Rereading Kage Baker

Rereading Kage Baker’s Company Series: The Graveyard Game, Part 2

Welcome back to the Kage Baker Company Series reread! In this week’s post we’ll cover the section of The Graveyard Game that’s set in 2025 and 2026, so from the end of last week’s post to the end of the second Yorkshire chapter.

As always, you can find all previous posts in this reread on our wonderful index page. Also as always, please be aware that this reread contains spoilers for the entire series, so be careful if you haven’t read all the books yet!

 

Summary

In 2025 in Austin, Joseph visits Porfirio to find out more about what happened to Mendoza. In 2026 in London, Lewis acquires the 19th century correspondence of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax’s butler. Lewis and Joseph visit famous literary sites in England, including the Knollys Anti-Farm in Yorkshire. Following coordinates he received from Budu in 1099, Joseph discovers a vault full of dormant Enforcers in regeneration tanks.

 

Commentary

Joseph in the Darkness: Chronologically, the “Joseph in the Darkness” chapters all take place at the end of the novel, so in or after 2276, but it’s clear that Joseph is usually reacting to what he just narrated in the preceding chapters. Even if it’s been decades or even centuries, you can tell he still gets emotionally affected when recalling the events he’s describing.

In this case, Joseph finds himself pondering exactly what makes cyborgs immortal and, conversely, what could be done to circumvent all those overlapping systems and failsafes. This topic comes up a few times throughout the series, the most gruesome example being “Options Research” in the next novel. One of the perennial themes in science fiction, going back all the way to Frankenstein, is the exploration of technology’s unintended consequences. In this case, the technology is the immortality augmentation, and the unintended consequence is, to borrow Joseph’s words, “thousands of ancient, cunning, superintelligent, and extremely survival-oriented cyborgs.”

Joseph, who has been a loyal Company operative for millennia, now realizes that his former masters are terrified of their own creations and, what’s more, that they’re actively working against them and looking for ways to shut them down. Imagine the sense of betrayal, for someone who’s been tirelessly working for this Company for millennia! Just take a look at how the following paragraph evolves. Joseph is calmly pondering how perfect a weapon that could kill all immortals would have to be, but by the last few sentences, you can really feel his anger boiling up:

To say nothing of the fact that it would have to be one hell of a silver bullet, capable of destroying every single biomechanical in a cyborg’s body. If it missed even one, the little thing would reproduce frantically, and soon there would be enough to begin repair. Months or years later, some body would claw its way out of an unmarked grave, and if it wasn’t pissed off about the way it had been treated, I’d be real surprised. The masters would be surprised, too. Maybe in their beds, maybe in lonely places.

No wonder they monitor every word we say.

Austin, 2025: About 30 years have passed between San Francisco and this chapter. (Later on, we learn that the delay was mostly because Joseph was waiting for the perfect moment to approach Porfirio during a lightning storm.) Joseph has travelled to Austin to speak with Porfirio, the Security Technical who was also Mendoza’s case manager in Mendoza in Hollywood.

Porfirio now lives with another family of his own remote descendants. If you’ve read “The Angel in the Darkness”, the Porfirio novella set in 1991, you’ll even recognize some of their names. Philip, whose grave the family is visiting here, was the baby in that story. Philip’s daughter Tina was probably named after his mother, also a character in “The Angel in the Darkness”, and of course, Agustin is a recurring name in the family, going back all the way to Porfirio’s own brother. Philip’s the one that stands out though: In the books, we only see him as a baby and, 30 years later, as a corpse, skipping all the years in between. I’ve always considered that one of the most poignant examples of what Porfirio’s life must be like.

Meanwhile, the world has continued to change. We hear it’s been three years since “the War”, and one character mentions that two “Freemen” were recently shot nearby. In the roughly three centuries covered by The Graveyard Game, the world goes through multiple wars, natural disasters, and huge societal changes, but just like in most novels in the series, it all happens in the background. There’s something disconcerting about the casual way Kage Baker describes the way the world is changing so dramatically, but that’s because we’re looking at it from our own 21st century perspective. As far as Joseph is concerned, it’s all history: The dissolution of the United States in the 21st and 22nd centuries isn’t all that different from any of the huge historic events he’s seen during his many centuries of life.

