RogerBW's Blog

In the Garden of Iden, Kage Baker 23 November 2018

1997 science fiction, first of The Company series. In sixteenth-century Spain, Mendoza is plucked from the dungeons of the Inquisition by time-travellers who have need of local labour.

There's a substantial infodump at the start of this book, but it's such a glorious conceit that I forgive the error. In the future, a group of merchants and scientists invents time travel and a limited form of immortality; history is immutable and you can't jump forward from your own time, but there's nothing to prevent you from being sneaky. So Dr. Zeus Incorporated builds up a network of agents to buy property in the past and pass it over to them in the future, as well as looting "lost" books and artworks, "extinct" plants and animals, and such like, storing them in hidden places, and "rediscovering" them in its own time. And upgraded locals make for good agents; they don't complain as much about the lack of toilet paper.

At about this point, the scientist members of the cabal protested that Dr. Zeus's focus seemed to have shifted to ruling the world, and hadn't the Mission Statement mentioned something about improving the lot of humanity too? The merchant members of the cabal smiled pleasantly and pointed out that history, after all, cannot be changed, so there was a limit to how much humanity's lot could be improved without running up against that immutable law.

There's a lot more to the background than that, but this is only the first book, and the big secrets aren't even on the horizon yet. (Though there are some pointers to mysteries; for example, nobody really seems to know where Dr. Zeus is getting its direction from, what with goodies just falling into their laps every day.) Mendoza is made into an immortal cyborg, trained as a botanist, and exposed to a stiff dose of propaganda. (Yes, of course the cyborgs will be a welcome part of society when they live into the future. And of course the historical mortals are horrible dirty monkeys who don't know any better.)

It wasn't all that different from any particularly demanding boarding school, except that of course nobody ever went home for the holidays and we had a lot of brain surgery.

So that's the setup. The story is not, particularly, about time travel; Mendoza is sent to England to take samples of rare plants that will be lost in the future, from the garden of Sir Walter Iden in Kent. It's 1554, and Spaniards are suddenly welcome in England in the wake of Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain, but religious sympathies are dangerous things to hold firmly. And Mendoza may be an immortal cyborg stuffed full of knowledge, but she's also a nineteen-year-old girl with little experience of the world.

This is a romance (though not a Romance that you could label and sell as such) in science-fiction clothing; it's a character study of the young Mendoza (and Nicholas Harpole, the mortal with whom she falls in love), and differences in world-view (the immortality, yes, but also how things can be burningly important to one person and irrelevant to another); and it's setup for the rest of the series (seven more novels plus quite a few short stories). Sometimes the balance doesn't entirely hold, but for me this is a solid book in its own right as well as the beginning of a fine series – which I'm now re-reading.

Followed by Sky Coyote.

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Series: The Company | Next in series: Sky Coyote

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