Rereading Kage Baker

Rereading Kage Baker’s Company Series: The Graveyard Game, Part 4

Welcome back to the Kage Baker Company Series reread at Tor.com! I was planning to get through the rest of The Graveyard Game in this post, but in the end there was too much to discuss in the chapters set in 2225, so that’s what we’ll cover today, saving the final set of chapters for next week.

As always, you can find all previous posts in the reread on our index page, a document of such rare and surpassing beauty that small children in distant lands have been known to memorize and recite it while at play. 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 2225, Lewis’s cover is broken by a “registered challenged adult” named Fancod, who identifies him as a cyborg and is able to access a Company database. When Lewis runs and travels to meet Joseph, two pairs of Homo Umbratilis unsuccessfully try to capture him. In the Basque Republic, Joseph and Lewis compare notes while they visit the caves where Joseph’s father made his prehistoric paintings.

Commentary

Joseph in the Darkness: In this “Darkness” chapter, Joseph summarizes his findings and theories, based on everything he’s discovered in the novel so far. It’s a shocking list: The Enforcers were double-crossed by the Company; Mendoza’s fall from grace was engineered, also by the Company; Edward was double-crossed too; the Company’s history goes back way further than the corporate brochures say; and Catalina Island features heavily in that history in some way.

Since we’re almost at the end of the fourth novel in an eight novel set, this is about as close to a midway point as this sprawling series has, making this an interesting point of comparison. The Company looks very different now, compared to the rosy image we got at the start of In the Garden of Iden. Remember how wonderful that cabal of benevolent scientists preserving lost treasures throughout history sounded? In four short novels, we went from that point to a Company that imprisons its own employees and conducts biological warfare against humanity. And there are more revelations to come…    

The biggest change, though, is that we can’t really call it “the Company” anymore, can we? It’s becoming increasingly clear that some parts of the organization have very different goals from others. Rather than a benevolent, all-knowing entity with a common goal, there are competing interests at play… and some of those don’t care about spilling mortal blood on a large scale or about taking out operatives who know too much.

Joseph’s thoughts about the various groups that are fighting for power within the Company are still incomplete, but that’s understandable because we’re only halfway through the series, with several major revelations still to come.

Joseph also summarizes another few decades of history here, including the Second Civil War in the (former) United States, the massive earthquake that destroys most major cities on the American East Coast and killed millions, another major earthquake that destroys most of London, and the discovery of antigravity, which led to this classic Kage Baker line:

What a joke! Antigravity proved to operate on a principle so moronically simple, most scientists refused to acknowledge it at first out of sheer embarrassment, except for a few rogue Egyptologists who laughed and laughed.

More seriously though, you can see the world of the 24th century taking shape, with every “Joseph in the Darkness” chapter bringing us closer to what we’ll see in The Life of the World to Come.

London/Dieppe 2225: We’ve jumped another few decades into the future. Lewis is still stationed in London, but under much better circumstances, with a cushy position and a nice house. However, despite his improved circumstances, he’s still struggling psychologically as his memories about what happened in Ireland in the 6th century continue to resurface. He’s also still writing his horrible adventure novels about Edward — and this time we even get excerpts.

Those novels are interesting for a few reasons. Throughout the series, we see over and over that the Company’s immortal operatives have a great appreciation for all forms of art, from literature to cinema to music and so on. However, over all the millennia of the Company’s existence there are only a few examples of cyborgs creating their own art, and Lewis’s novels are one of them. (Another one is mentioned later in this novel: Beckman’s murals on Catalina Island.)

Which leads to the obvious question: Why? Why do we see the operatives moved to tears by music and even perform music (like in Fez, a few chapters back, or Juan Bautista and his guitar in Cahuenga Pass) but never see them writing original songs? I’ve seen it suggested that the Company programmed the artistic urge out of them to improve their focus on the work, but I doubt this because time is the one resource they have a limitless supply of and, in either case, there are many other human traits they could have removed with much better results. Maybe the immortals don’t feel the urge to create art because, in a sense, they’re all actors in the middle of a centuries-long performance?

