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In the Garden of Iden
Kage Baker
Avon EOS Books, 313 pages

In the Garden of Iden
Kage Baker
Kage Baker was born in 1952 in Hollywood, California. She grew up there and in Pismo Beach, where she now resides. She has worked as a graphic artist, mural painter and assorted roles in the theatre. Many years of total immersion research in Elizabethan as well as other historical periods has left her with a working knowledge of period speech and details evident in her writing.

Kage Baker Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

Right off, the title lets you know that this is a story about loss of innocence. If you're one of those people who are put off by obvious metaphors, don't let that stop you from reading this book. It manages to be quite funny and terrifying at the same time.

The Company is a corporate cabal in the 24th century founded by Dr. Zeus (okay, if the title bothers you, this isn't helping matters, but trust me, it's not what you think) who has also perfected Time Travel. Not for the purpose of historical research, or reinventing the past, but because there is money it. Company operatives dispatched throughout human history hide valuable artifacts -- e.g., rare plants, extinct animals, works of art, ancient manuscripts -- that were thought to be lost until they conveniently "show-up" in Company-controlled hands and made available to collectors, governments, pharmaceutical companies, and others interested in their recovery. All for a price, of course.

It's not just a simple matter of going back in time to shop. For one thing, as a rule, 24th-century folk don't really like to time travel -- the smells and primitive lifestyles are a bit overwhelming to their civilized sensibilities. It also happens that Dr. Zeus has invented a process to achieve Immortality. It comes with a hitch, however: It only works on young children. As well, there are possible side-effects, including mental disturbances. So, the Company sends agents back in time to "rescue" foundlings, starving children, and other young cast-offs that nobody will notice missing and make them Immortal. That, too, comes with a price: namely, indentured servitude to the Company down throughout the ages. The result is a rather extensive network of Immortals that collects and carefully conceals artifacts requested by Company clients for subsequent "discovery" in the future.

Baker quickly dispenses with all the usual objections to time travel. Recorded history can't be altered -- no assassinations averted, holocausts halted, fortunes made based on pre-knowledge, that sort of thing. But, the Company can proactively pursue its interest in history that nobody knows about, because it hasn't been documented. So, while no one can prevent the ancient library of Alexandria from burning, a team of Immortals can stash away the books just before the fire starts. All right, I can hear all the Hard SF fans starting to raise their hands with objections. Forget the logic of the premise: it's sufficient to lay the groundwork to get the story rolling and it's the story here that is at the forefront, not the science fictional assumption.

The narrative is related as a first-person memoir of Mendoza, an Immortal who, as a five year old, was whisked away from the Spanish Inquisition and trained to serve the Company as a botanist. Her first assignment is in England to retrieve and preserve extinct plant specimens with valuable medicinal purposes from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. The time is the short-lived reign of Queen Mary, whose marriage to Phillip II of Spain marks the brief return of Catholicism and, with it, a high level of intolerance for dissenters. Though an Immortal, with quite literally a long future ahead of her, Mendoza is at this point still physically and emotionally only 18 years old. When she falls in love with Nicholas Harpoole, who has become the caretaker of Sir Walter's garden as penance for his outspoken reformationist religious views, you know the relationship is bound to end badly. How it ends is a sober reminder of the stupidity and cruelty of the human race, a situation Mendoza will have to live with for a very, very long time.

That's the terrifying part. The funny part is the smart-ass attitude of Mendoza and her fellow Immortals as a result not only of their superior physical and mental abilities, but their knowledge of how the future turns out. Equally amusing are the modern conveniences they surreptitiously enjoy -- holos of mid-20th century movies, Immortal Entertainment Monthly magazine, radio programs in which Immortal correspondents report on history as it happens.

This flippancy is sometimes jarring amidst Baker's presumably accurate (she's been referred to as an Elizabethan authority) descriptions of such examples of human folly and cruelty as the Inquisition:

"He took a step or two into the room and crouched down to look at me. And though I knew he had to be speaking Galician, because of course I couldn't speak Cinema Standard yet, I swear to God I remember him saying:
'Wow. You're in pretty bad shape.'"
However, if the Immortals' feelings of smug superiority are initially offputting, by the end of the novel, you'll be forced to agree with them.

In which case you'll be happy to know there is a sequel -- and perhaps a series planned -- based on these characters. The Avon Eos paperback contains what is presumably the first chapter of Sky Coyote, to be published in hardcover by Harcourt Brace in February 1999. This time around, the story is told by Joseph, who initially recruited Mendoza and led the ill-fated expedition to Sir Iden's garden. It's now the dawn of the 18th century, in the New World -- Mexico to be exact -- where Joseph meets Mendoza at a luxury retreat for Immortals in the attempt not only to make amends, but to embark on a new assignment. Judging from this excerpt, it has the prospect of being even funnier than In the Garden of Iden -- and maybe even more terrifying, considering this is the time and place of the Spanish Conquistadors, a fun bunch of guys if ever there were one.

Copyright © 1999 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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