Rereading Kage Baker

Rereading Kage Baker’s Company Series: The Graveyard Game, Part 3

The Temporal Concordance for October 25, 2016 tells us that a new post in the Kage Baker Company Series Reread should appear on Tor.com today, and we all know history cannot be changed so… Here we go! In today’s post, we’ll go back to The Graveyard Game, covering the chapters set in 2142 and 2143, so from the end of last week’s post and ending on the chapter set in Regent’s Park.

As always, you can find the previous posts in the reread on our lovely 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 London in 2142, Lewis finds out more information about Edward’s past and his involvement with earlier incarnations of Dr. Zeus, Incorporated. In Fez in 2143, Joseph compares notes with Suleyman, Latif, and Donal about Budu, and visits another Company vault with Suleyman. Nan is researching the whereabouts of disappeared immortals, including her husband Kalugin. Back in London, Joseph learns from Victor where to find Budu.

 

Commentary

Joseph in the Darkness: Since Joseph usually skips at least a few decades between the individual sections of the novel, the “Darkness” chapters are a convenient way to summarize the (future) historical events between one section and the next. In this case, Joseph gives a quick overview of the major changes that occurred between the previous chapter and the following one, covering the 21st and early 22nd century.

“Quick” is the operative word here. Many of these developments affect the way the story develops, so Kage Baker had to work them into the novel some way, but it’s odd to see these shocking, world-shaking events brushed over so casually, including millions of deaths due to war, disease, and natural disasters in just a few sentences.

Part of the reason for this is probably Kage Baker’s “Write What You Know” maxim. Kage was fascinated by Tudor England and the history of California, so she devoted lots of attention to the little historical details that made those settings come to life. By contrast, the three centuries covered in The Graveyard Game were just a fictional setting for the story, so the description of that period ended up more barebones or at least portrayed in much broader strokes.

The second part of the explanation is what we talked about last week: The Graveyard Game is where the focus of the series shifts from historical missions (with a little bit of Company intrigue mixed in) to the overarching plot about the nature of the Company (with a little bit of future history).

Of course, some of the major developments in these centuries can be traced back directly to the Company, or at least factions inside the Company. So far we’ve only seen hints about the so-called “Plague Cabal”, but we’re about to hear a lot more about them. In this chapter, we already get a quick look at some of their greatest hits, including the Sattes virus and the Karremans Recombinant.

Just like with “Son Observe the Time”, this is another case where the novels referred to events that had only been described in short stories up to that point: “Black Smoker” and “The Applesauce Monster” had both been published already (in Asimov’s), but it would be another few years before they’d be incorporated in The Children of the Company.

This chapter also describes the consolidation of the various neo-pagan religious movements into an organized matriarchal religion that becomes a significant part of the plot in the second half of the series. This forms, in a way, yet another bridge to The Children of the Company, because that’s where we’ll read about Lewis dictating the “Codex Druidae” (ordered from Dr. Zeus by future neo-Wiccans) to a monk in 6th century Ireland, all so the Company could retrieve it centuries later. (Much more importantly, that mission is also when Lewis was first captured by Homo Umbratilis, which may be one of the two or three most significant events in the entire series. The Children of the Company is in many ways the book that explains all the shadowy goings-on that are hinted at all through the first half of the series.)

London, 2142: I love how Kage Baker sets the tone for this chapter using just a two word title and one sentence. The title tells us over a century has passed since the previous section. The first sentence has Lewis walking past the crater where his antiquarian bookstore used to be. Clearly things haven’t gone well in the country formerly known as the United Kingdom but recently renamed to the Breton Republic, now Northern Ireland and Scotland have broken away and Wales is in the process of separating. Assassinations and terrorist attacks abound. With all the blackouts and bombings, the atmosphere in London is not all that different from the Blitz, two whole centuries earlier.

