This book was a chore to read for me. Many of the issues that annoyed me about it won't necessarily get under another reader's skin: the jacket promisThis book was a chore to read for me. Many of the issues that annoyed me about it won't necessarily get under another reader's skin: the jacket promised me one story, but through the first third I had only seen that story three times, as Blaylock instead showed a historical timeline (and its history just struck me as off, somehow); too many of the viewpoint characters were Evil (as in, *just* evil, acting solely out of greed and, well, evilness); the book touched on a number of issues that are personal for me (southern California, depression, mental illness, and child care to name the biggies) and while I can't say that Blaylock gets them *wrong* I can say they felt wrong, and felt manipulative; and finally, the portrayal of women (three total innocents, two batshit crazy evil chicks, and while that could just be a product of the Good/Evil divide, the one major male antagonist had a sympathetic reason for being the antagonist) just pissed me off.
But I could probably have looked past all that if it weren't for the failings I saw as inherent to the novel itself. I was promised something atmospheric, haunting, evocative; I got a fantasy story of the most literal sort. Everything that happened plot-wise was obvious, and all the descriptions were labored (at least to a California native; maybe readers who've never seen a chapparal environment needed all the repetition). There was a fair amount of "Oooo, what shall I do next to spite the hero, muwahahaha!" internal dialogue and my least-favorite storytelling trope ever, "I can't tell so-and-so this piece of information that will save all our lives because. . . I just can't." And while I know those last two items do often work for other readers and so should maybe be in the first paragraph, they're just so bad that any writer that uses them goes on my "never read again" pile....more
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 thatThis 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.)...more
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 satWhew!
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....more
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 reactivatedWell, 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....more
There was finally a feel of momentum about the last Company novel (The Life of the World to Come) -- we finally reachTwo 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!...more
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. ThA 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....more
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, BI 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....more
This third novel in the Company series reverts to Mendoza's first-person narration, and the transition did not go entirely smoothly. Mendoza is stillThis 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....more
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 mightThis 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. :)...more
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 highMy 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....more