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Sky Coyote
Kage Baker
Avon EOS Books, 289 pages

Sky Coyote
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
SF Site Review: Mendoza in Hollywood
SF Site Review: Sky Coyote
SF Site Review: In the Garden of Iden

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Kage Baker has suddenly arrived on the SF scene with three novels (and one more coming soon) and several short stories. The great bulk of her work so far, and all her novels, are part of a series about the "Company", Dr. Zeus, Incorporated. The Company has discovered the secrets of both time travel and immortality, but the use of both is limited. Only very young children of very limited body types can be made immortal, and time travellers cannot change recorded history. Working within these limitations, the Company makes a profit by saving things lost to history: works of art, rare plants, even, as we see in the novel at hand, whole cultures. The Company's agents in the past are mostly immortals recruited from doomed children throughout history and pre-history.

This is a pretty good setup for stories, no doubt. Certainly, as with most time travel books, it doesn't do to look too closely at the paradoxes implied. In addition, the restrictions placed on the Company's technology have a sense of adhocery to them. But I quibble: suspension of disbelief is not too hard, and Baker's short stories have so far been interesting and involving. She is one of the most promising new SF writers.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop? Well, here comes. I haven't until now read any of her novels, and I tried Sky Coyote without having read her first novel, In the Garden of Iden. I had noticed, however, that even in her short stories there were hints of a larger story arc, involving questions about the real motives of the 24th-century owners of the Company, about the real status of the Immortals who work for them, and about some mysterious events in the future. These are interesting hints, and they promise a pretty good story somewhere along the line. But in some of the stories, and most especially in the novel at hand, they are frustrating distractions from the immediate storyline: frustrating because they sometimes presume knowledge only attainable by reading the other stories and novels in the series; frustrating because they often have little connection to the main storyline; and frustrating because they remain unresolved.

Sky Coyote is told by the Immortal Joseph, a Facilitator for the Company who has been working for them for thousands of years. His new assignment, in 1700 A.D., is to appear to a town full of Chumash Indians in (what will become) California, as a figure from their legends: Sky Coyote. He is to persuade them to pack up their town, lock, stock and canoe, and be transported away to the future. You see, their culture is about to be destroyed by the white men -- first Spanish missionaries; eventually the Americans -- and the Company wishes to preserve as much of this culture as possible for restoration or at least study in the 24th century. (Why and how they make a profit doing so, is not ever convincingly explained, but let that pass.)

This makes for an enjoyable story. There is a lot of interesting detail about the impressively advanced Chumash culture, including their commercial nature, and their stories and legends. Joseph as Sky Coyote gets to make a lot of jokes, and have a lot of sex. There isn't quite enough conflict, and the plot isn't twisty enough, but the basic story is still worth reading.

However, Baker intersperses this with some other details. Events in Joseph's past life, some of which raise doubts in him about the Company. A lot of focus on an otherwise thoroughly minor character named Mendoza (who is, I gather, the protagonist of both In the Garden of Iden and the recently released third book in the series, Mendoza in Hollywood). A few strange intimations of something portentous occurring in 2355 A.D. All this is really quite interesting. The problem is, it's really not got much of anything to do with the rest of the novel, and it serves mainly as a distraction. The main story is a bit thin anyway, and the hints of some really interesting stuff that we'll get to eventually don't help.

Make no mistake about it: Baker has the chops of a fine writer. Her characters are well drawn, her prose is sound, her stories hold the reader's interest. And whatever misgivings I have, I still enjoyed Sky Coyote. But I think it's seriously flawed structurally by the intrusion of an external story arc that is presented only by hints. (Series with overall story arcs are common, of course, and can work very well. But the overall story arcs should be accompanied by an equally strong individual story, and the external story should be better integrated with the story at hand, and, I think, a bit more intermediate closure should be available in any individual novel of a series relative to the overall story.) In the final analysis, this novel will mainly be of interest to readers committed to the entire series, and even those readers will probably find themselves chomping at the bit for the main event to come along.

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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