You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gods and Pawns

Gods and Pawns is a collection of short stories by Kage Baker. The stories are all about the Company, an institution that has figured out how to travel back in time and use that power to enrich themselves. They recruit children who are lost to history, give them treatments to make them immortal cyborgs, and use them as agents throughout history.

The first story is "To the Land Beyond the Sunset"., about two cyborgs names Lewis, a literature preservation specialist, and Mendoza, a cyborg woman who is a botanist. Lewis is attracted to Mendoza, but he is shy and she is bitter about the death of a mortal lover. They live in a Company compound in 17th century South America. When Lewis wins a week off, he decides to offer Mendoza a trip to the Amazonian wilderness. While camping, they encounter a family claiming to be ancient gods. They end up in an amusing cat and mouse game with the family, and Mendoza discovers the secret to a biological substance that's a super fertilizer.

Another story, "The Angel in the Darkness", is about Porforio, an immortal who has followed and protected the descendants of his brother for centuries. In 1991, he has to protect Maria and her niece and grandnephew when a rogue agent from a secret organization that plots against the Company. The rogue agent starts a plague in a nursing home, in a recreation of a plague he started decades earlier. Poforio has to explain who he is to his mortal relative, and why he looks the same as he did in the fifties when she was a girl.

"Welcome to the Olympus, Mr. Hearst" is a long story about Lewis and Joseph, two immortals who visit William Randolph Hearst's estate in 1933 to let them hide an autographed manuscript in a piece of furniture. They have to deal with a visitor who claims to be a mystic, her dog who suspects Lewis is different, the theft of the manuscript, celebrities such as Greta Garbo and Clark Gable, and a very demanding Hearst. Joseph discovers that he has a much bigger time dealing with Hearst, and finds out a big secret of the Company.

There are some shorter stories, about a man who is turned into an immortal and goes insane; Joseph and Mendoza on the trail of a special type of gold in San Fransisco in 1950; the Company's work to create works from a Dutch master to suit the bland twenty-fourth century taste in art; and Lewis's trip to a private library in 1774, and the secret rites he experiences.

The stories all have common themes of how immortals deal with long lives and the loss of mortal friends, how the Company twists the little known pieces of history to its advantage, and how the agents suffer through the machinations and dealings of their masters.

The characters are all interesting. Lewis in particular comes off very well, almost a naive version of a manipulative agent. He is always earnest and enthusiastic. Mendoza is more cynical, holding a grudge against the Company for the loss of her mortal lover. Joseph is the capable agent, who knows that he is only part of a large process. The plots are also captivating. The stories manage to weave through time without causing disruptions. And yet big things happen. It's an A-.


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