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The Life of the World to Come by Kage Baker

The Life of the World to Come by Kage Baker
5
Book Name: The Life of the World to Come
Author: Kage Baker
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Time Travel
Release Date: December 1, 2004

We know about Mendoza. We know about Joseph. We even know a bit about Lewis, though not quite as much as the other two. (And that’s all right, fond though I grew of him over the last book.) There is, however, one man we don’t know much about at all. We don’t even know if he’s one man or two. Based on this latest book, he might even be three.

I speak, of course, of Nicholas Harpole. That is, I speak of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax. Or maybe I speak of Alec Checkerfield, seventh earl of Finsbury.

I say this like it hasn’t already happened: things are about to get weird.

This latest book opens with Mendoza, trapped in Back Way Back, 150,000 years ago. She has been spending her time growing food for people who want to vacation on Santa Catalina of the past, before any bit of it could be despoiled by humanity, time tourists seeking a past that for once really did exist. She’s also been working on her cultivars some more, like the good botanist she is and hopefully always will be.

And, most importantly, she’s been writing journals in an attempt to keep herself sane. It isn’t as though there’s anyone else to communicate with beyond herself. Remember those moments in the first book, when it was clear Mendoza was remembering this story from sometime in the future? This is how she’s been remembering. She’s been dwelling on her past life, on her regrets and mistakes, telling us all how she – and we – got here.

It looks like her life will go on as it has, but everything changes when a time machine crashes into her cornfield. Inside is Nicholas/Edward, calling himself Alec and claiming to be from the year 2351. Mendoza at once brings him to her home and patches him up, and there she tells him the truth, or as much of it as she can. She doesn’t tell him she’s a cyborg, but she does tell him that something’s going to happen in 2355. Alec says he has some unfinished business to attend to, but after that, he promises he’ll come back and rescue her. He gets back into his time machine and shoots off into the future once more.

After that, we readers go back to the beginning.

The Life of the World to Come is told a bit different from the other books in the series, not that saying so says much at all. Each book has had a different style of telling its story, and the main difference for this one isn’t that it follows two parallel storylines. It’s that the story is told primarily about humans. A large part of the book is Alec’s story, from his childhood to when he ventures into the past and meets Mendoza, but we also meet the Inklings Nouveau, a group of men working for Dr. Zeus, Incorporated, and who are responsible for the creation of Nicholas/Edward/Alec.

We begin with Alec. He spends his early childhood aboard a boat, sailing about from place to place with rich parents who don’t particularly care for him and a crew who adores him. It isn’t long before he’s brought to London, though, where his parents divorce and leave him largely in the care of Lewin and his wife. The main influence on his life, however, comes from Captain Morgan.

Captain Henry Morgan, that is, a simulated pirate. The overly sensitive twenty-fourth century culture would frown on that, of course, and the AI behind Captain Morgan at first tries to make him out as a jolly sea captain who can serve as, for lack of a better term, Alec’s imaginary friend. Alec, however, does the impossible. He changes Captain Morgan’s code, altering his ethics so that he can be a proper pirate. This shouldn’t be possible for anyone, let alone a small child, and the sheer impossibility of it is how Alec gets away with it when the company who made the AI tries to sue him.

It’s also a pretty good clue that he (and Nicholas and Edward) are more than what they seem.

That brings us to the Inklings Nouveau, who are also far more than what they seem. To someone not privy to their thoughts, they would seem to be eccentrics, possibly bordering on madmen. Given how much they romanticize the past and the rather ill-advised stroll through London in an attempt to reach the countryside which they undertake, many readers will be inclined to agree that “eccentric” is a kind way to describe them. However, they are each brilliant in their own way, and they are the men responsible for creating Nicholas/Edward/Alec. As it turns out, he isn’t human at all, but from another species in the genus Homo. These men, in their quest to reclaim the glory of the past, wish to bring forth a tragic hero. Anyone who remembers Nicholas and Edward will have to agree that they succeeded.

This is normally the point where I would say that I highly recommend the book and am eagerly looking forward to the next installment in the series. Both are still true (in fact, I have the next book already checked out from the library and waiting on my bedside table), but I have further thoughts. As I said in my last review, this series has crossed over from fantasy-like to science fiction proper. I do intend to finish my review of the series, but let this be a warning to any fantasy purists that the series as a whole may not quite be your cup of tea.

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