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The Graveyard Game
Kage Baker
Harcourt, 298 pages

The Graveyard Game
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: Sky Coyote
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 Victoria Strauss

Kage Baker's Company novels are developing into one of the most intelligent and engaging of recent SF series. (The Company is a 24th century research and development firm, Dr. Zeus Incorporated, inventor of time travel and immortality, whose deathless cyborg operatives travel backward through time, salvaging the lost treasures of history for the Company's use.) So far, though they share characters and themes, they've been unlike more typical series books in that they don't tell a single long story in multiple volumes; in fact they more closely resemble a good mystery series, where each novel works as a self-contained episode while also serving to advance a meta-narrative. In this case, the meta-narrative is the sum of the questions that over the course of the books have come more and more to occupy the Company's operatives: what is the Company, really? Why is it plundering history? What will happen in the year 2355, when something known as the Silence falls?

The Graveyard Game is the least self-contained episode to date, focusing almost entirely on these questions and the operatives' search for answers. The story opens as Literature Specialist Owen Lewis witnesses a time anomaly in which Mendoza, heroine of the first and third volumes of the series, moves briefly forward in time, from 1862 to 1996. This is something that's not supposed to happen: one of the disadvantages of time travel is that you can only go backward. But Mendoza is a generator of Crome radiation, an indicator of paranormal abilities no cyborg is supposed to possess, so there's no telling what she might be able to do.

Shaken, Lewis (who has been secretly in love with Mendoza for several centuries) contacts Joseph, who originally recruited Mendoza for the Company. Joseph, it turns out, doesn't know Mendoza's recent history -- that she deserted her last post to run away with her mortal lover, and as punishment was relieved of duty and sent several million years into the past, to a kind of prison camp for disgraced immortals known as Back Way Back. But he has his own anomalous bit of information to offer: he saw Mendoza in 1923, well after she was sent Back, accompanied by a man similar enough to her first and long-dead love, Nicholas Harcourt, to be his twin.

Lewis and Joseph decide they must find Mendoza -- who, if she's managed to escape the Company, may be in need of help. Each also has his own agenda. Lewis is fascinated by the mysterious man for whom Mendoza defected, English spy Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax, and becomes obsessed with the effort to piece together his history. Joseph is looking for Budu, his own recruiter, who supposedly was sent into happy retirement centuries earlier, but may in fact have met a much more unpleasant fate. These quests take Lewis and Joseph deep into the dark history of Company operations, uncovering things about Dr. Zeus's origins and organization no immortal is supposed to know, and placing them in deadly danger.

Until now, it's been possible to pick up the series with any of the books, but The Graveyard Game is almost entirely dependent for context on what's gone before, and probably won't make much sense to those who haven't read the earlier novels. Many questions are answered, but just as many are raised; we acquire a much better picture of Dr. Zeus's ruthless suppression of opposition and callous treatment of its cyborgs, but are more than ever in the dark about who is actually in charge and what their motives are. This lack of closure, together with the episodic nature of the action, which carries Joseph and Lewis across several centuries, might, in less skilled hands, have resulted in a confusing mess; but Baker is an accomplished storyteller, and holds it all together with strong themes, robust characterizations, and well-paced narrative, making The Graveyard Game a satisfying and tantalizing installment for fans of the series.

Baker continues her thoughtful exploration of the consequences of immortality -- something other writers who deal with this subject matter often fail to address. Dr. Zeus's cyborgs have been engineered to love their work, to be contemptuous of mortals, and to be loyal to the Company; but as they approach the 24th century and the end of their service, this sense of mission and superiority is no longer enough. What will they do when their work is done? What was it all for, anyway? Lewis in particular wrestles with this question. "We don't have families, we don't have homes, we don't even have nationalities," he says to Joseph. "Nothing remains except us, and all we have is each other." His obsession with Mendoza and the mystery of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax isn't just a way to fill his increasingly burdensome spare time (there's much less for Company operatives to do, post-20th century); he wants to know a happy ending is possible, if only for Mendoza -- "That love triumphed, and bravery, against impossible odds." It's a poignant portrayal of the loneliness of an endless life.

In this, and in its depiction of Dr. Zeus's ruthless amorality, The Graveyard Game is the darkest Company novel yet. Fortunately, it's not all serious. As always, Baker has a sardonic eye for the ridiculousness of human behaviour; and there's considerable amusement in learning how the world progresses toward the incredibly bland, boring 24th century, where exercise and vegetarianism are mandated by law, and sensuous indulgences like chocolate, cream, and coffee are illegal. All in all, though, it's clear that Baker is heading for a very dark future -- and that it will take her a while to get there. Reportedly, there will be four more novels. The next, The Children of the Company, is due sometime in 2002.

Copyright © 2001 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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