Kage Baker


The final book in the Company science fiction series.

Publication year: 2007
Format: print
Page count: 501
Publisher: TOR

This is the book where the series has been leading. I would recommend starting with the first book “In the Garden of Iden” rather than this one, if you haven’t read Baker before.

The book has multiple points-of-view. The main part is devoted to the Botanist Mendoza and her companions. These passages have a lot of wry humor and observations of domestic life. Unfortunately, I still find their situation more than a little creepy.

During the first half of the book we also follow a small girl who lives under a hill with Quean Barbie and her Uncles, and the stupids who live just to serve the others. The girl, who is initially called just Baby, finds a man who used to be a slave to the big people. But the man turns out to be alive, just hurt very badly. He’s Literature specialist Lewis who disappeared a long time ago.

We also follow Joseph who is busy freeing the old Enforcers and a couple of powerful Section heads, immortals who are poised to take over when the Silence starts. A couple of them want to destroy humans and one wants to protect humans. All of these powers have been building their powerbases and now, we finally see what will happen in 2355.

I felt the ending was somewhat too easy. Then again, we’ve been given so many hints and speculation about the Silence that I don’t know if anything would have been fully satisfying. It was certainly different from most SF (and fantasy) endings and Baker does weave all of the various plot threads together. Perhaps I was somewhat disappointed with just how cowering and ineffectual the human “master minds” are compared to the cyborgs they created. Of course, it was no surprise, because Baker has shown it plenty of times. Also, the more I see Alec, the less I like him and he has really taken over the series by now. But I thoroughly enjoyed the familiar immortals and their melodramatic ways, as usual.

The seventh book in the series.

Publication year: 2006
Format: print
Page count: 356
Publisher: TOR

“The Machine’s Child” continues from the cliffhanger at the end of the fifth book, “The Life of the World To Come”. At the end of that book something happened, which I didn’t know about and which I don’t want to spoil for any potential reader.

At the end of “The Life of the World To Come” Mendoza, the immortal cyborg botanist who was the main character in the first and the third book, was sent into a hellish place for rogue cyborgs where they are tortured forever. That place is situated in 300 000 BC. But Mendoza’s lover Alec and his companions have a time machine and they are tracking Mendoza to her jail. They manage to save her and the majority of the book is dedicated to Alec and Mendoza trying to heal each other and jaunting through time and Alec arguing with his companions. I really (mostly) liked the dynamic between Alec and his companions and the short vignettes of Alec and Mendoza in different times.

Unfortunately, the book also has a lot of things which I didn’t care for. Mendoza was hurt badly. In fact, so badly that Alec’s Artificial Intelligence (named Captain Morgan) has to rebuild her body. And he rebuild it as a fourteen year old girl. Mendoza has also lost her memory. Alec convinces himself (and his companions) that it’s best that Mendoza doesn’t remember her past. So he lies to her about her near past. But then he starts to lie more and more, about himself and about their shared past. I found this to be pretty icky. I started to hope that Mendoza would get her memory back and Alec would be held accountable for his lies. The longer this situation continued, the more uncomfortable I felt with it.

Also, I started the book liking Alec’s companions quite a lot (more than Alec) but then one of them makes a suggestion which was, well, beyond icky. And also I’m a bit puzzled as to why Alec is so enamored with Mendoza. One of his companions spent quite a lot of time with Mendoza so he could have fallen in love with her, but the other two have spent only a little time with her, so their almost instant adoration is a bit strange. Also, it was established in the fifth book that Alec (and his companions) have an almost magical ability to persuade others to do what he wants. So… is Mendoza’s love nothing more than reaction to that ability? Ick!

We also get to see some other immortals preparing for the year 2355 when the ominous Silence falls. Joseph is repairing his “father” and since he was the one who recruited Mendoza from the clutches of the Spanish inquisition, he thinks of himself as her father. So, Joseph is also trying to find Mendoza. Unfortunately, he blames Alec for ruining Mendoza’s life so he’s also trying to pay back to Alec. Both are trying to bring down the big bad, Dr. Zeus Incorporated.

Overall this felt like a yet another book whose main reason for existing is to prepare for the final conflict which should happen in the next book. And it ends with a cliffhanger!