Amid all the political chaos, Lewis isn’t doing so well himself, scraping by on war rations while living in a garret. Lewis is suffering from nightmares and anxiety attacks brought on by the resurfacing memories of his capture by Homo Umbratilis in 6th century Ireland. Maybe more importantly: Kage Baker doesn’t make it quite as obvious as she did for Nefer in Iden or Mendoza in Cahuenga Pass, but Lewis is in the middle of an extended layover between assignments here, and we all know what that does to an operative’s mental health…

In this case, in the absence of mutilated goats or drought-parched oak trees, Lewis seems to be nurturing his fascination with Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax into a full-blown obsession. He has purchased the daguerreotype and displays it proudly to his guests, pretending Edward was his distant ancestor. He has practically memorized the three letters Edward wrote to his butler and ersatz father Richardson. He has researched Edward’s past in incredible detail and has even conducted a detailed (but, as we know, doomed) search of London’s graveyards for Edward’s final resting place. Finally, he has already started work on what will eventually turn into a multi-volume series of novels starring a fictionalized adventurer/secret agent named Edward.

It’s easy to see how Lewis builds up an idealized version of Edward in his imagination, because aside from official records and the fact that Edward loved Mendoza, all Lewis really has to go on are the content of those three letters, which show off Edward’s sense of humor, his idealism, and his loyalty to the old family retainer Richardson, but none of the less pleasant sides of his personality we’ve already experienced in Mendoza in Hollywood and will see so much more of later in the series. Lewis is working on limited information, like someone who only knows a person through their Facebook profile. I doubt that he would actually like Edward if he got to spend any meaningful amount of time with him, but we’ll never know because they only meet in the flesh at the very end of the series.

One of Lewis’s anxiety-fueled dreams somehow leads him to 205 (not 2355) Bond Street, where he begins to investigate the history of the Redking’s Club and the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society. He finds out that they trace back to similar organizations from as early as the 13th century, and eventually evolved into the Kronos Diversified Stock Company, an early alias for Dr. Zeus, Incorporated. He also finds out that Nennius was a member of Redking’s and the G.S.S. and that he was Edward’s headmaster. (We’ll get a brief look at this period, including one instance of Edward getting disciplined for fighting at school—also briefly alluded to in this chapter—in, you guessed it, The Children of the Company.)

That dream is a bit of a mystery, by the way. If this were Mendoza, I’d blame it on Crome’s, but in the absence of that I’m frankly stumped: How did Lewis find out from a dream which exact building in London contains the ancient classified information he needs to discover more about Edward’s past? Despite Lewis’s murmured prayer of thanks to Carl Jung, I’ve always felt that this stretched the limits of plausibility.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out another fun, easy-to-miss Bakerism in this chapter. Note the name and location of the church where Edward was baptized: St. Nicholas’s Church in Sevenoaks. If you go back all the way to Chapter 22 of In the Garden of Iden, you’ll see Master Darrell and Francis Ffrawney talking about Nicholas Harpole getting caught for preaching heresy in, yes, Sevenoaks. (There actually is a St. Nicholas Church in Sevenoaks, by the way, though presumably it wasn’t named after the same Nicholas.)

Fez: The first Fez chapter is one of my favorite parts in the series, mainly because of two moments I adore, but before we get to that, the big picture: Over a century since we last saw him, Joseph is still following up on clues about Budu. He’s in Fez to check another vault (in addition to the one he visited with Lewis in Yorkshire, he says he’s found two more by now) for Budu and Mendoza. He also finds out more from Donal about the night that operative was recruited in San Francisco (I guess this somehow never came up while Donal was stationed with Joseph in Texas all those years) and makes a connection between the mysterious giant figure from Donal’s confused memories and his long-lost immortal father Budu. At the end of the scene, Nan appears while she takes a break from looking for a missing man, later revealed to be her husband Kalugin.

