The Graveyard Game, they have taken the supposedly moral high road on so many issues that they have completely whitewashed their own existence -- no real food (all stimulants and animal products are banned), no real sex, an abhorrence of violence of any kind, and all that extends so far that they can't even read books about such things, so they also have none of the cultural awareness that would at least come with education through literature. This means that they are perennial children, and Alec, as a product of that culture (though he naturally rebels against it) remains a child throughout as well.
Mendoza's previous two lovers were men with great strength of character, as noted in the description; Alec seems so weak compared to them that I highly doubt Mendoza would love him if he weren't genetically identical to her other loves. (Baker does provide a neat little explanation of why Mendoza fell so quickly for all three of the men, however, so maybe I'm wrong about that.) This makes the novel much less involving on an emotional level than the previous four, because all of the previous ones (yes, even the transitional The Graveyard Game) were imbued with passion -- in the two from Mendoza's perspective, passion for Harpole and Fairfax; in the other two Joseph's and Lewis' passion for Mendoza. The Life of the World to Come was more abstract. It moved the plot forward immensely, and I giggled at all the right places, but there were no moments that sank into my chest and made me feel. Even Alec's trial-by-fire seemed somewhat academic -- Alec himself simply wasn't mature enough to grow as I would expect from it.
But I would still strongly recommend this series, and I would still say that The Life of the World to Come is stronger than The Graveyard Game. Baker's prose is consistently good, the story moves along quickly, the ideas are fun to play with, and (best of all) each novel is a complete story arc that nonetheless moves forward the larger series story arc. This novel introduces some new players to the game (and I loved the Captain -- if more had been from his perspective I think Baker would have captured the passion of the earlier books in his love for his boy Alec) and gets us much closer to finding out what happens in 2355. I am still looking forward to each book, which is pretty darned good for a series of this length, I think.(less)
I did not expect to be able to count The Graveyard Game for my challenge; I thought I had filled all the categories this series could fill. However, B...moreI did not expect to be able to count The Graveyard Game for my challenge; I thought I had filled all the categories this series could fill. However, Baker makes a dramatic change to her series in this volume, and that change opened up a new category for me: she dropped the first-person narration and switched to third-person omniscient, so that she could follow both Lewis and Joseph as they took their diverging paths to finding the truth about Mendoza and the other operatives that have gone missing through the ages.
Lewis was a very minor character in Sky Coyote; no one will ever rival Joseph as my favorite character in this series, but Lewis was a nice addition to the mix, being very different from both Mendoza and Joseph. While Mendoza is passionate and self-centered and Joseph is cynical and a delightful mix of self-aware and self-deluding, Lewis is a gentle soul, artistic and romantic and not at all concerned with (or a concern of) the larger issues of Company politics and the Silence. He has also been quietly in love with Mendoza for centuries, so when he starts to get wind that something nefarious is connected with her disappearance, he forces Joseph to let him help.
This novel serves as a bridge between the first three Company novels, which were very narrowly focused around specific events, and the rest of series, which looks to be shaping up into a large, millennia-spanning epic. It also serves to move us very quickly from 1996 forward all the way to 2276, less than 80 years before the Silence that has caused such consternation among all the different factions in the Company. We get glimpses of the multitude of disasters that has depopulated the Earth and created the very childlike, Puritannical mortals we met in Sky Coyote; but Baker's focus is not on the world-building but on her characters. As Lewis gets more and more wrapped up in his investigation of who Edward Alton-Bell Fairfax was, Joseph is forced to confront all those things he had willfully blinded himself to for so long. The sections in his narration are the strongest of the book the same way Sky Coyote is the strongest volume in the series -- unfortunately, they are short enough that they can be set off in italics without risking eyestrain.
This volume does its job well, filling us in on all sorts of stuff Mendoza isn't aware of, but it isn't as emotionally satisfying as earlier volumes. It feels like a transition book, and should be read as such -- valuable in the information it provides, but not capable of standing on its own in any way. Those that have been titillated by the hints dropped in the previous three books about the Company will start getting their answers here, but those that enjoyed the previous three books for their narrow focus on individual characters and events may think that this is the point where the series jumps the shark.(less)
This third novel in the Company series reverts to Mendoza's first-person narration, and the transition did not go entirely smoothly. Mendoza is still...moreThis third novel in the Company series reverts to Mendoza's first-person narration, and the transition did not go entirely smoothly. Mendoza is still far more self-centered than Joseph, and that comes through her narration. We saw in Sky Coyote that Joseph wants her that way because he fears for her safety, but after being in the head of a character who is constantly paying attention to those around him and to events at large it's frustrating to come crashing back to Mendoza bitterness, self-pity, and deliberately narrow focus.