The sixth book in the series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: print
Page count: 300
Publisher: TOR

The previous book, The Life of the World to come, furthered the series’s overall plot and the book ended in a cliffhanger. Sadly, this book doesn’t continue the story but instead explores a ruthless cyborg who is trying to build his own power base both in the human world and among his fellow immortal cyborgs. This book is a collection of short stories which have a framing story around them to knit them together. This framing story is about cyborg named Labienus who contemplates his works through the times. When I got over my disappointment that the story didn’t continue, I was able to just sit back and enjoy various cyborgs’ adventures through time. It is, after all, what attracted me to the series in the first place.

Executive Facilitator General Labienus is a very old cyborg. Before recorded history began, he set himself up as a god-king of Sumeria. He was called Enna-aru and he treated mortals cruelly. Still, they revered him and allowed him to enjoy a most luxurious life. In fact, Labienus longs to return to such times and resents the fact that after recorded history started, he has had to work from the shadows and among the stinking mortals. He would like nothing more than get back what he thinks is rightfully his. Like all cyborgs, he knows that something monumental will happen in the year 2355, when the Silence begins. The time traveling Dr. Zeus Incorporated doesn’t have any information about anything beyond this date. So, Labienus is planning his own coup to start in 2355 and needs to have everything in place by then.

The book is split between four different time periods by the framing story. In the first two parts, the short stories are actually of different time periods than the framing story. I greatly enjoyed most of the short stories but found the framing story to be a bit clumsy. In the short stories we follow the cyborgs Lewis, Latif, Van Drouten, Victor, and Kalugin when they are caught in Labienus’ web of lies. We also get to see a couple of unfortunate mortals struggling to understand the wider world than just their little monastery or garden.

The framing story is written in present tense while the short stories are written in the past tense and some of them use third person POV and a couple use the first person POV.

The fifth book in the series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 392 + an excerpt of the Garden of Iden
Publisher: TOR

The book starts with an extract from Mendoza’s journal. She’s an immortal cyborg and the main character of the series. Because of what she did in a previous book, Mendoza in Hollywood, she was sent to Way Back When, also known as 150 000 BC, to grow vegetables to the wealthy tourists from the future. But Dr. Zeus Inc.’s efforts to confine Mendoza doesn’t work. A man in a time shuttle appears. He’s from the future but looks exactly like Mendoza’s lost lover Nicholas, from the year 1555, and like her other lost lover Edward, from the year 1862. Mendoza is now convinced that the three men are actually the same man and that he can’t be human. When the man, Alec Chekersfield , tells her that he’s on a quest to destroy Dr Zeus and he comes from the year 2351, Mendoza realizes that he will succeed. Dr. Zeus Inc is almost omniscient company which owns the secrets of time travel and yet, in 2355 the Company will become silent. Nobody knows what will happen after that year. Mendoza will do everything she can to help Alec. He has stolen the time shuttle and so Mendoza disables the shuttle’s self-destruct device and teaches Alec how to control the shuttle. Alec promises to return and vanishes back into the future.

That’s almost the last we’ll see of Mendoza in this book which focuses on the life and times of Alec Chekersfield, and the three men who created him.

Three idle rich men call themselves the Inklings Nouveau. They all adore history and re-enact it to the extent that they can, considering that most things are banned in the future (such as coffee, cheese, chocolate, alcohol…). They work for Dr. Zeus designing the cyborgs which the company uses. One of their previous designs have become obsolete and they are asked to design a new breed of Enforces. They start to design a new man which they call Adonai, a template, or an image of, King Arthur. They will try out this new man in various times to see how he will act. At the same time, we see quite a bit of this future.

Alec lives with his parents and their servants in a boat and even though his mother is cold towards him and his father is a drunkard, he’s early life is relatively happy. But then he has to move to London and everything changes. His mother gets a divorce and he doesn’t seen again. His father stays for a short while and then leaves. Alec is raised by the servants and his Pembroke Playfriend which is an AI. The AI is supposed to have strong moral rules and teach them to the child, too. However, Alec is able to get into the AI’s systems and turns off the AI’s moral code. Now, the AI’s primary goal is to keep Alec safe and happy.

