Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sky Coyote, by Kage Baker

Sky Coyote
Kage Baker

Kage Baker followed her debut In the Garden of Iden with the highly entertaining Sky Coyote. Both In the Garden of Iden and Sky Coyote are novels of The Company. The Company is an organization from the 24th Century which has discovered both the secrets of both time travel and immortality. Immortality, however, comes at a price. The procedure is too dangerous for adults and can only be performed on human children, and doing so makes them cyborgs, as robotic as they are human. The scientists who discovered the secrets of immortality are unable to reap the benefits themselves. Time Travel has its own catch: A person can only go into the past and then back to the "present day" they left. The cost is exorbitant. One other thing: Recorded history cannot be changed. The Company operatives work in the grey areas between the recorded events of history. They take samples of extinct plants and animals, record the lost cultures of the world, and in some cases remove individuals from the past for further study. At the same time they amass a great fortune for The Company as they recover the "Lost Treasures" of history, be it art or artifacts.

In the Garden of Iden introduced us to Mendoza, a young girl taken by The Company during the Spanish Inquisition, trained up, and given a job to do. Sky Coyote is set several generations after the events of In the Garden of Iden but focuses more on Joseph, the Company operative who recruited Mendoza. Joseph is sent to Old California to live as one of the gods of the Chumash, their Sky Coyote. He is to prepare one village of the Chumash to be preserved by the Company. The Chumash will be all killed by the Spanish in a generation or two and all that will be left is the empty pueblo villages.

The great surprise and fun of Sky Coyote is that the Chumash are not the primitives that Joseph (and the reader) expected. Oh, sure, the Chumash are not technologically advanced, but they are clever and intelligent and nearly as modern in other ways: They have unions, guilds, trade, festivals, culture, capitalism, and they feel like a modern day society with some primitive traditions. The fun of Sky Coyote is watching Joseph interact with the Chumash and be their trickster god.

In the Garden of Iden was an impressive debut for Kage Baker and The Company, but it suffered a bit in pacing of the novel. Sky Coyote surpasses Iden on nearly all levels. Baker is able to mix together the Chumash work with the Company operatives together at their facility and also with Joseph's backstory, as well as a bit of foreshadowing for the future of The Company. Bakers mixes this all together and still forms a coherent and clear narrative with plenty of entertaining banter and a good sense of wonder at both the Chumash as well as The Company. If the rest of The Company novels are up to the level of Sky Coyote, this could be an exceptional fantasy series.

Sky Coyote makes solid improvements upon the foundation of In the Garden of Iden and extends the series and even hints at what the next entry could be. Just as important, there is no need to have read In the Garden of Iden to understand Sky Coyote. Both novels are linked by The Company, but Sky Coyote gives enough intro to what the Company is, and the history between Mendoza and Joseph. Sky Coyote tells its own story independent of Iden. Jump in at either novel and you'll be satisfied. In fact, I would recommend Sky Coyote over Iden as the starting point as Sky Coyote is a better novel.

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