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The Machine’s Child by Kage Baker

The Machine’s Child by Kage Baker
4
Book Name: The Machine’s Child
Author: Kage Baker
Publisher(s): Tor Books
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Time Travel
Release Date: September 19, 2006

I have some very mixed feelings about The Machine’s Child. On the one hand, I think I will always love Kage Baker’s work. The future she paints is intricate and engaging, and the visions of the past are playful without being mocking. This next installment in the Company series propels us further still to 2355 and the Silence, laying pieces in place for the eventual confrontation. Or, well, whatever will happen eventually. We still don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure it will be a confrontation. With all this build-up, it would be pretty anticlimactic for an asteroid to crash into the Earth and send everyone back to a pre-Industrial level of technology.

Still, I suppose it could happen. After Sky Coyote, I do think Baker has enough irreverence to pull off that kind of ending.

Normally, this would be the point where I would give a summary, talk for a bit about what I liked best about the book, and then finish up by saying how excited I am for the next one in the series. This time, though, I’m not quite as enthusiastic, and in what I am sure will be a surprise to those who have read my previous reviews of this series, the problem is Mendoza.

Rather, the problem is what Mendoza has become.

To recap: Nicholas/Edward/Alec has found that the Company has plucked Mendoza from Back Way Back and sent her… someplace else. He doesn’t know exactly where she is, but he does know that he will rescue her. He has loved her over three lifetimes and lost her in two. He won’t lose her again, and with the help of Sir Henry Morgan, Alec’s childhood “imaginary friend” (for lack of another less complex term), he finds her on an island made for punishing cyborgs who have gone so strongly against the Company that they must be disappeared. It’s rather like what happened to Kalugin in his submarine or what happened to Lewis when the shadow men captured him, but far worse. This time we know exactly what’s been happening to the cyborgs, and to Mendoza in particular: torture.

It isn’t the torture that bothers me. At this point, it doesn’t even much surprise me. There are no depths to which the Company will not sink, it seems, and this is only one more piece of evidence that they are the villains of the story. We’d been aware of that for over half the series by now, but sometimes it’s useful to have an extra little reminder.

What bothers me is how Mendoza acts after Nicholas/Edward/Alec rescues her. She has amnesia, which may be for the best given the trauma she’s been through, but that amnesia seems to have wiped away the parts of her that I loved so much. She doesn’t feel like the Mendoza I remember from In the Garden of Iden, the Mendoza that fell in love with Nicholas Harpole. Now she is completely (I could even say frustratingly) devoted to Nicholas/Edward/Alec. She believes every word he says, but why wouldn’t she? After all, she knows nothing of the world. She has no proof that he would be anything but honest with her.

Maybe this is the entire point. As a child, she was programmed to be loyal to the Company and to be devoted to her work. Now that the Company has betrayed her, she needs another focus for that loyalty and devotion. It just feels rather old-fashioned for her to make that focus also a romantic interest. Don’t get me wrong, it does make sense, but I do wish she had a little more agency.

Lest this review turn into just my bemoaning Mendoza’s fate, I should add that having Nicholas, Edward, and Alec all in the same body is a fascinating read. Though we knew them individually, we really get to see them as people when they contrast each other. Pious Nicholas, dangerous Edward, and sensitive Alec make one hell of a trio, and my favorite parts of the book were seeing how three men who are genetically the same man but raised in very different times play off each other.

Edward’s speculation on the three Ages of Man (Faith, Reason, and Technology) is exactly the sort of thing I turn to speculative fiction for, and it provides a new insight into their characters. What is Nicholas, after all, but a man shaped by his faith? What is Alec but a man so brought up by technology that he made it a part of him? What is Edward but a man devoted to reason? It is a way of sorting characters which I had not considered before, and Baker does more than just place them in these categories and leave it there. She shows the benefits and the dangers of them.

Nicholas’s faith gives him something to cling to, but when that faith is challenged as completely as it has been since he learned the truth about what Mendoza is, he is left grasping for some new way to understand the world. Alec’s affinity for technology has given him abilities we modern humans could only dream of, but he is also rather softer than we are (which isn’t always a drawback, except when Nicholas or Edward need to step in to get something done). Edward is, frankly, dangerous, and that danger can be used either to protect Mendoza or to further his own aims; these two motives don’t always coincide.

I enjoyed reading this book, but by the end, I felt as though it was more a transition piece than anything else. Everyone is getting into place for 2355, but taken by itself as the early books could be, it didn’t have much of a plot. I’d still recommend reading it, but it’s easily the weakest book in the series.

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