Aw hell, I forgot all these books

I read seven more books in April than I reviewed here (oops).  To wit:

I read all the rest of the Company books, and at the end I was probably about 85% satisfied, the remaining 15% belonging to Mendoza and her lot, because that was a bit too weird for me.  Oh, and at least 1% of my dissatisfaction was down to Kage Baker’s suggesting that there would have been 315 Doctors on Doctor Who by 2351 (though I do appreciate the implication it’s got that kind of staying power).  That would necessitate a majority of the Doctors doing one year in the part; and come on, it’s the best acting gig in the world, why would anyone do just one year, let alone most of them?  (Paul McGann was in a film, and Christopher Eccleston was lending credibility, so that’s them explained away.)

Really, trapunto, thanks for the recommendation.  I had a ball with them.

Then I read this book called Reading the OED, which was, you know, about reading the whole of the OED, in the vein of A.J. Jacobs’s The Know-It-All, when he chronicles his time reading the whole of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Reading the OED was fun in the sense that I like learning new words, but there wasn’t much to it.

I also read Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational, which was about how people act contrary to how they think they’ll act, irrational but irrational in ways that studies can predict fairly reliably.  It was interesting, and I think people are irrational, and probably predictably so, but I didn’t always feel Ariely was making a strong case.  Most of his experiments were smallish, and most of them used students as subjects, which isn’t a representative sample of the population.  I also was sometimes bothered by his tone when he talked about women, and that put me off.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, that and cataloguing all my books on LibraryThing.  I’m moving soon, so as I catalogue them, I stack them all up in stacks in the living and dining room in my apartment.  This makes it difficult to find any individual book.  It took me ten minutes to find The Dud Avocado, which I’m reading for the Spotlight Series tour of NYRP Classics in mid-May.  Up with independent publishers!

Review: Sky Coyote and Mendoza in Hollywood, Kage Baker

I was going to review Kelly Corrigan’s memoir The Middle Place, but then I realized that there is no particular value in reviewing things in the order you read them, especially when you are devouring a series like a wascally wabbit devours carrots, and each review you write that is not dedicated to the series in question is going to put you further and further behind on reviews.  So here we are.  My contention that Kelly Corrigan is mistaken in her book’s central claim will have to wait.

Speaking of sound effects, Kage Baker’s books are now giving me the mental sound effect of Cookie Monster eating cookies.  Ommmm narm narm narm narm narm narm narm narm.

Sky Coyote mostly ditches Mendoza in order to follow Joseph, the cyborg who rescued her from the Inquisition.  A century and a half on from the events of In the Garden of Iden (the characters haven’t aged, of course, being cyborgs), Joseph has been charged with impersonating a Chumash deity so that the Company can preserve one Chumash village and their culture entire, before white settlers come to wipe them out.  Joseph, a company man with wobbly morals from way back, is a perfect choice to impersonate the Chumash trickster god Sky Coyote.

Set to rest are my fears that the second book by Kage Baker would disappoint me, though now my fears are taking a longer view and worrying that the series will not be satisfactorily resolved in the end.  I was reluctant to begin Sky Coyote because I thought I might not enjoy all Joseph all the time, cynical manipulative trickster that he is.  Fortunately, as we learn more about his past, and particularly about his past with Mendoza, he proves to be a far more sympathetic character than I perhaps gave him credit for last time out.

Some intriguing things come to light in this book.  We learn more about the differetn brands of cyborg, and we hear about the fact that cyborgs are not given any history past the year 2355.  Why, we don’t know.  We also meet some twenty-fourth century humans, who have set up a fancy base in order to supervise the cyborgs’ handling of the Chumash project.  They are stupid, childish, and squeamishly averse to all forms of violence and vice, including smoking, drinking, and even eating the cyborg drug Theobromos (which is chocolate).  Joseph and the other cyborgs are mystified: Are all humans like this?  And if so, how did they ever manage to create the cyborgs?

Narm narm narm narm narm.

Mendoza in Hollywood jumps 150 years ahead again.  After spending the time since Sky Coyote in relative solitude, Mendoza is summoned to Los Angeles for a mission to save various species of plant from the drought that will occur.  She is based at a stagecoach inn with four other operatives of various disciplines, and she is haunted by nightmares of her past.  Time is acting strangely, and Mendoza is producing Crome’s radiation in her sleep, a kind of energy that gives psychic powers to humans and is not meant to be present, ever, in children chosen to be converted to cyborgs.  A lot of very bewildering stuff happens, stuff that according to all the laws the cyborgs know should not be able to happen.

However, this excitement does not last forever.  Mendoza runs out of plants to save, and just as she thinks she will die of boredom (highlight the white text for spoilers, which will spoil the entire ending of this book as well as the ending of In the Garden of Iden) a British man identical to her martyred lover Nicholas Harpole shows up pursuing a British conspiracy to take over California while the Americans are busy fighting the Civil War.  HIJINKS ENSUE but not for very long as Nicholas Harpole Mark 2 (he’s called Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax now) soon gets shot dead, sending poor lovelorn Mendoza into a killing rage.  The Company are not fans of killing rages in their cyborgs.