That shift in perspective made the first third of the book relatively rough going for me. Baker's writing style is still a trifle obvious, and there were no perfect moments as there were in Sky Coyote to make up for the downsides. So I spent my time instead wondering at the gender roles that are shaping up in the series and being a little put off. Of the two first-person narrators, obviously Joseph is the more well-rounded, adult character; but if you're going to have a male narrator and a female narrator in a parent-child relationship, obviously one of them has to be more adult and it might not mean anything that Baker chose the male to be the parent. But unfortunately (for me at least), those same character traits are given to another pair of male and female characters in this novel: Porifirio is the sort of operative who deals with being an immortal by watching out for the other immortals in his care and is justifiably wary of the Company while Imarte has retreated from the trauma of living an immortal life among mortals into a ferociously narrow focus on her work.
However, just as I was beginning to be really annoyed by Baker's female characters, the action picked up a bit and I was reminded of what was so enthralling about Mendoza's narrative in In the Garden of Iden. The few things that Mendoza lets herself care about she cares about passionately, and that gives her narrative more tension than Joseph's ever had in Sky Coyote, because whether it's the wild beauty of unsettled California or her beloved soulmate, both we the readers and Mendoza herself know that she is destined for heartbreak. It took much longer than I expected for Mendoza's Englishman to appear on the scene, but once he did I raced to the conclusion breathlessly, and once the book was finished I wanted to immediately pick up the next one.
There is just one other thing that bothers me about this installment of the novels of the Company: I'm now three books in and the damned story hasn't started yet! This is why I tend to avoid long series' like the plague. . . delightful though these three books have been, there is still the sense that they are merely the opening act of some great epic, and I am getting rather impatient to get to that epic. Luckily for me, I do believe the action commences in the next book; even luckier I think it returns to Joseph's narration. Needless to say, I will be picking it up as soon as possible.(less)
This second novel of the Company makes all of In the Garden of Iden feel like a prequel, and for those SF readers who don't like much romance I might...moreThis second novel of the Company makes all of In the Garden of Iden feel like a prequel, and for those SF readers who don't like much romance I might recommend starting here. It jumps ahead a couple hundred years and switches to Joseph's first-person narrative (I think the series is actually shaping up to switch back and forth between Mendoza and Joseph with every book, but I could be wrong), and it gets much more into the world-building that was so ruthlessly relegated to the background in the first novel. There's still nothing ground-breaking about Baker's set-up, but the glimpses of the world of the future begin to have a more coherent (if deliberately baffling) look.
Joseph is a delightful narrator, much wiser than Mendoza and less self-centered. He also has already done his growing up (way back in prehistory, as he was recruited somewhere around 18000 BC) and thus doesn't subject the reader to all the "oh my god the world is not what I was led to believe!" bit that goes along with any sort of coming-of-age story. Instead, he is the sort of character that is settled in his comfortable rut and keeps his head down when the fur starts to fly. He knows he's playing ostrich, but over the millennia he's gotten glimpses of some nasty things, and he very much doesn't want to be the one turning over all those rocks.
That, of course, makes him very human, no matter what Mendoza thinks of him. And that, of course is the major theme Baker is exploring in this series -- our common humanity, no matter what outer trappings we set up to differentiate ourselves from each other. That theme is very much made manifest in Baker's portrayal of the Chumash, which I also found delightful. The jacket description doesn't do them justice. . . they are not "noble savages," nor do they speak in metaphorical and broken English the way they do in far too many Western novels. . . instead, they are aggressively modern-thinking, and they use an economics vocabulary that I doubt was invented yet (at least not in the New World), but then realism isn't exactly the point.
