No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, March 20, 2006

#23: The Graveyard Game -- Kage Baker

I've been a fan of Kage Baker's Company series since I read In The Garden of Iden in the late 90s: for some reason, though, I'd let this volume languish on the shelf for months. It drew me back into that milieu instantly. The basic scenario -- time-travelling cyborgs, made immortal by the Company (a.k.a. Doctor Zeus, a.k.a. the Kronos Foundation, a.k.a. many other names), labouring to preserve artworks, animals, plants, cultural treasures that might otherwise be lost -- is intriguing enough. As the series progresses, the dark underside of immortality is brought to light, and the justifiable paranoia of the Company's agents is assuming a very definite shape.

By The Graveyard Game, Botanist Mendoza is incommunicado somewhere, having crossed Doctor Zeus and been punished for her crimes. The novel focusses on her mentor Joseph (who, before he was immortal, watched his father make cave-paintings in what would one day be Basque country) and on Literature Specialist Lewis, who hasn't ever quite recovered from an encounter with a race of beings who seem to be working against the Company. Their quest to find Mendoza, and to discover what happens in 2355 -- the year of the Silence, after which there are no more communications from their masters in the future -- becomes more fraught and dangerous, and they uncover more questions than answers.

This is the darkest of the novels so far, I think: Joseph's world-weary cynicism and Lewis's emotional fragility sit badly with their work for the Company. There is more and more evidence to suggest that the Enforcers -- an early batch of immortals, not exactly human, created to 'save' humanity from an especially warlike prehistoric faction -- are not as extinct as the Company would like its operatives to believe. And the more they find out about Mendoza's 'crime', the more suspicious they are of her mortal lover Nicholas, burnt at the stake in 1555. The future's dark, and getting darker.

Baker's humour is crow-black and wry. In amid descriptions of some truly nasty warfare (it takes a lot to damage an immortal) and the follies of their mortal masters, there's the tale of Audrey Knollys and her grotesquely sentimental trilogy The Commonwealth of Innocents -- a tale of peaceful animals ganging up on predators, a work of 'literature' held to have tipped the balance in favour of the Mandated Vegan Laws. (Lewis, it turns out, got to the author's home before her executors: the world was spared another volume.) Lewis and Joseph are treated to an impromptu tour of locations mentioned in the novel: but Joseph recognises one hill as another sort of landmark, the site of the Ninth Legion's last battle ...

Baker is good at humour, and pacing, and intricate plot-lines. The Company books, in particular, remind me of Julian May's Saga of the Exiles -- not because of the time-travel element, but because of the confidence with which both writers handle a large cast and an epic tale.

And once I'd read this, I had to get up to date ...

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