Sky Coyote by Kage Baker is the second in "The Company" series of science fiction novels. This time, the viewpoint changes from Mendoza, child of the Spanish Inquisition, to Joseph, her rescuer and recruiter. Unfortunately, Baker is hit with a bit of the "sophomore jinx," and her second effort lacks when compared to the first. Still a fun read, it could have been so much more.
The Dr. Zeus Corporation has invented time travel and the ability to give humanity immortality. Unfortunately, the immortality can only be given in childhood, and it's not always successful. The time travel is limited in that you can only go backwards, and you can only return to when you came from. So what's the solution when you want to preserve as much history as possible (both for posterity and for profit)? You send people back to prehistoric times, set up bases all over the world and give immortality to certain people. You disperse these agents around the world to recruit new agents and perform missions for the Company to take things that will soon disappear, study and hide them away for awhile until the present day is reached and they can be "discovered" again.
Joseph has lived since the Dawn of Man. He's put in a lot of years of service to the Company, and he's starting to get a little jaded. One of his best recruits was Mendoza, a young girl whom he rescued from the Inquisition but whose heart was broken on her first mission among "mortals" in 1550's England. She's since moved on to the New World, and in 1699, Joseph finds himself there as well. He's been assigned a mission to impersonate the Sky Coyote, one of the gods of the Chumash Indians in what will eventually be known as California. He is to visit a village and prepare it to be taken away to a Company research facility.
While the mission seems to be going smoothly, Company politics rears its ugly head, as the mission is deemed important enough to have actual visitors from the "present" overseeing it. These "mortals" consider most of the people in the past barbarians, and seem scared and dismissive of the immortals they've created. Rumbles of rebellion course through the other operatives, and Joseph must not only safeguard the mission from an interloper trying to spread the word of a Christian-like religion, but from his own staff. Will his protégé side with the rebels or with him? Or will she just go off on her own?
Sky Coyote seems more of a placeholder than a proper novel. Its plot could have been interesting; unfortunately, Baker misses the opportunity, instead providing us with a group of natives who seem much too modern for what they are supposed to be. Remember, the year is 1700. Baker has them talking in very modern language which just spoils the mood. In the Garden of Iden was enhanced by the way Baker's characters talked in the English spoken at the time, and it contrasted nicely with the modern English used by the operatives when they weren't interacting with the locals. This time, though, there is no difference, and it is jarring. A case could be made that this is a translation of what they said into modern English, but it loses its impact that way. The tribe just feels out of place.
Another problem is the pacing of the book. Once Joseph has ingratiated himself with the locals, they put on a show for him and the other operatives (masquerading as agents of the Sky Kingdom and the Coyote's helpers). The show brings the book to a screeching halt for ten pages with a performance that isn't even that funny, lacking Baker's characteristic wit and charm and seeming superfluous. Baker may have been trying to illustrate something with this, but it fails miserably. At 310 pages (small pages with fairly large type and lots of dialogue), the book is already short. The ten pages taken up by this show make it seem even shorter and really could have been used elsewhere. It feels like nothing much of consequence happens in the book because of this problem.
The mission seems easy, with only a few roadblocks thrown up to add any suspense about whether or not the mission will succeed. To me, this implies that the point of the book is not the mission itself, but what it means to the Company and the operatives. This is where the book shines, and I wish Baker would have given us more of this and less of the mission. For the first time, we meet the mortals who created these people, and we are less than impressed. They are, basically, dweebs. Afraid of germs, afraid of violence, afraid of any sort of religious ceremonies, they paint a picture of the future that looks horrible. This is not only to the readers, but to the Company operatives as well. A number of them are meeting their creators for the first time, and a crisis of conscience springs up. These immortals have been living for centuries, all of them working toward the goal of reaching a year in the 2300s where the fruits of their labors will finally blossom. But is this what they've been waiting for? Might it not be better if they took over and set the world on the proper course? This is dangerous thinking, and it provides the heart and soul of the book, along with setting up some intriguing future possibilities for the series.
The relationship between Joseph and Mendoza takes another step as Mendoza walks farther and farther away from her humanity. She still blames Joseph for what happened with her lover in England, and she's allowed those events to push her away from the humanity she had when Joseph recruited her. Joseph, meanwhile, has had centuries to learn techniques to keep that humanity vibrant. The interaction between the two of them is crackling, and you really start to wonder if Mendoza agrees with the potential rebels or not. While this is Joseph's book, Mendoza is the one who is truly developed. We never see any of the events from Mendoza's point of view, but that actually adds to her mystique.
I give a guarded recommendation for Sky Coyote. There are so many interesting events going on that you can't really miss it. It's just too bad the native story couldn't be included in that description. This will probably be a vital link in the series, so it will be worth your time. Besides, it is short, so you won't have that much trouble getting through it.