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Sky Coyote by Kage Baker

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker
Book Name: Sky Coyote
Author: Kage Baker
Publisher(s): Harcourt
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Time Travel
Release Date: 1999

I return to the world of Dr. Zeus and his company this month, although in a very different manner from last time. Sky Coyote, the second book in the series, is very different from The Garden of Iden, not least because it is set on a different continent and in a different century. The protagonist of this book, Joseph, is wildly different from Mendoza. One might even say he’s about as different as the Chumash tribe of California is from sixteenth century Englishmen.

The Chumash, incidentally, are a tribe which the Company is determined to preserve, both in people and in lifestyle. A whole village will be brought to a Company base, and before that, their way of life will be meticulously recorded so that no detail can be lost. Why they are so special rather than any other tribes in the region (or indeed the continent) is not specified, at least not at first, and after a while it didn’t really feel important. I was curious about that, but I soon became far more interested in two other things. First, as I mentioned before, the book is very different, in tone and in scope. Second, we learn a great deal more about the mysterious Company, and it isn’t all good.

To be honest, I don’t think anyone expected it to be good. We’re all too genre savvy for that.

What is good is how Kage Baker shows the different settings of these two books through the different voices of their protagonists. Mendoza is sharp and serious, perfect for the deadly world of an England caught between two faiths. The world of Native Americans was no less deadly, but it, like Joseph, takes itself far less seriously. Don’t walk into this book expecting it to be as grim as the first in the series. Even though the threat of white men lingers in the background (and those of us who know our American history understand just how much of a threat they can be), this book doesn’t have the same sense of doom lurking throughout the pages. It is, dare I say, a romp, one which frequently made me laugh aloud.

The premise itself should be a hint of what’s to come. In order to bring the Chumash to the Company without alarming them too much, Joseph disguises himself as Sky Coyote, who most people will recall is a trickster god. He slides easily into the role, adopting his sardonic wit to become a jocular half-man, half-coyote preparing his various Chumash nieces and nephews for a voyage to the World Above, where he will save them from the danger of the coming white men. As with The Garden of Iden, this rescue mission is not the main plot of the book but happens in the edges of the main story, and that story is where the chills come in.

Honestly, even those chills aren’t quite as chilling as I found the slow fall toward destruction in The Garden of Iden. Maybe in retrospect they will be (and with the little bit of retrospect I currently have, they are already growing more unsettling), but while reading, I only found them funny. Sky Coyote is the first chance we have to meet the mortals of the twenty-fourth century, and when compared to the immortals or even the mortals of the past, they’re a rather sorry lot. A man named Bugleg is in charge of Joseph’s mission with the Chumash, and he is unsettled by the reality of living in the past to the point where I could not tell whether I found him amusing or pitiable. He struggles to understand any sort of metaphor or even the most slightly obscure turn of phrase, finds the idea that the Chumash would eat meat at all reprehensible, and has been so sheltered by his twenty-fourth century life that his asthma cannot handle the pollen of seventeenth-century California.

But through all that, there were moments where I did feel for him. He was out of his element, rather like any one of us might be, and there were times where it was plain that he was doing his best. He was still human, but the humans of the future are apparently reaching a point where they would be just as unrecognizable to us as the humans of the past. In a way, that felt more unsettling than the hints that some great and terrible event is rapidly approaching in the year 2355. What will become of us in the next three hundred years?

In the meantime, as we wait to find out what will become of immortals and mortals alike, Joseph has remained in California. The next book finds him working in Hollywood. Much as I loved Mendoza, I have to admit that Joseph is a much better fit for Hollywood, and I’m eagerly looking forward for when that book arrives from the library.


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