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.

King of Shadows, Susan Cooper

I read this for the Time Travel Challenge.  Yeah, I’m not adhering to my list.  TOO BAD.  I’m making King of Shadows part of a time travel mini-challenge that I call the Books I Like Because They Contain Time Travel and in Spite of Having Been Written by Authors I Do Not Like as Much as My Big Sister Does Challenge.  I shall include Time Cat in this mini-challenge too, because I can do that.

Nat Field, a twelve-year-old with a tragedy in his background, comes to London as part of a company of boys to perform at the newly constructed Globe Theatre.  One evening he feels slightly ill, goes to bed, and wakes up in 1599.  There he is recognized as actor Nathan Field, come from St. Paul’s to play Puck in a special production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream where Shakespeare plays Oberon; back in 1999, a young actor called Nathan Field is treated in a modern hospital for bubonic plague.

I never cared for Susan Cooper.  I didn’t like all that Dark Is Rising business, and I could have lived without The Boggart too.  But King of Shadows packs a hell of an emotional punch.  My eyes are filling up with tears right now, just thinking about it.  It’s difficult to tell why without giving away the whole plot of the book, but I will say that Susan Cooper writes the loveliest darling of a Shakespeare you ever encountered, and his relationship with Nat is genuinely touching.  She’s spoiled me for all productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’m afraid.

This book may have faults, objectively speaking.  The plot may be predictable and the subplots insufficiently explored.  You read it, and let me know.  I can’t see any of those problems, because every time I read this book, it breaks my heart.  Read it!  If you do not love Shakespeare, this is still a good read; and if you do love Shakespeare, well, then, it’s like an extended edition of the best Shakespeare dream you’ve ever had.

Because it’s not just me, right?  Y’all dream about meeting Shakespeare too, right?

Other reviews:

Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Miss Erin
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Did I miss yours?

On another note, this is a video of three Supreme Court Justices in 1987 hearing evidence over whether Shakespeare wrote his own plays.  When I discovered that they had done this, it made me love John Paul Stevens even more than I used to, but then I discovered that he thinks the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays.  STEVENS THINKS THE EARL OF – I don’t even care if he resigns now!

(I do actually.  I love Stevens and want him to stay, and he’s the only Protestant on the Court right now.  If he goes, and Elena Kagan gets appointed, as she is favored to do, it’ll be all Jews and Catholics.  I mean I like Jews and Catholics, but I think we should have some representation of other faiths too.)

I don’t know why I lie to myself

All these past weeks, when everyone has been deciding on their challenges for the New Year (is anyone else totally ready for 2010?  This has never happened to me before, but I find myself wanting to write 2010 as the year for everything, and then when I have to write 2009 instead, I feel cranky and cheated), I’ve been saying, I am not joining any.  No challenges for me, I have said.  I’m not joining the Women Unbound Challenge; I’m not joining Haloes and Horns, or Alyce’s Time Travel one, or the Graphic Novel one that Chris and Nymeth are hosting.

Though in fact this turns out to be a tangled web of lies.  I’m totally joining all these challenges, because, well, because they sound fun, and I like to find new blogs, and even when I pretend I’m not joining these challenges, I know that I really am.  Because I checked out The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch, and I thought, Hey, for the graphic novel challenge! and then I checked out a graphic novel memoir of this woman whose husband was killed in 9/11, and I thought, this will work for the graphic novels one and maybe for the Women Unbound one too; and if I find a graphic novel about a time-traveling angel that deals with women’s issues, y’all, I’m going to throw a party.

Sidebar: Speaking of parties, a recent (-ly finished) study found that the happiest people in America are (drumroll!) Louisianians!  We’re the happiest state!  We’re happier than Hawaii!  It’s because we’ve got mad food here, and also because we like to throw parties.  Enormous festival-type parties for rice and jazz and strawberries and football and hurricanes.  PARTY AT LOUISIANA’S HOUSE.