Alec is a genius but the AI, named Captain, advises him to keep that a secret. With the AI’s help, Alec nurtures his instinctive grasp of computers and becomes a smuggler.

The future in this series is pretty bland, just like in the previous books. Almost everything is banned from touching children to walking barefoot on grass. Public health monitors are watching all the time and if anyone behaves illegally, he or she is sent to a hospital. Yet, when Alec and Mr. Lewin go to a museum, it has a statue of Nelson because he kept England free from Napoleon who wanted everyone to behave the same. Meanwhile England and US are trying to get all other countries to ban cheese and meat as well. There are two Mars colonies but nothing is said if they’re more free or not.

Alec tasted real freedom on the boat where he spend his early years and he has no problem later becoming a rebel and breaking all sorts of laws. By contrast, the Inklings Nouveau are far more timid lot, only hesitantly breaking minor laws, such as set a fire in a fire place or walking barefoot in grass.

I really enjoyed this one. It revealed the secrets around Mendoza’s lovers and continued the major plot.

The fourth book in the series.

Publication year: 2001
Page count: 298
Format: print
Publisher: TOR

Lots of spoilers for the previous book, Mendoza in Hollywood!

At the end of the previous book the Botanist Mendoza was sent far away. Two other immoral cyborgs, Joseph and Lewis, are searching for her. Joseph recruited Mendoza from the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition and Lewis has apparently fallen in love with her. In addition to having some fatherly feelings toward Mendoza, Joseph is driven by guilt. For a long time, he has known that something is wrong. The cyborg who recruited him, one of the really old ones named Budu, has also disappeared but Budu gave Joseph a file first. Joseph has been too afraid to access it but now he’s forced to do so and he’s afraid of the information he finds there.

The story starts in Hollywood 1996. In the previous book Mendoza and another cyborg, Einar, were thrown forward in time from 1863 to 1996. This should be impossible but it turns out that Mendoza produces Crome particles which enable time travel. But she can’t control it.

Lewis witnesses Mendoza and Einar being sent back to 1863 where they are suppose to be. The Company doesn’t tell Lewis much about it but he investigates on his own. This is dangerous because he’s defying Company’s orders not to do so and the Company can and does monitor the cyborgs all the time: they have been engineered to send a continuous data stream to the Company. Lewis contacts Joseph who has accidentally gotten on his hands a device that can short circuit the data stream for a day. Joseph and Lewis question the last immortal who saw Mendoza. Later, Joseph questions another of the group who was stationed with Mendoza.

However, it takes a long to find out any clues about where Mendoza is and what else the Company is hiding, especially because it has to be in secret. The story takes place in 2025, 2142, 2225, and 2275. Lewis and Joseph meet and compare notes. We also find out a lot about the changes in the world. By the way, while the story jumps forward in time, the characters live through the years normally (if that’s the word for immortal cyborgs).

Between each jump forward in time, there’s an interlude called “Joseph in Darkness” where he talks about the search, about his motives and feelings and about the changes in the world. To other people they probably feel like infodumps but I was fascinated. We don’t, of course, know the details about how most of the world became vegetarian, for example, but I enjoyed the broad strokes, too.

Lewis is a Literature Specialist, not a secret agent. He becomes fascinated with the mortal man, Edward, who looks just like Mendoza’s first (and only) mortal love. Who was burned at the stake in 1554. In 1863 Mendoza left her post and killed mortals because of Edward. Lewis becomes convinced that Edward is some sort of Company tool, somehow living for centuries even though he’s suppose to just a mortal. Eventually, Lewis starts to write a book where Edward is one of the central characters. We also get to know his back story.

Joseph is a more serious character. He doesn’t actually want to be in danger but in the end, he feels too guilty about not find Mendoza and Budu earlier. He’s lived a long time and he doesn’t have a high opinion on humans.

The book has quite a lot of humor. In the future alcohol, tobacco, chocolate, and animal products have been made illegal and so the cyborgs do their best to indulge while they can. They can’t actually get drunk but chocolate produces the same kind of effect. So, there’s a scene where Lewis and Joseph are in a chocolate bar, drinking hot chocolate and eating chocolate, and the waiters wonder why they behave like they’re drunk. Lewis even snorts chocolate powder up his nose.

