Rereading Kage Baker

Rereading Kage Baker’s Company Series: The Graveyard Game, Part 5

In this week’s installment of the Kage Baker Company Series Reread, we’ll finish up the final sections of The Graveyard Game, from the end of last week’s post up until the very end of the novel.

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

And with that we’re off for our final post about The Graveyard Game!

 

Summary

In 2275, Nennius approaches Lewis on a cruise ship, giving him more information about Edward and mentioning “something remarkable” was found on Santa Catalina Island. In 2276, Joseph and Lewis visit Catalina, where Lewis is recaptured by Homo Umbratilis. Joseph is severely damaged but manages to escape and makes his way to Fez, where Suleyman and his organization remove Joseph’s Company datalink. After travelling back to San Francisco by cargo ship, Joseph retrieves Budu’s remains and begins the process of bringing him back to life by putting him in a regeneration tank in one of the Company’s secret vaults.

 

Commentary

Joseph in the Darkness: This Darkness chapter is our final bridge to the 24th century future we’ll see in The Life of the World to Come, when the highly regulated “secular puritanism” Joseph has been describing reaches its final form. Most “First World” countries have outlawed alcohol, coffee, tea, animal-based products, and apparently even most competitive sports. The world population is dropping precipitously because sex is now considered a distasteful animal urge. Adults are seeking out more childish entertainments in an attempt to add any kind of thrill to their over-regulated lives, or as Kage Baker wrote so incisively: “There are millions of inner children and fewer and fewer real ones.” It’s the Dawning of the Age of Totter Dan.

The other major development introduced here is the second great Age of Sail. I remember loving this idea when I first read this chapter, and being so pleased to see it becoming a big part of the story in the second half of the series.

This chapter also features what I think is the series’ first real visit (not counting short stories) to Eurobase One, Aegeus’s powerbase in the Cévennes, which is described as an older, classier, and even more luxurious place than Houbert’s New World One. As expected, Lewis doesn’t handle his visit to Eurobase One so well, now the memories of what happened to him in Ireland are resurfacing.

There’s a brief reference to rumors that Aegeus “got away with some exploitative stuff that would have made our mortal masters’ hair stand on end”. This will get developed further (much further) in The Children of the Company, but in a nutshell, the main difference between Labienus and Aegeus is that the former wants to eradicate all of mortal humanity whereas the latter wants to keep a small number of mortals around as servants or slaves. (Remember Houbert and his Mayan servants in Sky Coyote? He cut his teeth learning from Aegeus.)

There’s a brief reference to a Robert Louis Stevenson shrine in Eurobase One. A shrine? There isn’t anything similar for other authors or artists in the entire series, as far as I know, which is probably a good hint that Stevenson’s works will become more important as the story progresses. (When Joseph mentions he “knew the guy”, he’s referring to his meeting with the author in the short story “The Literary Agent”.)

Auckland, 2275: Lewis is enjoying a leisurely cruise off the coast of New Zealand when Nennius suddenly appears on the same ship—the same Nennius who featured so heavily in Lewis’s research into Edward’s history a few chapters back.

Nennius actually confirms some of Lewis’s research about Edward’s youth and adventures. The “nasty inky schoolboy mess” papers Nennius mentions delivering to Lewis in 1836 go back to Nennius’s time as Edward’s headmaster. The reference to Edward being “too fond of using his fists to answer an argument” refers to a scene we’ll read in The Children of the Company, in which Nennius demonstrates to Labienus how he is conditioning Edward to become a devoted agent for the British Empire. Nennius also gives more details about Edward’s involvement with the Redking’s Club and Gentlemen’s Speculative Society, adding enough details to pique Lewis’s interest and lure him into his trap. And finally, Nennius sums up Edward’s failed mission in California, providing a different, more complete perspective on the events we puzzled together from the final chapters of Mendoza in Hollywood.

Nennius mentions that someone saw Edward many years after his death, which is almost certainly a reference to Joseph seeing Edward and Mendoza in the Avalon Ballroom on Catalina Island in 1923. This is a big deal, because if Nennius is aware of this, he and his cabal must have been monitoring Joseph and/or Lewis for a very long time, proving that Joseph’s paranoia and his attempts to short out his datalink to the Company were justified, but ultimately unsuccessful.

At this point in the story, I actually found myself getting annoyed at Lewis’s naiveté because, honestly, how does he not realize that Nennius showing up randomly on his cruise is an impossible coincidence? And yet, as we’ll see, he will walk right into the trap Nennius sets for him here when he tells Lewis “something remarkable” was found in a cave on the windward side of Catalina, and even worse, he leads Joseph into the trap right along with him.