Rather than asking why operatives almost never create art, it’s probably better to ask why Lewis broke the mold. Well, it’s at least easier to explain. Imagine you’re an immortal being who has spent his endless days researching and studying literature. Now, after over two millennia of life, you’re confronted with a tantalizing mystery (Edward) that’s somehow connected to the woman you’ve loved for centuries. After obsessing over this mystery for centuries with very little actual information to go on, it probably becomes a Rorschach test, with the mind looking for patterns and filling in missing information. Being a Literature Specialist with a lot of spare time on your hands, it’s probably not surprising that those patterns eventually turned into a story.

The appearance of Mr. Fancod in Lewis’s cozy work environment is part of a chain of events that goes back to 6th century Ireland and stretches all the way to the very end of the series. Key detail: Fancod’s stay in his adult care facility is sponsored by “Jovian Integrated Systems”, which is a Company alias like the Kronos Diversified Stock Company we saw earlier. (He also has access codes that, when Lewis uses them a few chapters later, give access to classified Company files.)

Fancod is part Homo Umbratilis, a hybrid that resulted from a Company breeding program that was started in Eurobase One by Aegeus after Lewis’s misadventures in Ireland. Like the other Homo Umbratilis, he has the ability to create amazing technological innovations out of seemingly nothing. Combined with their difficulties communicating with Homo Sapiens, this leads people to think the hybrids are idiot savants as opposed to crossbreeds. (Bugleg, who we met in Sky Coyote, may actually be a descendant or at least a remote relative of his.)

When Fancod blows Lewis’s cover by identifying him as a cyborg in front of regular people, Lewis needs to be extracted, and who’s there to help him through the process? It’s our old friend Xenophon, who you may remember from In the Garden of Iden as the immortal who greeted Joseph, Mendoza and Nefer with some slapstick comedy as they arrived in England, and who delivered some supplies (and some more slapstick) to Iden’s estate later on.

The scenes on the Dieppe ferry and later on the train combine terror and humor to great effect. There’s something hilarious about the two pairs of Homo Umbratilis in their ridiculous hats trying to scare and capture Lewis, but I also find the idea of these small, pale creatures in their subterranean lairs mindlessly plotting to recapture Lewis for centuries purely terrifying.

And think what it must be like for Lewis, who is just now regaining the memories that were suppressed by Aegeus. Psychologically speaking it’s one of the most terrifying moments in the entire series. Even though Kage Baker portrayed it with admirable restraint and even a nice dose of humor, I perfectly understand why it terrified Lewis to the point of jumping off a moving train.

During the train scene, those resurfacing memories from Ireland also spell out some of the key missing information about Homo Umbratilis, in the four paragraphs starting with “A Confusion of impressions…” The “three brothers” story echoes the description of the three branches of humanity we’ll get in The Children of the Company but more importantly, it finally brings one of the biggest hidden plot elements of the entire series so far out in the open. It’s hard to overstate how important this passage is:

The storyteller went on to say that always the weaklings managed to keep ahead of their pursuers, until from the other end of time the strong ones came up with a device of their own: immortal servants, full of machinery, who were cleverer and stronger even than their masters. These cyborgs succeeded in finding the weaklings’ caves and robbing them.

The phrase ”from the other end of time” refers to the time paradox that lies at the center of the entire series. Trying to summarize this is an exercise in frustration because, per Douglas Adams, you need a number of non-existent verb tenses, but I’ll take a stab at it. Homo Umbratilis creates miraculous inventions to protect themselves against Homo Sapiens (or, more accurately, the predecessors of Homo Sapiens.) Some of those inventions include or at least lead to time travel and immortality. Dr. Zeus recovers those technologies, in prehistory on Catalina Island. The paradox lies in the fact that Dr. Zeus’s actual existence is only possible because of those technologies. In other words, sending Mendoza to Back Way Back to wait for the arrival of Homo Umbratilis would only be possible after Dr. Zeus had already recovered those Homo Umbratilis secrets that would allow them to send Mendoza back in time. Dizzy yet?