The adult Latif is a big change from the little neophyte we saw in Sky Coyote, isn’t he? He’s passionate, fearless, hyper-competent, and has a wicked sense of humor. I always imagine him as the action hero of the cast, with his “considerable” adult height and “the lean and dangerous profile of a North African corsair.” If someone like Michael Bay turned the Company series into a standard Hollywood action flick, Latif would get all the best scenes.

However, the real star of the scene is Suleyman, who has been mentioned a few times so far but hasn’t really appeared “on stage” until now. Suleyman, who has worked with Joseph in the past, has become one of the most powerful Company operatives, controlling a growing network of mortal and immortal agents from his base in Africa. We’ll meet other Executives who have built up significant power bases, but mainly to further more nefarious agendas such as exterminating most of humanity. Suleyman is different in that he uses his power for good, protecting both ordinary mortals and his fellow cyborgs from the Company’s efforts to control or harm them.

Isn’t Latif the perfect counterpart to his mentor Suleyman, though? Where Latif is aggressive and impulsive, Suleyman is more quiet and measured. Latif jokes and banters with Joseph, while Suleyman is almost always serious and on task. (Just for fun, pay attention to how many times Suleyman laughs as the series progresses. It happens twice in this chapter, but you won’t see a whole lot of it in the rest of the series.) In all seriousness though, Suleyman is mostly presented as wise, balanced, and (for want of a better word) benevolent—much like his historical almost-namesake. He’s in many ways the diametrical opposite of the other big immortal power brokers like Labienus and Aegeus.

Suleyman’s conversation with Joseph during their expedition to the vault is both revealing and confusing. Suleyman links the various plagues Joseph mentioned in the “Darkness” chapter to a Company supply tunnel in Africa, raising the terrifying idea that a “cabal” within the Company has been spreading lethal diseases among the mortal population. We know that this is actually true from later novels, but when Suleyman calls the group “Budu’s cabal,” it probably set some heads spinning for people who hadn’t read “Son Observe the Time” yet when this novel came out. After all, we haven’t seen much from Budu yet in the novels to date, aside from those few short flashbacks in Sky Coyote. A few chapters later, Latif will inform Joseph that Labienus started running the “Plague Club” after 1906, which suggests Budu was at least involved before that. The exact nature of Budu’s association with Labienus will be cleared up later (in, of course, The Children of the Company) but until that point, this scene cast a bit of a shadow on Joseph’s idealized memories of Budu.

In the second Fez chapter we see Nan’s conversation with Victor. Victor comes across as formal, reserved, and extremely fastidious, but as we’ll find out later, there are very understandable reasons for all of this: Victor was augmented, without his consent or even knowledge, to spread poison or disease when triggered. That’s how he disabled Budu in 1906 and, for that matter, how he spread the “Karremans Defensive” mentioned earlier. As a result, modern-day Victor has sort of turned into the reverse of a pathologically germ-phobic person, afraid to involuntarily spread a horrible disease or poison.

This is another one of those scenes that reads very differently when you know some of the revelations from later in the series. For another example, just look at Nan’s thoughts when she ponders the disappearance of her husband Kalugin:

“How can it just lose us?” Nan demanded. “I remember being told that I might sink under the polar ice, or be buried in an ocean of sand, and the Company would still be able to rescue me.”

The bitter irony here is of course that Kalugin, at that very moment, is actually buried undersea.

So, about those two moments I adore in this chapter? The first one is Donal’s muddied recollection of the night he was recruited. His memories match perfectly with the end of “Son, Observe the Time” but take on a dream-like quality: “I got to ride in a motor car, the little Chinese doll gave me chocolate, and we went on a ship.” Donal is one of the most recent recruits we’ll see in the series, but after 200 years even his (relatively) recent memories of that night take on a mythical quality. I also love that Donal’s Irish accent surfaces while he’s recounting this—a very authentic touch.