Porfirio recounts the events and aftermath of Mendoza in Hollywood from his perspective. He suspects that the Company kept Mendoza on layover indefinitely after her inadvertent trip to 1986 so she’d go stir-crazy, giving them an excuse to detain her. He notes that Einar, the only person to accompany Mendoza on that trip, was taken away by a Company security team never to be seen again, and that the Company did a “data erasure” on Imarte, who wasn’t even there when Edward was killed. Clearly, Mendoza’s accidental time travel with Einar, and not her killing the Pinkerton agents who killed Edward, is the real reason why the Company is so interested in Mendoza.

Porfirio also reveals for the first time where Mendoza has been locked up, ominously indicating it by dipping his finger in bourbon and drawing three arrows on the table: “Back Way Back”, as Joseph calls it later on. It makes sense that the Company would imprison its undesirables in the far far past, given that it still believes that it has exclusive control of time travel at this point.

Porfirio is also one of the few people who know that Mendoza is a Crome generator, having seen her throw off the blue radiation over and and over again when she had nightmares about Nicholas in Cahuenga Pass. Because of this, he lays the blame for Mendoza’s downfall squarely on her recruiter Joseph’s shoulders. This always strikes me as a bit excessive, given that Joseph had no way of foreseeing what would happen three centuries into the future, plus, for all his faults, he did what he did to rescue a child.

Regardless, Porfirio can tell that Joseph has started digging into dark secrets and asks him to stay away from him and his mortal family for the rest of his eternal life. Thought experiment: imagine how different this novel would have been if Porfirio had joined Joseph and Lewis on their quest. As much as I love our two protagonists, they’re not exactly hardened action heroes, as opposed to Security Technical Porfirio who has been doing dirty work for centuries. Still, I don’t think I’d love this novel half as much without Lewis and Joseph’s more freeform approach to cloak-and-dagger work.

It’s all hypothetical anyway, because I doubt Porfirio would put his mortal family in any kind of risk, and from the end of “The Angel in the Darkness” we know that the shadier elements in the Company have their eyes on him. Much like Suleyman, who will also cut Joseph loose later in the novel, Porfirio can’t get too involved with Joseph because he has too much to protect.

Finally, note how Joseph mooches a mini Almond Joy candy bar from Porfirio. That Ghirardelli’s scene from last week was just the start: Joseph will be on the hunt for theobromos throughout The Graveyard Game in one of the best running jokes of the series. (And speaking of Halloween candy, how perfect is it that Kage Baker set this chapter on Halloween/Dia de los Muertos, and that Porfirio, of all people, is Senor Death?)

Joseph in the Darkness: Now Joseph has spoken with the last people who saw Mendoza (Juan Bautista and Porfirio), he realizes there are only two people who can help him rescue her: the Enforcer Budu, who he hasn’t seen in a thousand years, and North African Sector Head Suleyman. The rest of the novel will see him searching for the former, because now he has reliable proof that the Company is responsible for Mendoza’s disappearance (and for many others), he is finally ready to check Budu’s message from the year 1099. In next week’s chapter set, he’ll find out to his surprise that Suleyman has also been looking for Budu, if for very different reasons.

The Graveyard Game is where the Company series starts focusing less on historical missions and more on the broader plot, including the nature of the Company and the future of its operatives. Take a look at Joseph’s musings about gradual retirement and slavery, or maybe more correctly, the way his musings about gradual retirement lead into thoughts about slavery. From the very beginning, this series has suggested, between the lines, that the operatives, as immortal and unimaginably powerful as they are, are also in many ways slaves, bound in service against their will (or at least before they could reasonably be expected to give informed consent) by an unseen, all-powerful master who controls every part of their lives. This aspect of the series has mostly been in the background so far, a dark undercurrent that’s overshadowed by everything else going on in these novels, but now we’re getting to the point where operatives are being imprisoned (and worse), it’s starting to become harder and harder to ignore. In this chapter, Joseph finally faces the truth:

We’ve all been told the Company will start rewarding us now for our millennia of faithful service. Giving us little treats, vacations, personal lives. This is the way it’ll be all the time after 2355, they say: we can go anywhere we want, do anything we want. Just as though we weren’t slaves.

