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by Kage Baker
It's always a delight to discover a first novel as good as Kage Baker's In the Garden of Iden. It's considerably rarer to read a second novel better than the first, but in Sky Coyote Baker retains all the cynical wit and vivid characterization of Iden without getting bogged down in maudlin tragedy. The first book introduced the immortal cyborgs who collect doomed flora, fauna, and artifacts from the past for the benefit of the Company, a twenty-fourth century organization that invented time travel. Sky Coyote is told from the viewpoint of Joseph, a dirty tricks operative who's been around for a long, long time.
Bleeding-heart twenty-fourth century politics have made it necessary to preserve the culture of the Chumash, a Native American tribe that inhabited southern California before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Company has selected the Chumash village of Humashup in the year 1699 to be transplanted, lock, stock, and wicker baskets, to an enclave where their culture can be thoroughly documented for prosperity. In order to gain the trust of the Chumash and convince them to cooperate in their own emigration, Joseph is surgically disguised as the well-meaning trickster god Sky Coyote, a role he's very well suited to play.
The Chumash are vividly portrayed as real people instead of people-shaped victims-in-waiting of European oppression. The cyborgs are also interesting and complex characters, both singly and as a group. They wear dress of the current period and cling to human pleasures and rituals, but centuries of moving among the mortals has made them cynical and distant. The Company mortals from the future are disappointingly one-dimensional, however. They're parochial, narrowminded idiots, frightened of the cyborgs they've created, and appalled by nearly everything about the unsanitized past.
Baker reveals tantalizing glimpses of the early history of the Company and drops ominous hints about the fate of cyborgs who step out of line. Mendoza, the protagonist of In the Garden of Iden, has a minor role; she lends an undercurrent of old resentments to the story, but Sky Coyote stands very well on its own. It's a thoroughly enjoyable novel, and Kage Baker is an author to watch for.
-- Christina Schulman.
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