I have two primary goals for this year’s reading: First, to finish more series than I start. Second, to maintain a diverse, well-balanced selection of authors. I realized about one third of the way through 2015 that I was failing on the second. Knowing that it was time to dilute the pale sausage fest a bit, I set about looking for a book in series, written by a woman. A lower severed head count was also on the wish list. Who should come to mind but Kage Baker, a name that appears on both the 2013 and 2014 favorite reads lists. I started her Company series last year, so Sky Coyote counts towards my first goal as well as diversifying my reading.
For those not familiar with Baker’s Company, here’s an executive summary. The whole series is about time travel and the Dr. Zeus company that discovered it. (Ha – get it? The Company!) Baker keeps her time travel under tight restriction, increasing palatability for me but not totally avoiding paradox and confusion. She is such a fun writer though that I will read anything she puts out, even topics I am normally leery of. Anyway, Dr. Zeus can send people back in time, but not into the future. They have also discovered immortality mechanisms, but those can only be put into the very young. Thus, they have sent people back in time, pulled out children that were about to die horribly, made them immortal, tested them for aptitude, and created an undying cadre to work their way to the year 2355, when apparently we all reach nirvana or something. Baker’s books follow various of the characters through history.
Sky Coyote is the second Company book. Our guide this time is the Facilitator, Joseph. Facilitators are Baker’s answer to Iain M. Banks’ Special Circumstances; to wit, the men and women who do the dirty work as Dr. Zeus tries to navigate its way through human history. We meet Joseph in the first Company book, but he is a supporting character to the biologist Mendoza. This time, Mendoza plays second fiddle. This is probably a wise choice, as Joseph is wise, weary, and witty, while Mendoza is mostly just angry. Joseph’s purpose is twofold: he narrates the actual story at hand and introduces the overarching plot that will presumably carry through later books. Baker’s dual approach here is not entirely effective, as reader satisfaction will depend more on the context they approach the book than is usually the case.
Sky Coyote is a surprisingly placid book. Joseph’s mission to a group of Native Americans involves little drama, the wider plot arc is outlined but not dug into, and nobody gets too excited about anything. Mostly. This appears to have irked some readers, but hit close to the target for me. I was ready for a smoother ride, though I can understand wanting a bit more out of Baker. This is very much a middle book whose purpose is less to tell a story than to build the foundation for everything to come. As Lady Holiday says in The Great Muppet Caper, “Oh, it’s plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.”
One other part of the book has generated negative reactions: the Native Americans in question. They talk a lot like modern day capitalists, which throws some people out of the narrative. This particular tribe (fictional I imagine) is targeted by the Company for exactly this reason; they have a surprisingly advanced economy for the era. Still, I was also surprised a bit by their behavior. While I think it is reasonable to question this without expecting some sort of “How, white man” trope, I have also stopped expecting everything pre-Adam Smith to be primitive. The world has seen a great many accelerated ideas in societies that we would least expect, so I don’t think it’s wholly implausible for a group of Native Americans to develop complex trade routes, credit systems, and price management schemes. It did take a few pages for the shock of the hedge fund manager dialogue to wear off, but I wasn’t bothered after that.
So the book kind of comes and goes, without an emotional wallop or extended incidences of pulse pounding. I naturally assumed that I would be a debonair Facilitator were Dr. Zeus to get ahold of me, though instead of using my jaded optimism to navigate the wilds of history, I would probably just be an extra nerdy musicologist. If so, I would fit in well with the rest of the story. I will probably double check the potential reader’s expectations before recommending Sky Coyote, and I expect that my reactions will change as I read further in the series, but for those who don’t need action on every page, this is a pleasant entry in Baker’s signature series.