Anyway, pride in my home state aside, here they are, the challenges that I am joining for the new year:

The Women Unbound Challenge is happening here, and I am joining it a bit late, and I am joining at the suffragette level, which means reading eight books all about the womenfolk before November of next year (I can totally do that!).  This is a list of some books I am considering:

Women of the Raj, Margaret MacMillan – I’ve had this on my shelves for a while – it’s about women!  Of the Raj!
The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy – a novel set in the 1950s that follows a wacky ex-pat girl in Paris
The Group, Mary McCarthy – apparently this is Sex and the City for 1930s Vassar graduate ladies
Sisters, John Fialka – a nonfiction book about how nuns have contributed to the making of America
Bluestockings, Jane Robinson – a nonfiction book I probably won’t be able to acquire, about the first wave of women who went to university but I probably won’t be able to get it (sad, sad, sad)
Foreign Correspondence, Geraldine Brooks – a memoir about Geraldine Brooks tracking down all her old pen friends
Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy – nonfiction book about women and feminism in America right now
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte – because my sister said Anne Bronte is sort of a badass feminist

Those are the ones I’m thinking of right now.  However, there are a lot of people in the blogosphere with lists of books they are reading for this challenge, and I may read a completely different set of books than these.

Time Travel Reading Challenge!  Because I love time travel!  And because it’s completely relaxing – I get to pick the number of books to read and read them sometime in 2010.  I’m going to read five.  Five is a nice number.  I was born in the fifth month.  These are the ones I want to read, though at least one of these is a bit of a pipe-dream.

Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, Samuel Madden – I was enchanted by the idea of this book to start with, because it’s got an angel in it (see below!) what travels to 1728 (which is about when the book was written) with letters from 1997/1998, and apparently it was terribly controversial at the time and it got suppressed.  Going to have to ILL this one.
Trapped in Time, Ruth Chew – Two little kids get transported back to the Civil War times
A Traveler in Time, Alison Uttley – A time travel book written by the lady who wrote Little Grey Rabbit.  Love.
Time Cat, Lloyd Alexander – Well, just because I haven’t read this book in a thousand years, and I used to love it.
Making History, Stephen Fry – a book about people trying to stop Hitler from being born – Stephen Fry wrote it!  Stephen Fry.  I love Stephen Fry and am curious about his writing

Also, the Horns and Halos Challenge, which I simply can’t resist.  It’s devils and angels!  How fun, right?

There are several reasons this challenge appeals to me.  One is that my fluttering heart, who is hosting it, is hosting it because she’s tired of vampires AND, GOD, SO AM I. Another is that I have never reviewed Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel Murder Mysteries on this blog, despite its containing one of my favorite ever lines in all of literature.  And another is that I want to reread Paradise Lost.  I’m going to read seven books, because my birthday is on the seventh of the month.  And I like the number  seven, and it is all mystical which is good as it’s angels and demons.  I counted it out carefully, and with my choices of books, I am going to end up on the Garden of Eden level, exactly the same amount angels and devils, assuming Paradise Lost splits up the middle.

Paradise Lost, John Milton
Murder Mysteries, Neil Gaiman – a graphic novel with angels and murder mysteries
Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, Samuel Madden – see above!  An angel and time travel!
The Vintner’s Luck, Elizabeth Knox – a vintner and an angel become friends and stay friends over many years
Lucifer, Mike Carey – a series of graphic novels that I’ve been meaning to read anyway because I liked Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer
Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe – because I never did read it before and have heard wonderful things about it
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, Jonathan L. Howard – all about a guy who sold his soul to learn necromancy

And last, but not least of course, Chris and Nymeth’s Graphic Novels Challenge.

Graphic novels!  I enjoy graphic novels!  I shall read numerous graphic novels!  I shall be at the Expert level, which is ten or more.  I’m not making a list right now because it’s always iffy whether my library will have any of the graphic novels I want; so these decisions will have a lot to do with what’s available.  (My library is wonderful, and is getting more graphic novels than they used to have, but they still don’t have a really fantastic collection.)