Thursday, November 08, 2007

Mendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker

Mendoza in Hollywood
Kage Baker

Mendoza in Hollywood is Kage Baker’s third novel about the Company operatives tasked to preserve missing historical artifacts and planet and animal life which would otherwise become extinct. The operatives work for the Dr. Zeus Company and due to the scientific discoveries of the 24th Century, the operatives are once human, but now immortal cyborgs. Baker’s first Company novel, In the Garden of Iden, introduced us to both The Company and to Mendoza, a Spanish child saved from the Inquisition and made more and less than human to work for The Company as a Botanist. In that first novel she fell in love with a mortal man but had to watch him die because the Company could not and would not intervene. She grew bitter and disillusioned and betrayed and spent centuries working alone in the California wilderness during the 1700’s. Now, during the 1860’s, Mendoza is assigned to the region which would eventually develop into Hollywood. California in the 1860’s was a rough place, but Mendoza is not alone. She joins a crew of operatives with their own tasks of recording the culture of the region, taking samples of the local fauna, and a variety of other jobs to do for The Company.

When Mendoza in Hollywood opens, however, Mendoza is narrating her story to Company interrogators. We learn early that Mendoza has killed several mortals, which is an absolute taboo for The Company. Mendoza in Hollywood is narrated by Mendoza in captivity as an explanation for how she got to the point where she would and could kill mortals and why she did so. This is hanging over every part of the novel, that at some point Mendoza may snap and kill and we don’t know why. Mendoza is upset about the new assignment, but she also seems to enjoy the company of her fellow operatives.

Kage Baker takes us on a journey through the Hollywood wilderness before it became Hollywood. Because of the nature of the Immortals, Baker is able to reference hundreds of years of Hollywood history, some of which we know and some of which has not happened yet. There are screenings of classic movies, and a tour of the future homes of celebrities. But, Mendoza in Hollywood is also the story of a very emotionally broken Immortal. Mendoza has accepted the death of Nicholas, but hundreds of years later she still has not gotten over it. It changed her irrevocably.

With each novel Kage Baker tells a very different story. In the Garden of Iden was partly a Victorian romance, Sky Coyote was a classic trickster tale of indigenous culture. Mendoza in Hollywood is a western complete with bandits and prostitutes. With each novel Kage Baker develops what we know and suspect of The Company. There are further more references to that mysterious year in the future where there is no further information coming from The Company and speculation as to what that means (though less speculation than in Sky Coyote). There are little tidbits that build the reader’s understanding and sense of wonderment about the greater world of the future even as the characters are slowly making their way through the past.

The Company novels have improved steadily with each new entry. Mendoza in Hollywood is a stronger piece of fiction and storytelling than either In the Garden of Iden or Sky Coyote was, and Sky Coyote was an entertaining story indeed. Finishing Mendoza in Hollywood serves to whet my appetite for the next Company novel The Graveyard Game.

Thinking about the conclusion of Mendoza in Hollywood makes me question something of the nature of time travel in regards to The Company novels. Since time travel requires that a person can only move backwards in time and forward only up to the original departure time, what happens if an operative is working in one time period (A) and is subsequently sent back farther in time (B)? If said operative is not moved from the time period he or she is sent to (B) would not said operative from (B) eventually co-exist at the same time as the operative was originally in (A)?

That may not have made sense.

Let me try again. I was born in 1979 and in 2007 I am a Company operative working to preserve the great novels lost to history. After I preserve the works of Matthew Stover (for example) I am sent back to 1712 to do something literary. Now, I already existed between 1979 and 2007 otherwise I could not have been sent back in time to 1712. I’m immortal, so I’ll live forever. If nothing else changes I will live from 1712 back to 1979-2007. Because I had to exist in 1979 in the first place (otherwise this is all moot) starting in 1979 there has to be two of me existing at the same time: the me born in 1979 and the me that was sent back in time.

So how does that work? Obviously the me born in 1979 will do whatever I did until 2007 when I was sent back in time...but isn’t there a potential paradox or conflict with two of me existing at the same time? I know Back to the Future solves this by having the time traveling Marty / Doc not reveal himself to the past Marty / Doc, but wouldn’t that still cause an issue if I wanted to check in on myself in high school or elementary school? Or is the problem solved by the fact that had the older Joe actually interfered in young Joe’s life I would have remembered it because it had happened and changed nothing because it had to happen?

And my head just exploded.

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