Iíve been anxiously awaiting the next ďCompanyĒ book by Kage Baker ever since The Life of the World to Come came out last year. Iíve been waiting to see how Baker moves the story forward, what Josephís fate is, and where Mendoza will go from here. Unfortunately, The Children of the Company answers none of those questions, again filling in a lot of backstory on the future and the evil machinations of a faction of Immortals led by Labienus, who plans on perverting what the Company is doing for his own ends. This is valuable backstory, and I did enjoy the book, but this feels like spinning wheels. The book is a series of reprinted short stories with a framing sequence, as well as a few possibly new sequences along with them. Itís not identified as such, which is also a problem (though a lesser one for me, since Iíve only read one of them). This is a good Company book, but not a great one.
The conceit of the story is a book told in three time periods: 1863, 1906, and 1906-2100. General Labienus (last seen sentencing the botanist Mendoza to 150,000 years ago exile) is reviewing some of his files, catching us up on his plotting to take what the Company is doing and turn it on its ear. He sees the Company as corrupt, the statement that recorded history cannot be changed as a lie (or at least misleading), and he sees ďmortalsĒ as scum and slaves that should hang around to do the Immortalsí bidding when the time comes. These files consist of previously published stories that give us pieces of the plot, all brought together for the first time. Is this intended to clean up some of the history? I donít know, but it seems to hang together fairly well. Ultimately, it boils down to Labienusí attempt to turn the Facilitator named Victor, who has been allied with Labienusí rival, Aegeus. It gives us the history of the defective humans who ended up capturing the literary expert Lewis in The Graveyard Game. It also, in an interesting twist, gives us a look from the other side at the saga of Alec Checkerfield (from The Life of the World to Come) and his various incarnations throughout time.
Thankfully, Iíve only read one of the stories reprinted here, ďSon Observe the Time,Ē which is the story of Victor and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Victor and a large party of Immortals are tasked with saving art and other treasures that would have otherwise been destroyed in the earthquake, but Victor is also supposed to grab a young boy who would have also died so that he can be converted into an Immortal (it will be interesting to see if he becomes an important part of the plot as time goes on, but not in this book).
Victor is confronted by Budu, an Immortal from the dawn of man who was created to be a military Immortal and has since gone insane since the Company stopped using them. Budu has his own thoughts on how things should be run, and he was Labienusí mentor at one time, too. I thought the story wonderful when I first read it, but it has even more meaning within the context of The Children of the Company. Baker even gives us an epilogue to the story that wasnít included in the original, where Labienus debriefs Victor on his encounter with Budu, which goes even further to explain what happened and why. One small problem that this story didnít have before being included in this book is that Victorís attitude toward regular humans has softened a lot in 1500 years, but I guess thatís not completely surprising. Heís a lot more understanding of them in ďSon Observe the TimeĒ than he is in an earlier story.
The other stories are interesting in themselves but even more important as they are put together to give us a view of what is really going on. We see the fate of Kalugin, a Russian Immortal who sees more than he really should have in a plague-torn future. We see Lewisís unremembered history in The Graveyard Game, as well as what happens when he starts to remember it. I wish wecwould have seen a little more of Aegeus and what his plans are, but maybe thatís for another book. I have to admit that, as intriguing as all this is, Iím really starting to miss Joseph and Mendoza.
This all brings to mind pretty much the only fault with the book: the shotgun feeling of having so much thrust at you at once. All of the above is included, plus a story of a new, extremely young facilitator-in-training named Latif. He is only five years old, but he is been fast-tracked. He is by-the-book with his training, so the base that heís sent to, with a facilitator that plays things more realistically than the book allows, ends up throwing him for a loop. I have no doubt that Latif, and perhaps even Van Drouten, will play a role in the rest of the story, but they seem out of place here (though again, the story itself is wonderful).
Ultimately, it seems like Baker has forged ahead in her story so quickly, between the various books and the short stories published in Asimovís, that she has had to stop and let us catch our breath, bring readers who donít follow the short stories up to speed on whatís going on, and then she will vault forward for the finale. While I enjoyed The Children of the Company because so much of it was new to me, it still felt like a pause for a bathroom break on a road trip when I was willing to hold it because I wanted to reach my destination. I trust Baker implicitly, as there hasnít been a work by her that I have disliked, but Iím getting a bit impatient.