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Rude Mechanicals
Kage Baker
Subterranean Press, 120 pages

Rude Mechanicals
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: The Children of the Company
SF Site Review: The Angel in the Darkness
SF Site Review: The Anvil of the World
SF Site Review: Black Projects, White Knights
SF Site Review: The Graveyard Game
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 David Soyka


"A crew of patches, rude mechanicals,
That work for bread upon Athenian stalls,
Were met together to rehearse a play."
--A Midsummer's Night Dream, Act III, Scene ii
The "patches," meaning clowns, are six workingmen who seek to perform their play as part of the duke's wedding celebrations. They are considered "rude" due to their low class and "mechanical" because they are tradesmen, skilled at making things, but lacking "higher" intellectual abilities, which include acting skills.

While Kage Baker's title alludes to a famed staging of the Shakespeare comedy by German director Max Reinhardt in the 30s, it more specifically concerns the comic exploits of two cyborg operatives from her long-running Company series. My interest was initially piqued in thinking that the action would take place within the context of the play's performance, given the setting and Baker's background in Elizabethan theater. Alas, the focus is mostly offstage, more Laurel and Hardy in a comedy of errors than faerie fun with mismatched lovers.

The Company is a mysterious 24th century enterprise that has embedded immortal cyborg operatives at the start of recorded time whose mission is to acquire and store valuable artifacts until the future arrives and the Company can sell the booty to its clients. The recovered objects either have been officially lost to recorded history or the real items are switched with replicas. There are seven novels in this series, with the eighth and presumably final installation due in July, along with a number of short stories collected, to date, in two volumes. As the series has progressed through time and the various cyborg characters go about accomplishing their mission and observing the folly of mortal passions, questions have arisen about the actual motivations of the Company and what fate awaits the operatives once they finally arrive in 2335, about which, unlike everything preceding in the future, nothing is known.

It's a wickedly satirical and frequently poignant series that, nonetheless, at times seems to have gone on a little longer than necessary. Some installments, particularly the short stories, seemingly have no purpose other than to feature the ongoing characters in mildly humorous situations. There are no advances in the overarching plot, no clues to the ultimate resolution (though of course I don't know what that is yet, so I might be missing something) or added characterization.

Such is the case with Rude Mechanicals. Fans are familiar with Literature Specialist Lewis and Facilitator Joseph, an odd couple of contrasting temperaments who are the actual rude mechanicals of the title. Lewis is working as an assistant to Reinhardt, whose staging of A Midsummer's Night Dream at the Hollywood Bowl became the basis of the 1934 movie, with a largely different cast, notable for the performances of James Cagney and Mickey Rooney among other Warner Brothers stars in their first and only Shakespearean roles (worth checking out, by the way). Lewis's assignment is to obtain the director's prompt-books for a collector client of the Company. Joseph is working as a studio detective, but needs Lewis to get him a backstage job to locate missing Company property. The transplant of nearby trees to create a genuine-looking Athenian forest on the site of the Hollywood Ball has unearthed a buried Company cache containing the Tavernier Violet diamond, which subsequently falls into the hands of a cast of characters who are unaware of its value. Every time Joseph enlists Lewis to help him retrieve the diamond, there's some kind of screw-up, leading the pair through a series of wild goose chases that ultimately lead back to a dress rehearsal where the bauble has become ensconced in a costume headdress.

Along the way, various Hollywood personages make fleeting guest appearances -- Mickey Rooney has a line, and Sterling Holloway attends the filming of a porn flick -- for no purpose beyond dropping names in serving as background for Lewis's and Joseph's grand adventure. It's delightful fluff, modeled after the "screwball comedies" of the era, though lacking a female lead, but if you're not already a Company fan, probably of little interest. Even for series aficionados, it's hardly essential.

Subterranean Press terms this a "Short Novel," but at 120 pages and slim plotline, that's marketing hyperbole to justify a $35 limited collectible list price (or $150 for a signed copy). There are illustrations by J.K. Potter, though what they add to justify the price seems negligible; however, the advanced review copy I have probably doesn't do justification to the final published artwork. Consequently, this is for hard-core collectors only. Series fans without excessive cash can skip this and wait until Rude Mechanicals is reprinted somewhere more affordable. Alternatively, Subterranean Press is providing a free audio download at its website. Unless, you figure dropping a few bucks on a collector's edition will reap future profits. But that has nothing to do with the value of the story itself.

As Puck used to say, "What fools these mortals be."

Copyright © 2007 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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