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Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker

Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker
Book Name: Mendoza in Hollywood
Author: Kage Baker
Publisher(s): Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US) Harcourt Brace International (UK)
Formatt: Hardback / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Time Travel
Release Date: February 7, 2000

As I think back to my Sky Coyote review, I have to wonder how I could have prized Joseph over Mendoza. Yes, Mendoza is rather colder and more humorless than Joseph, but she puts so much more meat in a story than he does.

That said, be warned: Mendoza in Hollywood is not the light fair of the book it follows, but given whose eyes we see the action through, that’s only to be expected.

Mendoza’s Hollywood isn’t quite the one you would think of from the name. The Hollywood she visits is still part of the frontier. The gold rush has begun, but California is nowhere near what any of us might call civilized. It’s only recently become a state, and further to the east, the Civil War rages. The year is 1863, and Mendoza is about to be caught up in a conspiracy which spans past and future.

You could be forgiven for forgetting that during the first part of the book, of course. I almost did. After a chilling prologue in which Mendoza, lips loosened by Theobromine, is being questioned by her superiors about attempting to alter the flow of history, we dive right into her latest assignment: collecting samples from mid-nineteenth century California. At first, all is innocuous and amusing. Imarte, an anthropologist, is posing as a prostitute to hear men talk about their life stories, and is continually annoyed with the other immortals accidentally sending away her clients/research subjects. A young ornithologist has something of a collection of birds, attached to them as only a young idealist can be. One of the other researchers starts something of a film festival, showing old movies that it’s very likely none of the readers will have heard of. And why not? This is Hollywood, after all, even if motion pictures won’t be around for mortals for another few decades.

It’s a testament to Kage Baker’s writing that the film festival scenes are as interesting as they become. From a mediocre or even bad writer, they would be nothing more than filler. Instead, they are light-hearted entertainment. While I wasn’t quite rolling on the floor with laughter, I was certainly amused, and I didn’t wind up just skimming through the pages (and coming from someone who spent years learning how to sustain interest in anything that did not involve elves or laser guns, that compliment isn’t backhanded in the least). The immortals’ reactions to the films are just as interesting as the films themselves; Baker has a definite knack for showing how living forever and seeing so much would affect someone.

Of course, it isn’t all film festivals and collecting specimens. Even if the book wouldn’t be at all interesting except as a sci-fi slice of life, this is one of Mendoza’s books, and her love for Nicholas Harpole still hangs heavy on her. It’s more than just grief and loss: she’s been having repeated dreams about him and waking haloed in the blue light of Crome radiation. If there were any possibility that ghosts existed in the universe of the Company novels, I might think she was being literally haunted.

Admittedly, it’s hard to tell whether there are ghosts or not. Baker has revealed so little that every chapter seems to contain a new mystery. While I think I have a good idea of what the rules are, I’m not certain, and the uncertainty is one of the most exciting parts of the series.

One of the greatest mysteries, as I mentioned in my review of Sky Coyote, is whether we can even trust the Company. On the surface, they certainly seem benevolent. Their mission is to preserve important parts of the past, after all, and the method they’ve chosen to do so is ingenious enough to completely win me past their more mercenary aspects. (Besides, I’m an American. Almost nothing in my life is free from mercenary aspects.) They might have some rather questionable means, but the ends are good, and I’ve rather made my peace with corporations which aren’t entirely trustworthy. It just adds a touch of realism to the books.

Sky Coyote, however, added new layers to the Company. No one’s heard any news past a certain year, despite otherwise having access to all sorts of information from our present and future. Immortals have gone missing, and Joseph has begun to have suspicions about what might have become of them.

Mendoza in Hollywood only encourages these suspicions in the readers, even if Mendoza doesn’t get a chance to reach out to Joseph about them. By the end of the book, I was getting little chills of excitement and trepidation every time the Company was mentioned. I came into this series because a librarian told me it was about time travel, history, cyborgs, and a super-cool female protagonist. I didn’t have the faintest idea I would be stumbling into a conspiracy.

I couldn’t be happier about how this is turning out.


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