Monday, January 26, 2009

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker

Sky Coyote is Kage Baker’s second novel about The Company, a series that has brought her wide acclaim. Though I was a bit underwhelmed by the first entry, the overall scenario set up was intriguing enough that I wanted to continue. While some encouraged me to skip this novel since it was the weakest in the series and does not focus on my primary area of interest, I am glad I decided to go ahead and read it. However, I found this novel to be more disappointing than the first.

The Company is a 24th century organization dedicated to preserving works of art, literature, and endangered species through the work of immortal cyborgs. The Company travels back in time and grants immortality to people who then serve the Company’s ends throughout time.

The narrator of Sky Coyote is Facilitator Joseph, an immortal who is over 20,000 years old. He was responsible for the rescue of Mendoza in the first novel, and it is my suspicion that the two characters form the primary lens through which we will view the rest of the series. In this novel, set in 1700, Joseph’s assignment is to prepare a Chumash village to be preserved and taken to work for the Compa
ny. A tribe of Native American’s from the Bay Area of California, the Chumash are not a simple, primitive people but a sophisticated culture with a complex economic program in place. With a series of prosthetics, Joseph is transformed into the Chumash god Sky Coyote. Though the villagers accept his message disguised in mythology, the anthropologists and scientists working for the Company must gather and record samples of each aspect of Chumash culture. Joseph must maintain their interest and morale, as well as fight off the influence of monotheistic zealots from a southern tribe.

At the same time, Joseph must deal with the 24th century mortals who were sent back in time to supervise the project. The mortals possess a limited vocabulary and have a sense of immaturity about them. They are suspicious and fearful of immortals. Though the immortal operatives are told that in the 24th century their services will no longer be needed, there is much suspicion as to what happens at that point.

Throughout the narrative, Joseph flashes back to earlier times and ponders what the Company does with operatives that it considers unsatisfactory. While there had previously been a group of Enforcers who were created from the large Cro-Magnon people, they have all disappeared. Much of the story involves the question as to what happens when an immortal is no longer needed and what will be the reason the operatives are no longer needed in just 650 years. My expectation is that these questions will be answered over the course of the series, but their introduction here made me feel that at least a little answer should be given to a portion of the issues; instead, we just get mystery after mystery without any sense of payoff.

The saga of the Chumash people was quite boring and anticlimactic to me. Though the successful assimilation of their people into the Company is jeopardized at one point, that jeopardy never really seems to have much of an effect on their people and only really served to wrap up what proved to be a boring facet of the story. While the treatment of the Chumash as eloquent and sophisticated is a commendable choice, their population never amounted to anything interesting.

As with most stories involving time travel, Baker made some curious and baffling statements. After the capture of a Native American monotheist which proved that monotheism grew independently of Christianity among indigenous peoples, an operative claims that the opportunity for study would be as valuable as a firsthand account of Jesus’s apostles or Muhammad. Yet given that the Company has access to all of recorded history, why didn’t it have operatives in place to witness things like the crucifixion?

While the reader gets a better overall sense of the Company and its role in collecting history, one feels a dissonance in quality between the ideas and overall plot that Baker is creating and the stories in which she is communicating it. While I am very interested to learn what happens next, I have no faith that the basic plot will be interesting in the least. Perhaps as I have been advised, Sky Coyote is the weakest of the books and the series will skew more towards my interests in the future. I hope that is the case.

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