~by Kage Baker
Kage Baker is a name in speculative fiction that I've only recently come across. I've been meaning to pick up something of hers to read for some time now, so it was fortunate for me that her novel Sky Coyote was chosen as the fourth book for the io9 book club. Sky Coyote is actually the second book in her Company series which worried me a bit at first since I haven't read the previous volume, In the Garden of Iden. However, I was able to gather that most people didn't think it was necessary to have read the first book before starting the second and that Sky Coyote can be approached as a stand-alone novel. While I generally like to read the first book in a series even in such cases, I decided to go ahead and start in with Sky Coyote.
Time travel works. Granted, you can only travel between the past and the time-point of origin. And things get iffy if you try to change written history. Fortunately, there's plenty of unwritten history left to be exploited for various purposes and commercial gain. That's where the company Dr. Zeus comes in with its genetically and cybernetically enhanced race of immortals. Joseph is on of Dr. Zeus' top agents, a company man through and through, and highly skilled as a Facilitator. This time around, he'll be posing as the trickster god Sky Coyote in order to convince the seventeenth century Chumash village of Humashup in California to allow the company to preserve their culture by taking them out of the timeline before the Spanish arrive and wipe them out. Of course, he doesn't work alone. A whole slew of immortals and 24th century mortals are necessary to pull the project off, including his protégé Mendoza.
In general, I would agree that Sky Coyote mostly stands on its own although I am uncertain why some scenes were included unless they were either setting up or following up other books in the series. References about Mendoza and England feature prominently and are never completely explained, but enough so to make sense in the context of Sky Coyote. Occasionally, it seemed like some important elements were introduced out of nowhere. It's not until about halfway through the book the first significant mention of the year 2355 is made, which is very important to Sky Coyote (and I can only assume to the rest of the series as well since beyond this date the immortals have no knowledge of what is happening). Other, smaller details that seem like they should be or probably are important, like Crome radiation levels, don't get much exploration beyond a mention in passing. It seemed like Baker was trying to smash too many concepts and big questions together into a novel that wasn't quite long or complex enough to really handle them all. At first, I was fairly irritated with Sky Coyote's style of narration; I liked Joseph as a character, but he tended to annoy the heck out of me, especially for the first half or so of the book. But at some point, I found that I didn't mind anymore. Either the book got better as it went or I had simply become desensitized. Granted, Baker was able to make me laugh on a fairly regular basis.
Sky Coyote should have been a book that I really enjoyed, and I expected that I would, but for whatever reason--and I'm not entirely sure why--I found it to be more frustrating and annoying more than anything else. The story has a great premise and the world a marvelous concept with the immortals and I appreciated the fact that they all tended to be a bit nuts. The style of writing is usually one that I like, humorous and just a little bit silly, and I was surprised to find that I didn't enjoy it in this case. Perhaps the balance of lightheartedness and seriousness was off. Part of the problem may have been that I simply didn't get many of the cultural references and jokes being made. This also surprised me since the book wasn't written all that long ago (it was first published by Harcourt in 1999). I wanted to like the book, I really, really did, but it just didn't work for me. I probably won't be continuing on with the series even though the world intrigues me, but for those who are interested, the next volume is Mendoza in Hollywood.