Baker, Kage. Sky Coyote.

NY: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Baker’s first novel, In the Garden of Iden, introduced the Company, a thoroughly profit-motivated operation in our own future with a monopoly on time travel for 40,000 years into the past. Because it’s far too expensive to be continually popping back and forth, they established a system in the Neolithic era for creating immortal cyborgs.

These then have the job of stealing artifacts and knowledge that are about to be destroyed by known historical events, or which missed being recorded at all. Their minds and motivations have been managed to the point where they have no choice, but they’re also aware of their situation. And, while they’re thoroughly educated on every aspect of human history (Hollywood films are a great favorite in their rec centers in the past, and so is rock ‘n’ roll), they have to live through history one day at a time, like anyone else — until they get to 2355 A.D., when, apparently, everything changes. (Unfortunately, the author died untimely a couple of years ago, so we’ll never know what that’s about.)

That first book won a number of awards and deserved them. This volume is the second in the series and it’s also quite good, though the style is very different. (After this one, unfortunately, the author began to lose control of her material. There are a half-dozen additional novels about the Company that become less and less worth the reader’s time.)

Joseph, a Facilitator — i.e., he manages the recovery projects of other immortals — is one of the oldest of the cyborgs, having been rescued from a cave by the Old Ones when the Goat Cult attacked. He’s been everywhere and done everything. Now it’s the very beginning of 1700 (there’s a great series of scenes about the millennial New Year’s celebration at New World One, a premium R&R depot) and he’s being withdrawn from long service for the Spanish Inquisition and sent to play the role of a god among the Chumash of middle California. The Company has decided to save an entire village and all aspects of their culture before the Conquistadors land, not to mention the coming of the Yankees a couple of centuries later. Coyote is the classic trickster god and Joseph gets thoroughly into the part, with surgical augmentation and appliances (all part of the job), but mostly relying on his long experience to convince “his people” to allow themselves to be “rescued.”

The best part of the story is the perspective Baker puts on the Chumash and their surroundings. These are not primitive savages but a very sophisticated pre-industrial society, with trade guilds (who understand the difference between wholesale and retail), divorce and mandated child-support, advanced canoe-making technology (they produce several models, depending on the market), and a skeptical attitude toward the native religious cult down the coast. When Joseph/Sky Coyote starts to explain that a big earthquake was caused by angry gods, the Chumash are quite surprised. They assumed quakes were just a natural phenomenon. And while they love (and slightly fear) Coyote, who is their patron and protector, they’re also not reluctant to argue with him. The Sky People can’t be that different from themselves, right?

And while the narrative starts out rather light-hearted, Baker gradually introduces darker elements regarding the fate of California’s lush environment, the motivations of the Company, and what happens to those who kick over the traces. (Some of that last issue is addressed at length in later books in the series.) It’s a good story — as long as you read the first volume first. But you’ll have to decide eventually whether to keep on with this author or ultimately become disappointed.

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