RogerBW's Blog

The Children of the Company, Kage Baker 07 February 2019

2005 science fiction, sixth of The Company series. Executive Facilitator General Labienus muses on his long life.

This is another book that spends its time away from the principal characters; it's also one assembled in part from shorter material, not only the Hugo-nominated novella Son Observe the Time, but also the short stories The Fourth Branch, The Queen in the Hill, Black Smoker, The Young Master and The Applesauce Monster. There is a framing story, but really this is a piecework disguised as a novel, and I think I might have preferred it as that piecework.

The groundwork has been laid for several of these stories. We had already wondered what happened between Victor and Budu on the eve of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, or to Lewis under that hill in sixth-century Ireland and why he couldn't remember it; here we find out, and unlike many explanations these don't fall flat. Yes, they confirm one particular line of reasoning, but at the same time they open up new possibilities, so that there's still something interesting to speculate about.

All the same, he did not think he'd give the order to evacuate until the fighting reached the temple complex. He could imagine it breaking around his ziggurat like a red tide. The screams, the smoke, the pitiful crying, the foolish little figures dragging themselves like ants... the curious chop a flint axe made, breaking a skull... it was with a pang of disappointment that he realized they were in the Bronze Age now, and he might never hear the music of a flint edge again.

Many of the viewpoint characters here are villainous. But all of them are human, and have complex reasons for doing what they do… and at the same time it's never just a simple "this bad thing happened, and affected his life". While this series is not afraid to tell big stories, it roots everything in personal experience, and this works superbly not only to make things understandable but to maintain a sense of perspective, of just how big those big stories are when considered on a mere human scale, and how inadequate the humans (even those humans who happen to be immortal cyborgs) are to manipulate them.

I can tell you, it requires a great deal of mental and emotional self-discipline to live side by side with mortals in a Salvage Zone. You must look, daily, into the smiling faces of those who are to lose all, and walk beside them in the knowledge that nothing you can do will affect their fates.

We also learn about the complicated relationship between Labienus and Budu; but this is a book for the enthusiast. Absolutely don't start the series here; and if you're not enjoying it but you want to carry on with the main narrative, feel free to skip it (as I did the first time I read the series, since I couldn't readily get hold of a copy). This is a wallow of a book, rather than one to drag in the new reader. Followed by The Machine's Child.

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Previous in series: The Life of the World to Come | Series: The Company | Next in series: The Machine's Child

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