RogerBW's Blog

Sky Coyote, Kage Baker 02 December 2018

1999 science fiction, second of The Company series. The immortal cyborg Facilitator Joseph finds himself with the task of talking a Chumash village into coming to work for the Company rather than hanging around to be wiped out when the Spanish arrive in California.

At least that's the core of the story. But not a great deal actually happens in that core: we see the Company's procedures at work, the way they preserve as much information as they can get while scooping up the locals to be menial labourers (though, of course, still rather better fed and healthier than they'd have been at home, not to mention not wiped out by missionaries). And these natives aren't In Tune With Nature, or Spiritual Beings, or anything othering like that; they're people, and some of them are annoyingly clever.

But that's only the surface of what's going on. The first section of the book happens at New World One, the recreation facility in the Americas where the cyborgs go between missions; and, as with any group of people with too little to do, they spend their time playing games of politics and appearances. (And their mortal servants aren't stupid; they can tell that the gods are imperfect beings too.)

"Houbert's supposed to be giving me valuable insights into running a base. This morning's lesson seems to be What to Do If One Runs Out of Marzipan Petits Fours When One Is Expecting an Important Guest for Brunch. I hope you like the damned things."

Once the mission proper begins, we meet humans from the Company's future: disgusted that the cyborgs still eat meat, drink alcohol, and so on. Meanwhile the cyborgs find the humans childish and fear-prone. Some of the cyborgs wonder whether they really ought to be trying to take over, given how little time the humans have for the cyborgs; others wonder whether perhaps this has already happened. (After all, could people like that really have set up the huge project that The Company has become?) And is time really immutable, the way they've always been told it is? It's very convenient for The Company that they believe that.

They're too delicate for this end of time, that's all. We see venison, they see Bambi. We see swordfish steaks, they see Friendly Flippy lying murdered.

It also becomes clear that, although there's time travel going on, nobody ever talks about what happens after 2355. And cyborgs who ask too many questions about that have a way of being reassigned elsewhere and never seen again. And they aren't the only ones; Joseph is one of the few people old enough to remember the Enforcers, who did sterling service back in 20,000BC, but who have gradually disappeared since.

You know why I've survived in this job, year after year, lousy assignment after lousy assignment, with no counseling whatsoever? Because I have a keen appreciation of the ludicrous. Also because I have no choice.

There's an awful lot of build-up here, in other words, and a lot of it isn't paid off until rather later in the series. Such action as there is mostly deals with the Chumash and Joseph's interaction with them (disguised as Sky Coyote). Mendoza is a side character, but she's mostly suffering from post-traumatic stress and doesn't do very much.

As a stand-alone book or an entry point to the series I wouldn't recommend it, but as a continuation of what's gone before and an introduction to some significant characters it works rather better; and Joseph's story is fascinating in itself. Followed by Mendoza in Hollywood.

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Previous in series: In the Garden of Iden | Series: The Company | Next in series: Mendoza in Hollywood

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