Friday, April 27, 2012

Sky Coyote - Kage Baker

1999; 310 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #2 (of 9) in "The Company" series.  Genre : Historical Fiction; Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

    It's 1699 AD.  Joseph is a Facilitator, an Immortal, a Time-Traveler, and a Cyborg.  Also he's been a dedicated agent for a 24th-century group called "The Company" for, oh, 10,000 years or so.

    His latest assignment is simple - persuade a village of the Chumash (a California Indian tribe) to abandon their settlement before the Spanish arrive and wipe them out.  Which will happen eventually.

    But there's a ulterior motive.  The Company wants the village - lock, stock, and pottery bowls (but not the people; just their DNA) to add to their cultural antiquities collection.

   To help him in his quest, Joseph will be surgically modified (there are certain advantages to being a cyborg) to look like Sky Coyote, the local trickster god.  The Chumash are overjoyed.  It's not every day a deity comes down and visits them.

What's To Like...
  It's been a while since I read the first book (reviewed here).  Sky Coyote seems a bit "lighter" than that one; with a lot less romance (yay!) and a lot more wit.  For those who haven't read Book 1, Kage Baker provides a brief-yet-adequate backstory near the beginning.  And the prologue - set in post-Mayan Guatemala, is a hoot.

    There really was a tribe of Indians called the Chumash, but Baker opts to imbue them with modern traits.  They have trade unions, they are into astrological fortune-telling, and they tend to speak like Valley Girls.  I assume the point is to spoof the absurdity that is modern California, but it falls flat.

    Joseph is the main character, and consequently gets fleshed out a lot more than in In The Garden of Iden.  But Mendoza is along for the quest too, and she's always a draw.

Kewlest New Word...
Epergne : a type of table centerpiece, typically with a bowl that holds fruit or flowers.

    "It was time for you to move on anyway," I told Mendoza consolingly.  "It was stuffy.  Decadent.  Nothing should be decadent and dull."
    "Your father was a Moorish groom and your mother performed circumcisions on soldiers," she informed me.
    "Hey, that's okay.  I know you're not really sore.  You're going to love it in California."
    "I won't be able to get a cocktail there for at least a hundred years," she brooded.  "And longer, for a Ghirardelli's hot fudge sundae."
    "Well, you hated parties, anyway."  (pg. 64)

    When a guy in a Cro-Magnon hunting party fell into a bear den, his friends would step away from the edge and wring their hands.  They'd compose sorrowful elegies about him afterward, or maybe horror stories about bears; but no way would they endanger themselves to get him out.  When a guy from a Neanderthal tribe fell into a den, though, his friends wouldn't even stop to think: they'd jump right in after him and lay about them with their fists, if they had nothing else, until the bears stopped biting or their friend managed to scramble out.
    Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that eventually there were a lot fewer Neanderthals than Cro-Magnons...  (pg. 189-190)

We are the bright ascending bubbles in the black wine of mortality.  (pg. 50)
    Sky Coyote has humor, alt-history, and some incisive social commentary.  Alas, it has zero tension, and very little action.  Joseph carries out his task (this is easy when the natives think you're a god) without any delays or hitches.

    I suspect Kage Bakers's purpose in penning Sky Coyote was to advance the bigger tale.  We are introduced to several new cyborg operatives, and the first seeds of doubt about The Company's motives/benevolence are planted in Joseph's brain circuits.

    This might pay off down the line, but for now, it would've been nice to have a more compelling storyline.  The Chinigchinix might have posed more of a menace, the Chumash might have balked at moving, and/or the Spanish might have shown up ahead of schedule.  Instead, it's simply Metro - Boulot- Dodo6 Stars, cuz it's kinda meh, but it cooda been a lot worse.

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