The section that concludes this chapter is another typically surreal dream scene in which Lewis and Joseph are in one of the Company’s vaults. There are references to several movies that are relevant to the series, including Treasure Island and the silent era classic Intolerance, discussed at length in Mendoza in Hollywood. (Kage Baker also mentions that a Rudolph Valentino movie—probably The Sheik—was partially filmed in her home town of Pismo Beach, which is apparently a point of contention among film historians.)

By now I should probably know not to read too much into Kage Baker’s surreal dream scenes, but it did strike me as meaningful that Lewis doesn’t rescue dream-Mendoza from her Sleeping Beauty-like repose. Instead, Lewis’s wish fulfilment dream involves seeing Mendoza come back to life not “in the flesh” but on a movie screen, and with Edward rather than with himself. After all these centuries, Mendoza has become unattainable even in Lewis’s dreams:

He reached up his arms to the lovers, and the realization came to him: This is my salvation. Dissolving into tears, he melted into the moving images and was lost, and it was so peaceful.

A few unconnected notes from this chapter:

  • Given the “late twentieth century” timestamp, the song playing during this scene is most probably Loreena McKennitt’s 1997 hit “The Mummer’s Dance”.
  • During the dream scene, Joseph appears as Imhotep, a role he actually played in ancient Egypt, and as the coyote, which refers to his role from Sky Coyote but also to his realization (from the same novel) that he’s become more like Wile E. Coyote than Bugs Bunny.
  • Nennius mentions an “early explorer” who discovered something on Catalina, almost certainly a reference to Sir Francis Drake who, in the Company universe, discovers Homo Umbratilis technology on the island and brings it to England.

New Hampshire, 2276: This chapter is mainly there to set up Lewis and Joseph’s meeting on Catalina Island, but it’s also interesting for an (admittedly minor) point: the first use of the term “Eccentric” to categorize basically anyone who doesn’t fit within the norms of the highly regulated society of the 23rd and 24th centuries, when testing will begin to weed Eccentrics out of the general population early on in their lives. Dr. Zeus, recognizing that this process also removes desirable traits like creativity and innovation from the gene pool, occasionally rescues and recruits one of these unfortunates for its R&D division. This includes a certain Francis Mohandas Chatterji, who (as seen in the short “Monster Story” in Black Projects, White Knights) was in the same testing group as the young Alec Checkerfield. In one of the more bizarre temporal twists in the series, Chatterji would later go on to become one of the Inklings Nouveaux as Frankie Chatterton…

Avalon: It always kills me that, at the end of four novels building up Santa Catalina Island as the mysterious, almost mythical location of all the Company’s darkest secrets, the place turns out to be the 23rd century equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg, artificially kept as close to the way it looked three centuries ago (even if the antigrav Model A Fords now float two feet above the ground) and full of Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin impersonators.

There’s something infinitely comical about Joseph and Lewis as tourists in this setting, taking in the sights, enjoying the illicit delights still offered offshore, and having to tip reenactors so they stop bothering them while they’re trying to enjoy their “vegan” seafood dinners. (It doesn’t help that Joseph soon realizes he sounds exactly like the impersonators with their “gee, swell, and how!” speech pattern.)

As funny as it is, we also get evidence that Catalina is indeed a core location for Dr. Zeus in the 23rd century, which makes sense because, across the bay, Los Angeles is now a dystopian war zone. Just one indication of its importance: Catalina is where the Company has stored everything that was recovered from the Library of Congress, which was destroyed by an earthquake (along with most of Washington DC) in one of the “Joseph in the Darkness” chapters.

This chapter is an exercise in disorientation for the reader. Past, present and future collide on every other page, from the faux-historical look of the town, to the remnants of the Albion Mining Syndicate’s 19th century attempts to dig up the island’s secrets, to Lewis’s guesses about where Mendoza spent her imprisonment on this island but in Back Way Back, to the conclusion of the Homo Umbratilis attempts to recapture Lewis going back all the way to medieval Ireland. As silly as the “Disneyland West” feel of the place is, it’s clear that many plot threads from the previous novels all tie back into this little island.