It’s taken me so many years to be able to say that word.

London, 2026: Another piece of the puzzle falls into place as Lewis, now working as an antiquarian in London, acquires the correspondence of one Robert Richardson, who turns out to have been the butler in Nr. 10, Albany Crescent in the 19th century. Trevor and Anita’s package of letters wouldn’t have had any impact on Lewis if he hadn’t seen Juan Bautista’s sketch in San Francisco thirty years earlier. Thanks to this sketch, he recognizes the person depicted on the daguerreotype and suddenly knows much more about Mendoza in Hollywood’s mysterious Nicholas Harpole doppelganger, including his name: Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax. (If the butler’s place of employment sounds familiar, we’ll see this address again in The Life of the World to Come, when Rutherford, Chatterji, and Ellsworth-Howard meet there as the Inklings Nouveau in 2350.)

Seeing this daguerreotype sends Lewis down memory lane, going back to the same scene in New World One’s El Galleon restaurant we’ve seen a few times already. Lewis recalls Mendoza’s heartbreaking sadness at Nicholas’s death, but what’s more interesting, we see the seeds of Lewis’s obsession with Edward emerge in this chapter when he’s looking at the old picture:

Lewis was seeing, suddenly, the extraordinary quality she’d tried to hard to describe. His heart lurched. He wasn’t sure what to make of this.

As the novel and the series progresses, we’ll see Lewis get more and more obsessed with the mysterious Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax. Towards the end of the novel, Joseph even speculates that Lewis may have been in love with both Mendoza and Edward. While I think you could make a case for the former, at least back in New World One, I always thought Lewis’s interest in Edward was mostly non-romantic. Or, maybe more accurately, I feel that Lewis sees Edward as the personification of the dashing romantic hero, but not so much as a hypothetical romantic partner.

Houston, 2026: Joseph is apparently still stationed in Texas after his meeting with Porfirio in Austin. We don’t get a whole lot of information about his current assignment, but it seems to involve dealing with land appropriation bills and governors, so we can assume it’s something political. (Another operative is going to Corpus Christi before an imminent hurricane strike, adding natural disasters to the political upheaval that was hinted in the Porfirio chapter. Clearly, the U.S. is heading for a dark period.) When Joseph gets Lewis’s note and sees the copy of the Edward daguerreotype, he immediately takes off for London.

Aside from this, the most notable part of this chapter is Donal’s first appearance. Donal, now a Musicologist, was the child rescued by Victor in “Son Observe the Time”. He’ll pop up again in next week’s chapters, providing his unique perspective on Budu’s demise.

London: While Lewis has been nurturing his obsession with Mendoza, Joseph has been researching a second disappearance that’s just as important to him: Budu. Once he arrives in London to follow up on the lead Lewis sent to him, he promptly enlists Lewis to accompany him to Yorkshire, where he’s planning to visit the location of one of the sets of coordinates from Budu’s 1099 message.

Before this, Lewis fills in some more details about Edward gleaned from Richardson’s letters, including Edward’s illegitimate birth. At this point, it’s probably unrealistic to expect anyone to remember that, back in In the Garden of Iden, Nicholas also mentioned that he was born out of wedlock (at least, I didn’t see that connection the first time around) but it’s yet another similarity between Nicholas and Edward (and later Alec) that’ll finally get explained in The Life of the World to Come.

Finally, note Joseph’s continued descent into chocaholism: When Lewis suggests a literary pilgrimage as an excuse to visit Yorkshire, Joseph’s first reaction is “Any Theobromos action up there?”