The previous books have hinted that the Company is doing pretty awful things but here we witness some of them first hand. Apparently, they’ve even taken a hand in human evolution. When humans still lived in caves, there was a large cult who killed anyone who tried to invent anything new. The Company decided that the cult should be exterminated and created a race of huge, aggressive cyborgs to essentially kill other people. Unfortunately, after a while they became too inconspicuous and the Company couldn’t have that. Unfortunately for the Company, the cyborgs can’t be killed so the Company had to something else with them. It seems that the Company don’t value the cyborgs as individuals but just for the work they do.

And then there’s the ominous year of 2355 when the silence starts.

The Graveyard Game advances the big plot a lot which was great. Mendoza isn’t seen in the book at all.

The third book about the immortal cyborgs who live through human history.

Publication year: 2000
Page count: 332
Format: print
Publisher: Tor

The Spanish Inquisition destroyed Mendoza’s family in the sixteenth century. Then employees of Dr. Zeus Incorporated, from the 24th century, made the child an offer to become part of something larger and wonderful. Mendoza didn’t really have a choice and so she was turned into an immortal cyborg who would live through human history and gather various items and see momentous moments. Mendoza is a botanist and she doesn’t really care for the company of people. She loathes mortal men and can barely tolerate fellow cyborgs. She fell in love with one mortal man when she doing her first mission as a cyborg. It was 1555 in England and Mendoza was very young. The man was Nicholas Harpole, a devoted Protestant, and things didn’t go well. Nicholas was burned at the stake and Mendoza is still haunted by his memory.

The book starts with a brief overview of Dr. Zeus and how the time traveling cyborgs can’t change known history but they can apparently interfere with the lives of unknown people and events. The story is told by Mendoza; it’s her statement to three people.

Mendoza has been living away from people for the past 150 years doing her botanical research. It seems that she’s been happy. However, now she’s been assigned to a more populated area: the outskirts of Los Angeles in 1862. She’s staying at a stage couch inn with five other immortals: the Facilitator Porfirio, Anthropologist Oscar, Zoologist Einar, Ornithologist Juan Bautista, and the Anthropologist Imarte. They’re a very entertaining group. Imarte works as a prostitute because that’s a good way to get men talking about their lives. Mendoza met Imarte before and they don’t like each other. Juan Bautista collects animals before he sends them on to Dr. Zeus and he also rescues a baby condor who then refuses to leave him, ever. Juan Bautista is also still a teenager and he loves his animals very much. Oscar is a traveling salesman and he strikes up a bet with Porfirio that he will be able to sell a very expensive pie cabinet. Unfortunately, the people living in the area are too poor to buy it.

In addition to being a zoologist, Einar is a film buff. The movie industry hasn’t yet started so Einar shows Mendoza the places where all sorts of things will happen in the future. He also arranges viewings for various old films. We also get to know how the others became immortal. Oscar even has a mortal family, his baby brother’s family, and he’s trying to keep them safe.

The first two thirds of the book is about Mendoza getting to know these people and getting comfortable with them. She gets nightmares about Nicholas and she’s producing “crome radiation” during them. The plot doesn’t really kick in until late in the book even though there are a few mysterious events before that. These are probably part of the longer storyline.

The book has a lot of showing rather than telling but that didn’t really bother me, except when Mendoza describes nine hours long movie and her companions’ reactions to it. I was seriously thinking of just skipping it. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it when Oscar told us about his family and Einar told about a strange bar in LA. Maybe it’s because I used to be a Wild West fan in my teens and I’m still somewhat of a history buff.

Mendoza in Hollywood is similar to the previous book, the Sky Coyote, in that there doesn’t seem to be a plot as such, but more like a character study of the various immortals. Luckily, I found that fascinating. In fact, I’ve ordered the rest of the series since the Finnish library system doesn’t have any of Baker’s books.

My last review to the Curled up with a Good Book -site during 2009: Kage Baker’s the Empress of Mars.

Fun, light-hearted science fiction.
4 stars from 5

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