Joseph seems determined to have a good time during (sadly) his final adventure with Lewis, but Lewis is now truly going off the deep end after centuries of obsessing about Mendoza and Edward. He genuinely seems to believe the couple might still be somewhere on the island. Also, not only is he still writing his pulpy adventure novels, he’s actually moved to tears writing the ending to The Tall Englishman’s cringeworthy science fiction installment. Worst of all, he waits until it’s much too late to tell Joseph where he got the clue that led them into the trap.

During their fruitless attempt to recover any sort of evidence of Mendoza’s location, Lewis is captured by Homo Umbratilis and taken away in the Flea, the teardrop-shaped aircraft we’ll see again in the final novel of the series, while Joseph barely makes it out alive after being hit by Homo Umbratilis disruptor fire. And that’s how this first look at mysterious Catalina Island ends: with a whimper rather than a bang, and with more new questions than actual answers.

Speaking of new questions, does anyone have any guesses as to the identity of the Beecraft’s pilot? In Silver Canyon, right before the Homo Umbratilis attack, Joseph and Lewis find the wreckage of a small aircraft, with the pilot’s skeleton still inside. I frankly have no idea who this is supposed to be.

San Pedro/Fez: It looks like cyborgs can not only telepathically plant images and ideas in people’s heads, they can even do it with animals and read their thoughts, as evidenced by Joseph making his way from Catalina Island to the Compassionates of Allah mission in Los Angeles with the involuntary help of a dolphin.

The mission (on Avalon Boulevard, naturally) also serves as a “blacks-only” immunization center, which may have raised some eyebrows but makes perfect sense in the context of the story. In her post about Sky Coyote, Kathleen Bartholomew mentioned the impact the 1992 riots in Los Angeles had on Kage. I’m guessing this also became an indirect inspiration for future California in this series, with racial tensions at least partially responsible for the wars that turned Los Angeles into a warzone. (In addition to that, we learned from Suleyman that the Plague Cabal was using Africa as a testing ground for new diseases. It’s possible this mission is part of his efforts to counteract this.)

I appreciate that Joseph isn’t simply relieved to have his datalink removed, even though he’s just spent half the novel disabling it. After 20,000 years of having an all-knowing, all-powerful entity monitor and (at least in theory) protect him, the removal of this security blanket should be incredibly traumatizing. Or as Joseph himself thinks: “Nobody was watching him, but nobody was watching over him either.”

Once Joseph recovers, he’s hit with several shocking revelations. Nan confirms what we already knew: The Company (or more accurately, someone within the Company) is responsible for what happened on Catalina, as evidenced by the fact that Lewis and Joseph’s personnel files were changed on the day they checked into their hotel. Next, Victor explains the motivation: Lewis dug a little too deeply into Company secrets, so he was essentially handed over to Homo Umbratilis for experimentation, since they’re the only people who have been able to do real damage to immortal cyborgs, which is something elements within the Company are desperately trying to achieve as well. Victor also tells Joseph about his time being Lewis’s “handler” after his first rescue from Homo Umbratilis in Ireland. You can tell that Victor is still wracked by guilt:

“I was my job to see how fully he recovered, how much he remember about the incident. And when he did remember, it was my job to see that he forgot again.”

Joseph regarded him a long moment. “You’ve done some dirty work in your day, haven’t you?” he said at last.

“Vile things,” Victor said. “I marvel I don’t leave stains where I walk.”

I like Victor’s theory that Homo Umbratilis was probably responsible for all the legends about malevolent fairies and kobolds and so on. In The Sons of Heaven, we’ll see Princess Tiara Parakeet (that name!) use the Homo Umbratilis “persuasion” to steal from and control innocent mortals. If this is something others of her species have been doing throughout the ages, it’d make perfect sense for it to be incorporated into some of the lore about the Fair Folk.

Towards the end of the chapter, Suleyman mentions a recent purge of Plague Cabal members and others from the Company. We never really get information about exactly who this involved or what prompted it, but it does show that, as the Silence approaches, the divisions between the various factions within the Company are heating up, setting the stage for the final two books of the series.

Joseph, free from the Company for the first time since childhood, is cut loose by Suleyman to protect his own organization, turning him from one of Dr. Zeus, Inc.’s most loyal servants into a rogue agent in one fell swoop.

