RogerBW's Blog

In the Company of Thieves, Kage Baker 28 March 2019

2013 science fiction, six short pieces in The Company series; five were previously published, and the last was written by Baker's sister for this collection.

Many of the previous stories have had a feeling of familiarity, of returning to well-known characters and learning a bit more about them. There's some of that here, but it's not the major emphasis.

The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park has another failed immortal, who's been found an undemanding job of going out and observing. But he's able to like things as well as just recording them, and someone else seems to appreciate those things too.

The Unfortunate Gytt is an early tale of the Gentlemen's Speculative Society, starting with an initiation, and carrying on to… a realisation that wasn't, for the most part, brought into other tales, and that's something of a pity.

The Women of Nell Gwynne's is the same piece I reviewed as a stand-alone novella; it still feels more like setup for a series than like a piece intended to stand on its own.

Mother Aegypt is a bizarre piece; on the one hand it's a character study of Amaunet, one of the immortal tools of the Plague Cabal, who wants only to die and is unable to do so; but on the other hand it's a farce with a luckless con-man who joins Amaunet's party while fleeing from something that might, after all, not have been worse. It's really rather fine.

"I am obviously not a real clown, madame," he protested. "I am a victim of circumstances, calumny and political intrigue. If I could tell you my full story, you'd weep for me."

She grinned, a brief white grin so startling in her dark, still face that he nearly screamed.

"I doubt it," was all she said.

Also giant chickens.

Rude Mechanicals brings us back to the superb double-act of Joseph and Lewis in 1930s Hollywood; this time they're trying to recover a lost diamond, so huge that nobody who sees it regards it as valuable, against the backdrop of a stage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Hollywood Bowl. There's some of the same madcap chase feeling as in A Night on the Barbary Coast, and I'd love to show this to Connie Willis as an example of how to have your protagonists temporarily overcome by the awkwardnesses and friction of everyday life while at the same time not seeming like wimps.

"You get too used to a comfy chair, or a nice view, and you start thinking like a mortal. You get scared to let go of things. You put down roots someplace and, if you're lucky, the Company yanks you out and transfers you halfway around the world. If you're not lucky, you stay on for fifty or sixty years and watch all your mortal neighbors die, while the neighborhood goes to hell. Travel light, Lewis, and keep your mind on the job."

"And carry only memories?" said Lewis.

"Not if you can help it," Joseph replied. "They weigh more than ten years' worth of National Geographic Magazine, sometimes.

Finally, Hollywood Ikons, written by Bartholomew from notes by Baker, continues with Lewis and Joseph, this time chasing down some pieces that are just a bit too well-tuned to the human psyche, mind-affecting ikons from Constantinople that have been lost in the Company's books and now have to be handed over to… hang on a minute…

And of course, I did understand it. I had just never imagined doing anything like this. We were supposed to be the good guys! But Dr. Zeus, in his infinite and omniscient wisdom, didn't choose sides. He played all sides against the future, for goals and reasons not obvious to we who slogged through the mud of Time. This time, there was apparently a great good reason for me to deliver mind-altering religious objects to the Nazis.

Like a student of American cinema didn't know where that was headed....

I knew this job was too easy.

It's less light than Rude Mechanicals but there's plenty of fine dialogue between Joseph and Lewis, who sometimes seem in retrospect like the real stars of the series.

And that completes my (re-)reading of The Company. Damn fine books even if I'm not entirely impressed by the core Mendoza plot.

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See also:
The Women of Nell Gwynne's, Kage Baker

Previous in series: Not Less than Gods | Series: The Company | Next in series: The Women of Nell Gwynne's

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