The second moment I love is the four male immortals in the scene singing for Nan. I’ve looked high and low for references to Jacques Soulier’s “Sea Lullabye” but haven’t been able to find anything, so I’m going with the assumption that this is a fictional song and composer. Regardless, just the image of Joseph, Latif, Suleyman, and Donal raising their voices in song to console Nan while she grieves is very moving, and Kage Baker perfectly encapsulates how beautiful their immortal voices must be by describing the mortal servant’s awestruck reaction:

It was late, they’d been drinking a little, felt no need to cramp themselves to sound like mortal men. Within the house an old servant awoke and lay silent, listening in joy and terror. He had lived long enough to know that Allah did things like this, sometimes, beautiful and inexplicable things like sending angels to sing in a garden at night. It wouldn’t do to blaspheme, though, by running to the window to see if they were really there. The music was gift enough.

Before we wrap up this chapter, here’s a very random factoid: Polaris, the North Star, has apparently slipped out of place, per Joseph’s musings at the beginning of this chapter. This struck me as unlikely because I always assumed the Pole or North Star was the one steady object in the night sky, so of course I had to look into it and guess what? Turns out that there’s actually an astronomical basis for this. Apparently Polaris has only been the North Star for a few thousand years. As recently as 3000 BC, a different star was the North star, and yet another star will eventually be closer to the celestial pole and become the new North Star, though that’ll only happen around the start of the next millennium, not by 2143. The more you know, right?

Mexico/London: After a brief interval in Mexico (mainly interesting because it shows the influx of Japanese immigrants after the earthquakes Joseph mentioned earlier) Joseph returns to London to meet with Lewis and, soon after, Victor. You can practically feel Joseph cringing when he sees what Lewis has been reduced to. Lewis briefs Joseph on what he’s discovered about Edward and about the Company’s interest in Catalina, not to mention his discoveries about the Company’s earlier incarnations.

There’s also a fun little throwaway hint about Joseph’s past impersonating Imhotep, which places the Company’s origins even further in the past. (We’ll find out a bit more about this in The Children of the Company too.) More importantly, Lewis quietly comes up with (or at least begins to suspect) one of the most important revelations of the series so far here: Maybe the Company didn’t invent the time transcendence and immortality technologies themselves. Not coincidentally, there’s also another mention of the mysterious Document D we’ll finally get to see in the next novel. Lewis is getting perilously close to the truth about Homo Umbratilis here, which explains why he’s about to disappear for a long time later in the novel.

One of my favorite aspects of The Graveyard Game is the way the characters try to figure out what happened centuries ago, including some mistakes and incorrect assumptions. In this chapter, Lewis proposes the theory that the Company purposely kept Mendoza on an extended layover at Cahuenga Pass not just to create an excuse to capture her, but also to help make sure Edward and his Company secrets weren’t discovered by the Americans. However, Lewis is probably off the mark here. Yes, the Company wanted Mendoza neutralized because of her inadvertent trip to future Los Angeles and all the possibilities that it generated, but Edward was going to die anyway, per the Temporal Concordance. I doubt anyone involved with the Adonai Project would have wanted Mendoza, of all people, to be anywhere near, given her history with Nicholas.

Regent’s Park: This scene is mainly important because this is how Joseph gets the final bit of information he needs to find Budu’s remains in San Francisco, but it’s also interesting because it adds some more depth to Victor, who’d been a relatively minor character until this novel. The major revelation here, at least for people who hadn’t read “Son, Observe the Time” yet, is that Victor was recruited by Budu, just like Joseph (and Labienus, for that matter.)

The other interesting point, and maybe an appropriate note to end this week’s post, is Latif’s wistful recollection of the scene in Sky Coyote when he, Joseph, Lewis, and Mendoza were all together at Houbert’s absurd New Year’s Eve party in New World One. Back then, Mendoza said how unlikely it would be for all four of them to ever be together again. Sadly, that proved to be prophetic.

 

And with that, we suddenly only have the sections set in 2225 and 2275 to cover. That went fast! I’m not sure yet if I’ll cover the rest of the novel in one post or two, but I’ll try to drop a comment here later this week to let you know. 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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