Aside from the time paradox, the implications of all of this are staggering on multiple levels. We’ve only just learned that the Company is divided against itself, with certain operatives working at cross-purposes to its mission. Now we learn the Company also has what appears to be an ancestral enemy that has been working against it for untold millennia. These two big revelations are the main reason why the second half of the series feels so different from the first half, but also the reason why rereading the first half of the series is practically a must. There’s just no way of understanding the full picture without being aware of all the players on the field. The level of complexity of the overall plot has just shot up tremendously again.

It’s also important to emphasize that Homo Umbratilis is presented, from the very beginning, as a potential danger to the Company, despite their diminutive appearance and their lack of social skills. They are apparently able to create weapons that can damage cyborgs, as evidenced by the fact that Lewis’s hand is still bruised the day after he’s been shot by their disruptors. They also have racial memory (““We all remember,” said the man in the cap. “Everything,” said the man in the beret.””), which explains why they are still chasing after Lewis more than 1,500 years after he was first captured.

Irún del Mar, Basque Republic: About the name: There is an actual town called Irún in the Basque region of Spain, but I can’t find any reference to an “Irún del Mar.” However, a few hundred miles west of Irún there’s another town called Santillana del Mar, which is also where the famous Caves of Altamira can be found. I’m guessing Kage Baker combined the two.

I know I’m probably over-analyzing (again) but I love that Joseph goes back to his place of birth at this point, because in just a few chapters Joseph will be symbolically reborn as a new man, free of the Company for the first time in millennia, so this “return to the womb” makes sense in an alpha-omega sort of way.

In this chapter, we finally get to see the prime example of Joseph’s theory of genetic stability, which has been mentioned once or twice before as a possible explanation for the uncanny resemblance between Nicholas and Edward. It’s obviously not the correct explanation, as we’ll learn in the next novel in the series, but it does lead to some really funny scenes in this chapter. (There’s also a great running gag about the grammatical complexity of Euskaran, which leads to an 8 hour performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, making this is the second unconventional staging of that play Joseph and Lewis have attended, after the one we saw in “Rude Mechanicals”.)

The arrival of Chilon is, pun unintended, chilling, but in a subtle way. He suggests bringing Lewis in to Eurobase One for a diagnostic, which may be the scariest thing he could suggest, Eurobase One being where Lewis was taken after his first encounter with Homo Umbratilis. Chilon also suggests a memory wipe for Lewis, which is never a walk in the park. Joseph is so worried about Lewis that he even wonders if he’ll ever see his friend again.

Maybe a minor point, but Lewis tells Chilon he reported to the first Facilitator he could find, and says that, technically, that should have been Xenophon, “but I wasn’t sure I could reach him.” However, we saw Lewis report what happened in London to Xenophon just one chapter ago. That must have led to some kind of flag or note in Lewis’s file, right? Does the fact that Chilon is unaware of Lewis’s report to Xenophon suggest that Chilon is operating outside of regular Company protocols, maybe at the behest of one of the cabals? Or does Lewis just mean that he didn’t report what happened on the ferry and train after he left his London offices? Or, third option, is this just a minor continuity error?

Lewis uses Fancod’s codes to access confidential Company files, which is how he learns that Mendoza spent 3 millennia imprisoned on prehistoric Catalina Island. Three thousand years! Poor Mendoza. However, this also leads to a very important question: How did Fancod have access to these codes? Or, more appropriately given what we now know, why did someone in the Company give him access to those codes? Put this together with Chilon’s suggestions, and it’s probably no surprise that Lewis only has about fifty years to go before he’s recaptured, as we’ll see in the final set of chapters.

Next week, we’ll cover those final few chapters and wrap up The Graveyard Game. 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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