These books have been for the Time Travel Reading Challenge, and my list for that challenge has really been shot all to hell by now, but really, I could not have anticipated this sort of a bookish windfall when I made the list, could I?

As of this writing I am halfway through the fourth book, The Graveyard Game, and the plot, my doves, it is thickening.  It is thickening so much in fact that it is beginning to resemble the Candy Land Molasses Swamp.  By the time I post this review I expect I shall be ensconced most thrillingly in The Life of the World to Come, and I am expecting some serious payoffs for all this build-up.

When I asked y’all to recommend me fantasy books, this reading experience is exactly what I was looking for: tumbling headlong through a long, thrilling series with ever more mysterious mysteries about the world the characters live in.  HOORAY.  IT WORKED.

Other reviews of Sky Coyote:

Regular Ruminations
bookshelves of doom

Other reviews of Mendoza in Hollywood:

Adventures in Reading

Did I miss yours?

Edit to add: Clare has reminded me that “narm” means something else.  I don’t want to edit and change it and make her comment look crazy, and thus I will just say here that yes, nom nom nom nom is a better description of the sound effect anyway.

Review: In the Garden of Iden, Kage Baker

Embarrassing confessions can be good for the soul, so here’s one of mine.  Sometimes when I read a book by a new author, and I really really like it, and then I go to the library and see there’s a whole shelf of books by that author – sometimes, when that happens, I get a little internal sound effect of a deep, serious voice going “So it begins.”

Well, okay, always.  Every time that happens, I get the sound effect.  And it doesn’t always work out.  Sometimes the author breaks my heart.  Sometimes I accidentally read the best book first and must spend the rest of my life being let down by all the others.  Sometimes I read interviews and discover the author is kind of a poop, and then I have a hard time reading the books without thinking of that.

In aid of avoiding another Orson Scott Card situation, I’ve decided not to read anything about Kage Baker in case she turns out to be a poop, because I love the premise of this series.  This premise of this series is like the (shining and glorious) lovechild of Doctor Who and Diana Wynne Jones’s wonderful The Homeward Bounders.

About three hundred years into our future, a company called Dr. Zeus, Inc., has figured out how to do time travel.  You cannot travel into the future, you cannot bring anything forward out of its own time, and you cannot change written history.  What you can do is stack the deck your way.  The library at Alexandria has to burn, but that doesn’t stop you going back in time and having an agent make copies of all the books, and hide them for you to discover in your own present.  Agents of the company find children at different points in history, save them from death, and make them immortal.  These new immortals are promised shiny rewards in the present if they serve throughout history as agents for the company, rescuing books and paintings and endangered species.

I know, right?  How did I never hear of these books before?

Mendoza is saved from the Spanish Inquisition and made immortal.  Disliking what she knows of human beings, she decides to be a botanist, intending to minimize her contact with mortals.  However, her first assignment for the company is to collect rare plants from a garden in Tudor England.  Along with two other immortals, she will pose as a Spaniard come to England in the retinue of Prince Philip, with all the attendant fears and stresses of changing religions and an angry monarch.  Intending to keep out of the way of the mortals as much as possible, she finds herself falling in love with one of them.

A few things that are difficult to pull off, that Kage Baker pulls off:

  • Characters talking in Elizabethan English.
  • Explaining necessary historical background, especially historical background that I already know, in a way that is funny and interesting, though it’s possible she gives Elizabeth I too much of a pass.
  • Implying that there is More at Work Here than this book lets us in on, without the book’s ending being an obvious set-up for a sequel.  Do you know what I mean?  You get the sense that clues are being dropped, but the story of this book is self-contained.
  • Being wry without trying to be hilarious, or coming off as disaffected and unfriendly.
  • (Spoiler alert.  Stop reading and skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens in the end, although why you wouldn’t want to know I can’t imagine.) Killing off the love interest.

My one single eensy little complaint was that Mendoza, right, she falls in love with this sixteenth-century guy, and he’s completely okay with a lot of the crazy stuff that comes out of her mouth.  Okay, yeah, he’s held heretical religious views in the past, but even with that, and even accounting for his being in love with her, I think he’s just the tiniest smidge unrealistically tolerant and open-minded about religion for his time period.

Apart from that one thing, it was a good book that made me feel very excited to read the sequels.  I feel like intrigue and deception are forthcoming.  Thank you, trapunto!  This was a read for the Time Travel Challenge (haHA!  Thought I’d forgotten that one, didn’t you?  I HAVE NOT.)

Other reviews:

bookshelves of doom
Regular Rumination
Mervi’s Book Reviews

Did I miss yours?  Let me know and I’ll add a link!