Four books into Kage Baker’s science fiction series about “The Company,” and things are getting interesting. The Graveyard Game is yet another standout addition to a series that doesn’t stop, as we learn even more sinister secrets about the Company and how it handles the immortals that it has created. Baker’s writing seems to have matured, tackling an even broader story that encompasses not only the personal (as she has done superbly before) but also the political. She takes bits and pieces that have only been hinted at in previous books and ties them up, leaving us with even more questions about what is going to happen. With three more books left in the series (the next one is coming out this year!), the situation is wide open. I love being along on this ride, and part of me wishes it wouldn’t stop.
With The Graveyard Game, Baker continues the roll she’s been on since the hiccup that is Sky Coyote (I say this to indicate that I don’t necessarily like everything she’s written). As readers of the series already know (so you can skip to the next paragraph), the Dr. Zeus corporation is a twenty-fourth-century company that is out to, of course, make money. In that effort, they have invented time travel and immortality. Unfortunately, time travel only can go from one point in time to the present, and it can’t go into the future. The immortality is also not a good option, as it turns the immortal into a cyborg. How can they make money with this? Why not go back to pre-history, create a bunch of immortals, and have them live their way to the twenty-fourth century? In the meantime, they will create more cyborgs, and these operatives will study the past, saving parts of it that are about to disappear so that they can later be “discovered”. In previous books, the botanist Mendoza was recruited by Joseph in the sixteenth century, fell in love with a mortal, watched him be burned at the stake, and never forgave Joseph for it. In 1862, she encountered the doppelganger of her lover, ran off with him, and was punished by the Company.
The Graveyard Game opens in 1996, with one of Mendoza’s best friends (Lewis) wondering what happened to her, especially after he briefly encounters a version of her that was inexplicably thrust forward from 1862 (before she ran away). He tries to recruit Joseph on his search, who is more than willing to join. It seems he thinks he saw Mendoza and her lover in 1923 -- plus he feels responsible for her. Years pass as their investigation continues, and they uncover more and more dirt on the Company. Why do some operatives disappear with no record? Why, as the twenty-fourth century approaches (this book actually ends in the late twenty-third century), do secrets become even more impenetrable? Why is there little record of what happens leading up to 2355? Why does Mendoza’s lover keep reappearing, and what is his connection to the Company? And, most importantly to Lewis as events unfold, who are the people who seem to know about the immortals and also seem to know how to damage one?
Baker throws us a change-up in The Graveyard Game. Despite there being a lot of personal interaction (especially between Lewis and Joseph) that Baker excels at as usual, the most interesting thing about the book is the world that she has created. As time passes in great chunks, she is able to show us how much the world has changed, and it’s not very pretty. Britain has enforced veganism, personal interaction is almost forbidden. The birth rate has plummeted as people spend more and more time paying attention to their inner child and not having any real ones. It’s against the law to do anything that might be bad for you (heaven forbid if you have a beer!). People get around this by living in the wilds, or out on sailboats in international waters. Here’s a perfect example:
“Sex isn’t illegal, but there isn’t a lot of it going on these days. There’s talk about how it’s a distasteful animal urge, how it victimizes women and robs men of their primal power. It creates codependency. It presents a terrible risk of catching a communicable disease. Relationships of any kind, in fact, are probably a bad idea.” (p. 217)
Every time the scene shifts years, Baker takes time to tell us what’s going on in the world. The best part, though, is that it’s not as much of an infodump as it might be. All of this is told in the context of telling us what Lewis is up to, or Joseph. Many of the details slip into the narrative. Sometimes it’s used to explain just what the other immortals are thinking, especially as we get nearer the time of “The Silence” in 2355. They see this world as it approaches, and they have to wonder just what they are saving all of this stuff for.
Factions are starting to form within the Company, and many operatives are simply disappearing. Joseph seems to know something about what is going on, but his investigations get increasingly dangerous. He tries in vain to keep Lewis out of most of the danger, and watching Baker handle the relationship between these two is great. Lewis is a bookish, Noel Coward-type who is at home in a library. He just won’t let his investigation of Mendoza’s lover go, despite Joseph’s warnings. Joseph is the same character we’ve known and loved in the previous books: sarcastic, intelligent, witty and dedicated. You can tell that he feels deeply about Mendoza, almost like a father-figure (he did recruit her into the Company) and he’s increasingly horrified as he uncovers more and more about the Company he’s serving. He’s also very loyal, both to Mendoza and his own father-figure, who disappeared a long time ago.
The Graveyard Game features these two immortals at the expense of everybody else. Some of the other immortals in the book are well-characterized, but they don’t get the extensive treatment. We do see some familiar figures from past books throughout the course of Joseph’s search, and that’s always a pleasure. Baker handles them all deftly, giving us just enough information so that we think we know them without having to delve too deeply into them. She also handle the switch from personal to action very well, with a vivid description of a battle between three immortals and a Roman unit that was obliterated in England in the first century.
I can’t say enough good things about The Graveyard Game, or this series in general. You owe it to yourself to pick it up. Don’t let the second book get you down. Just read it and absorb the Company politics, and then move on. If you do, then you’ll be rewarded with wonderful books like Mendoza in Hollywood and this one.