During the journey by cargo ship back to North America, Joseph has another surreal dream/vision that includes references to each novel in the series so far. It starts with a visitation by Nicholas Harpole, who quotes Scripture at Joseph, hilariously prompting Joseph to defend his bona fides by saying he actually knew John of Patmos. (If you check the very last sentence of the novel, you’ll see that dream-Nicholas really rubbed Joseph the wrong way here.) When Joseph tries to hit Nicholas (just like he did in the Rochester jail at the end of In the Garden of Iden), the scene changes into a Looney Toons cartoon, with Joseph in his Wile E. (Sky) Coyote guise plummeting into a canyon, only to be confronted by Edward misquoting Shakespeare at him. (Joseph tells Edward he misquoted the line, but as far as I can tell the only incorrect part of the quote is the addition of the name “Hamlet”.) In the final “Joseph in the Darkness” chapter, Joseph acknowledges that dream-Edward has a point though, in his monologue to Budu’s regenerating body:

He was right, the goddamn Englishman. I screwed up just like Hamlet. You handed me the truth about your betrayal right at the beginning of the play, and I delayed, procrastinated, because I was scared, wasn’t sure, didn’t want trouble. Now look. I’ve lost everything I had, and the curtain’s coming down on a stage littered with bodies.

San Francisco/Mount Tamalpais: Joseph arrives in San Francisco and, following the instructions he received from Victor in Regent’s Park over a century ago, retrieves the immortal remains of Budu from where they’ve been buried since 1906. After carting the entire, still-twitching mess to the Company vault under Mount Tamalpais, he meets Abdiel, the Defective operative who has been maintaining the vaults for the Company for centuries.

Abdiel (which means “Servant of God” in Hebrew) is 30,000 years old, making him the oldest Homo Sapiens operative we’ve met so far. That makes sense, as most of the other Defectives we’ll see throughout the series result from the Company’s very early (and very failed) experiments with the immortality process. In the spirit of “waste not, want not”, Dr. Zeus found uses for some of these Defectives, which for Abdiel turned out to be an eternal journey travelling between and maintaining the Company vaults.

Joseph in the Darkness: After this, all that’s left is for Joseph to recap what he’s learned throughout the novel and sum up the final state of affairs. He suspects Victor is responsible for Budu’s current state, and wonders (prophetically) if Mendoza is trapped “in some dungeon blacker than the one in Santiago, with hotter coals.” All Joseph’s illusions about Dr. Zeus and the way it treats its operatives have been ripped away, leaving him alone and friendless with the Silence only 74 years away. Still, Joseph shows determination and anger rather than disillusionment, setting up the conflict that will play out in the rest of the series:

Maybe we’ll set all the Old Guard free, and see how they feel about what’s been going on. And then! Wouldn’t that be great, father? All of us together again, one last time? I couldn’t save Lewis, but we can avenge him. Lewis and all the other innocents. Will we go after treacherous bastards like Nennius? Will we hunt down the masters who have lied to us so shamelessly, for so many thousands of mortal lifetimes? Is 2355 payback time? Is it time to sing the Dies Irae?

 

And that’s how The Graveyard Game ends: with a whimper rather than a bang, but with the promise of fireworks to come in the second half of the series. The next “official” book in the series is The Life of the World to Come (which we’ll start discussing in two weeks, after next week’s post by Kathleen Bartholomew) but as you probably know by now, there’s an unofficial “Book 4.5” titled Black Projects, White Knights, which was published in 2002 during the dark and dreary years when the series didn’t have a publisher. We’ll cover these stories, along with all the other Company stories and novellas, at the end of the reread, but if you’re eager to read ahead, this is an excellent book to pick up at this point. It’s out of print, but you can easily find cheap second hand copies online, and since this is a collection that contains several stories that still haven’t been collected elsewhere, it’s a great purchase for the discerning Kage Baker fan. Plus, you’ll get an idea of how revelatory some of these stories were, and how bewildering the early Alec Checkerfield ones were before we learned about the New Inklings in The Life of the World to Come.

I just looked at my signed copy of Black Projects, White Knights and had a bit of a shock when I saw the signature page after all these years. Kage signed my copy back in 2004, during a signing here in San Diego that almost didn’t happen. On the original date of the signing, all of us were waiting in the bookstore at the appointed time, but no Kage Baker appeared. After a while, people started worrying that something had happened to her. When someone eventually got a hold of her publicist, it turned out Kage had completely forgotten about the signing because of a last minute emergency. The event was rescheduled for the following week, and when I told Kage how worried we were that she’d gotten into a horrible car crash on the drive down from Pismo Beach the previous week, this is the note she wrote in my copy. Dear reader, when I saw this again just now, I got chills:

kage-signature

If all goes well, we’ll have another post by Kathleen Bartholomew for next week, and after that it’s on to The Life of the World to Come. 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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