RogerBW's Blog

Black Projects, White Knights, Kage Baker 18 January 2019

2002 science fiction, fourteen short stories in The Company series.

  • Introduction: The Hounds of Zeus is a frame story of sorts, but it's mostly there to give an introductory idea of roughly what's going on in the universe; it doesn't really go anywhere.

  • Noble Mold has Joseph and Mendoza working together in 1844, digging up an obscure vine; but its owners are reluctant to part with it, even for a great gift. Repentance and forgiveness (of the self and of others) are the themes, and because this is Baker that's happening on multiple levels at once, dammit she was just good at this stuff.

  • Smart Alec is the first of several stories about the childhood of Alec Checkerfield… about whom the reader taking the series in order will know nothing, so it's not at all obvious why he's significant (though it's pretty clear that something is distinctly unusual about him). But he is a good viewpoint into the human world of the 24th century, and how a born rogue can flourish even in a world of constant psychological monitoring. (This particular piece is largely reworked into the next novel.)

  • Facts Relating to the Arrest of Dr. Kalugin is set in 1831 in the short-lived Russian colony in California (yes, of course it's historical, Baker was clearly an expect on Californian history) and introduces a different sort of immortal.

  • Old Flat Top is told by one of the Enforcers, giving their perspective on the world and the way things changed over time. There's a particularly fine barbed ending.

  • The Dust Enclosed Here has an artificial-intelligence recreation of William Shakespeare as an interactive museum exhibit (his plays themselves have long since been banned as psychologically unhealthy), and does a light-handed job of examining the ethics of the situation as well as considering what he might do.

  • The Literary Agent has Facilitator Joseph pestering Robert Louis Stevenson in 1879 – not for a novel, but for a plot treatment that can be "discovered" and turned into a "new Stevenson film". But the client wants a few changes… this is one of the funniest pieces here.

  • Lemuria Will Rise! follows Mendoza trying to track down an obscure flower on the California coast… but there's a mad mystic mortal who seems to be able to do things no mortal should be able to manage. Not that he's dangerous; he's just planning to found a school of Lemurian knowledge while he waits for the city to rise again from the waves…

  • The Wreck of the Gladstone follows Kalugin and Nan d'Arraignee in a salvage mission: Kalugin went down with the ship as is his usual job, but wasn't able to retrieve the object he was trying for, so now they're having another go. But someone else is also trying to dive the wreck.

  • Monster Story is another story of Alec Checkerfield, dealing with the Sorting at age ten, when children have their paths in life chosen – whether that's a job, idle wasting, or Hospital. It's a little heavy-handed, as the "future" stories sometimes are.

  • Hanuman is told largely by an uplifted Australopithecus Afarensis – not a successful project, so they didn't make any more, but he's had his uses. As with Noble Mold there's also a probe into Mendoza's psychology.

  • Studio Dick Drowns Near Malibu deals with one of Joseph's deaths, in Hollywood in 1938, and how his rebirth into a new life becomes unreasonably complicated. Mortals, what can you do?

  • The Likely Lad is the third story of Alec Checkerfield, covering smuggling and romantic experiments.

"You think this is easy for me? Me, what only started out as a Playfriend module? If they'd got you the Pembroke Young Person's Companion I'd have had some files on puberty ready-made, but oh no, poor old Captain Morgan's only rated ages two to eleven, everything else he's got to improvise on his damned own, ain't he?"

  • The Queen in Yellow shows Literature Specialist Lewis on an archaeological expedition in 1914, recovering a mummy planted centuries earlier by other Company agents; but Flinders Petrie is not a stupid man. There's also a very fine parrot.

  • The Hotel at Harlan's Landing is mostly a mood piece, with a shipwreck on a stormy night, and one of Budu's Enforcers (or is he?).

You could start the series here, I suppose; you wouldn't know why Mendoza is the way she is, but you could pick up the basics of the setting. I find it interesting for the way it fills in the backgrounds of minor characters we've already met, and introduces new ones, while also setting moods and giving food for thought… all at short-story length. Followed by The Life of the World to Come.

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