But though the Chumash serve as the focus of the plot, Sky Coyote is there for many of the same reason In the Garden of Iden was: to introduce a key character and get him into position for the larger events in store. To that end, in this novel we also meet our first humans from the future where Dr. Zeus invented time travel and immortality treatments, that bright future that all the immortals living through history the long way are waiting to see, and their portrayal answers some of my questions and raises quite a few others. I was wondering, the entire time I was reading In the Garden of Iden, why on earth the Company didn't employ any adolescent psychologists who could tell them what the natural course of events would be given the way they raise their little immortal cyborgs (I mean, anyone with a lick of common sense could tell what was going to happen, but I acknowledge that the Company would likely need to hear it from someone with a degree or two before acting on it); now that I've seen some of the people who run the Company I understand why they didn't employ any adolescent psychologists. But now I'm left to wonder how on earth those people even formed Dr. Zeus Inc. -- a question Joseph is left wondering as well, so I assume Baker is going to answer it somewhere down the line.
I will admit, this novel wears its narrative on its sleeve -- I can just hear Baker thinking things like "and I'll insert a flashback here because the plot's getting a bit slow and I need to put this in somewhere" -- but the narrative voice is strong enough that I don't mind. And there is a moment, a single perfect moment, near the end of the novel (p. 285-286 for those who've read it and want to see what I'm talking about; I wouldn't dare try to paraphrase here because I couldn't do it justice) where Joseph is forced to look in the mirror and examine his choices over the last 20,000 years. It involves the Chumash, the Loony Tunes, and Philip Marlowe, and I wouldn't change a word of it. That moment is the same sort of moment I saw in the short story I read by Baker that made me start talking her up as a favorite author; that moment would have made a much weaker book worth the price. And the ending Baker gives Kenemekme is just as good, a wonderful bit of metaphysics and humanism that isn't overplayed like it could have been.
I will definitely be continuing this series, though I'm a little worried I'm going to hate switching back to Mendoza's voice. . . but then, I was a little worried about switching to Joseph's voice, so it'll probably be fine. :)(less)
My first encounter with Kage Baker was a short story in the anthology Wizards: Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy. Her contribution was the high...moreMy first encounter with Kage Baker was a short story in the anthology Wizards: Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy. Her contribution was the highlight of that collection for me, a brightly polished gem of a story small in scope and warmly, wonderfully knowing. On the strength of that story alone I decided I would love the author.
This was my first novel by Baker and her first novel as well, and if it was not quite as brightly polished as the short story (which was, after all, written a decade later) it still maintained all the wit, warmth and wisdom.
The premise has rightfully drawn comparisons to Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. The first chapter, which works as a sort of prologue, introducing The Company and its operatives, is a delight. I especially like the idea that time travel was invented as a byproduct of their invention of immortality, to test whether or not the process worked. But regular SF readers be warned: the first chapter is the only major SF world-building that occurs in this novel. I suspect there is more in later books in the series, but the focus of this novel is much smaller: it is a romance and a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of Queen Mary's marriage to Prince Philip of Spain and the subsequent Marian Persecutions in England.
There is very little to like about the young Company agent Mendoza. She is spunky, clearly, but also despises humanity and is supremely self-centered. She is, in short, a teenager. Smartly, the Mendoza that narrates the story is much older and wiser, and even if her wry, sardonic tone isn't groundbreaking, it is still very effective. Needless to say, the story Mendoza relates is the story of how she lost that self-centeredness and fell in love with one of the despised humans.
All of those elements, would fit nicely in a Connie Willis novel, and the story moves with ease between the lighthearted tone of To Say Nothing of the Dog and the darker, richer tone of The Doomsday Book. The love interest, Nicholas Harpole, however, would have absolutely no place in a Connie Willis novel -- he is cast from a mold that reminded me very strongly of Father Ignatius in Louisa May Alcott's A Long Fatal Love Chase. Harpole is a martyr, a soldier of god, and he aches to save his beloved's immortal soul -- little knowing her immortal body has already been bought and paid for by The Company. While I share Joseph's evaluation of Harpole far more than Mendoza's, the couple's plight delivers excellent narrative tension, matched nicely by the increasingly grim news reports the Company agents listen to on their subvocal radio. I spent the entire second half of the novel waiting for the guillotine to fall, and when it did I read breathlessly through to the end.
Ultimately, while In the Garden of Iden was not as good as either Connie Willis novel I mentioned, it showed great promise as the start of a series. I'll admit that I cheated and looked at the descriptions of the other books, so I know a bit of where the series is going -- it looks like there will be quite a bit more world-building in later novels, for instance -- but I think even if I did not know that, and if I hadn't loved that short story so much, on the strength of this novel Kage Baker would still have made my "buy immediately" list. Absolutely recommended.(less)