Yorkshire (by way of Brigantia): But oh, that literary pilgrimage! After the Ghirardelli’s scene, The Comedic Adventures of Lewis and Joseph continue unabated with a two day theobromos-fueled jaunt across the Yorkshire Dales, including visits to the Brontë Parsonage Museum (which is real), the Herriot museum (also real) and the Knollys Anti-Farm (not so much).

Despite a steady supply of candy bars, Joseph is not nearly as impressed with the literary history of the area. Witness, for example, his brutal three sentence takedown of the Brontë canon: “Boy meets girl, girl loses boy, everybody dies. I just don’t get it. What those kids needed was some tuberculosis innoculations and a whole lot of Prozac.” Ouch. Joseph also clearly doesn’t appreciate the delicious irony of two immortals participating in a literary reenactment tour.

The visit to the Swaledale Anti-Farm is a clever way to show the origin of the strict vegan laws we’ll see appearing in the books later on. The (fictional) epic trilogy Commonwealth of Innocents, described in the novel as “a cross between Animal Farm and Watership Down” (to which I’d add “as written by a militant PETA member”) is the first domino in a process that will eventually lead to the Beast Liberation Party, a prohibition on all meat and dairy products, and a huge amount of culture shock when “future kids” like Bugleg are exposed to the dietary habits of other historical periods.

The chapter set in “Brigantia” offers a Company-based explanation for the disappearance of the Ninth Hispania, a Roman legion that vanished under mysterious circumstances in the 2nd century AD. There is a vast amount of scholarly research about this topic, but I know little to nothing about it so I can’t really tell if Kage Baker is doing anything tricky with this material that someone who’s better versed if classical history would understand. In either case, Joseph’s flashback again hammers home the vast lifespans of these characters, with Joseph remembering events that took place about 2,000 years earlier. Labienus’ right hand man Nennius makes his first actual appearance here too, escorting the remains of the six fallen Enforcers to the vault that Joseph and Lewis discover in the 21st century.

Of course, the vault itself is the big revelation of these chapters — a revelation the books have been working towards ever since Budu’s cryptic hints in Sky Coyote and, in a sense, all the way since Nicholas and Mendoza discussed the return of King Arthur’s knights in In the Garden of Iden. (The Anti-Farm folks, Jeffrey and Lotus, even helpfully point out that the hill is named Arthur’s Seat.) Finding the Enforcers in their regeneration tanks in the Yorkshire vault is the final step in Joseph’s evolution from loyal Company employee to rogue cyborg. I remember reading this scene for the first time and being completely stunned by all its implications. Just the visual of hundreds of huge Enforcers, unconscious in their regeneration tanks under a random hill in England, blew my mind.

Meanwhile, Lewis is suffering a shock of his own when he enters the vault. Being in the underground tunnel triggers suppressed memories of his capture by Homo Umbratilis in Ireland, about 1500 years earlier. (I assume he hadn’t been in any other underground tunnels since then.) In addition to the whereabouts of Budu and Mendoza, Lewis’s past is the third big mystery that Kage Baker teases in this novel, and for anyone who hadn’t read the 1999 story “The Fourth Branch” in Amazing Stories, it would mostly remain a mystery until that story was incorporated in The Children of the Company in 2005.

Before we end this week’s proceedings, here’s a fun little reference: The music Lewis plays in the car right before they get to the Haworth parsonage is a “symphonic piece by Ian Anderson” featuring a “flute melody of haunting sweetness.” Ian Anderson is the lead singer (and flautist) of Jethro Tull, a band Kage Baker greatly admired. There are a few other references to Jethro Tull scattered throughout Kage Baker’s works, e.g. the author stated that Ermenwyr’s looks were based on Ian Anderson, and the Ermenwyr story “Leaving His Cares Behind” was inspired by a Jethro Tull song.

 

And that’s where we’ll end it for today. Next week we’ll cover the chapters set in 2142. See you then!

Stefan Raets used to review tons of science fiction and fantasy here on Tor.com and his website Far Beyond Reality, but lately his life has been eaten by Kage Baker’s Company series.

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