the Little Red Reviewer

Sky Coyote, by Kage Baker

Posted on: November 30, 2013

Sky Coyote (The Company series,  book 2) by Kage Baker

published in 1999

where I got it: purchased used

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What’s your favorite beer or cocktail?  What’s your favorite drink at Starbucks or coffee shop of your choice?  How many drinks did you have to go through to find the perfect combination of hops and malt, or soy milk or foam or espresso shots? What I’m getting at here is that feeling of when you’ve got something just right, that this coffee has exactly the right amount of cream and is exactly at the right temperature, that feeling of “if only every drink could be this perfect”. That feeling of finally finding out what you like and the perfect combination of ingredients? I found it in a book. A book with perfect combination of sly dialog and sarcasm, great characters, sex jokes, painful introspection, and a feeling of running, running from the truth.  I was the crazy girl whispering to herself over breakfast because I was reading large portions of this book out loud to myself.

And since a book review that consists simply of metaphors that makes sense only to me followed by “this book was incredible, amazing, everything I wanted it to be and more” is useful only to me, I’ll get to the more comprehensible portions of the review, just for you.

Sky Coyote is the second book in Kage Baker’s Company series, and it’s told from the point of view of Joseph, who we met in In the Garden of Iden.  It’s been about a hundred and fifty years since Joseph last saw Mendoza, and she’s still mad at him. When you’re an immortal cyborg you’ve got all the time in the world to stay angry and hold grudges. They’re going to be working together again, and they meet up at the decadent  Mayan Lost City also known as New World One, where Mendoza has been researching New world grains and where Joseph is preparing to become a god.

Well, imitate a god at least.

It’s 1699, and the white man will be making permanent inroads into the New World any day now.  The native tribes of the west coast of the Americas don’t know the disease and horrors that are on their horizon. Usually company operatives are tasked with acquiring objects, technologies, or even plant samples that will be valuable in the future.  This time Joseph has been tasked with acquiring and entire native village. Armed with research of their beliefs and multiple prosthetics, Joseph is about to convince an entire village of Chumash that he’s their trickster god, Sky Coyote.   Joseph has a tough time at first, of course they tell stories about their gods all the time, but they have no idea how to respond with a god shows up on their doorstep.

Once the story gets going Joseph experiences culture shock everywhere he goes. At the Chumash village, he’s got to guess fast and talk faster to impress upon these people that he really is a mythological being that fits perfectly into their world view.  Plenty of culture shock at the Company base as well, where the human company employees who run the place are terrified of their cyborg operatives, and refuse to interact with anything they didn’t bring with them from the future.

Everything goes pretty smooth with the Sky Coyote plan until a  messenger from another village shows up. The man brings a message from the god of his monotheist tribe.  Suddenly Sky Coyote’s promises of a new land where the people will want for nothing is put into doubt.  Joseph is going to save these people in ways only The Company can, but this man with the message of monotheism, he’s sure got a way with words, and too many of the Chumash are stopping to listen to what he has to say. What Joseph is telling the people is a lie too, what makes his lying more valuable that someone else’s lies? The trickster god plotline was a blast, and I was quite nearly sorry to see it come to a happy ending a few hundred pages later.

Remember this movie?  yeah, a smidgen like that, only much, much smarter.

Remember this movie? yeah, a smidgen like that, only much, much smarter.

Joseph should have known that these “primitive” people aren’t primitive at all, and I should have known that I’d love every page of this book.  But come on, it’s Kage Baker, of course I was going to like it.  She writes the most amazing prose. A story that takes place in 17th century California, written by a woman who lived and died in that same part of the world, she couldn’t be immortal in her favorite place, so she gave her favorite place immortality in a book. At times the book put a huge smile on my face, at other times it sent a shiver up my spine, as if I’d been secret witness to a wind ghosting through the driftwood on an ancient shore untouched by footprints.

I admit that I was a little surprised to have a story from someone else’s point of view. I adored Mendoza in Garden of Iden, but she doesn’t know very much about who she works for. Joseph on the other hand, has been working with the Company for centuries. He knows all about the people he works for, right? Yeah, not so much.  He’s been with The Company for, well, millenia. He remembers the beginning, when he worked with Enforcers who were recruited from Neanderthals, he remembers how his friends in the Enforcers slowly disappeared without a trace, he remembers telling himself they were just on assignment elsewhere. He remembers lying to himself when given conflicting information about the true mission of the Company.

As the plotline with the Chumash winds down, Joseph’s thoughts about the Company wind up.  To help in their missions, the cyborgs are given information from past, present, and future, but nothing from after the year 2355. What happens in 2355? Is that when the cyborg operatives get to finally retire?  Will retirement mean for him what it meant for his Enforcer friends?   Joseph was a Jesuit priest during the Spanish Inquisition. He’s no stranger to inflicting pain and fear.  How much of what he did for The Company was really truly needed for the good of humanity? how much was justified? Through no choice of his own he’s been working for them his entire adult life, and this isn’t exactly a job you can resign from.  Joseph can’t resign, he can’t run, and if he ever lets himself care or think about what’s he doing, he’ll end up even more more angry and bitter than Mendoza.  Why bother searching for the truth when you know you can’t face it?

Everything I’ve picked up by Kage Baker I’ve enjoyed, and not only is Sky Coyote my favorite of hers so far, it’s one of my top reads of the year.  I’m eagerly awaiting getting a copy of the third book in the series, Mendoza in Hollywood.

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5 Responses to "Sky Coyote, by Kage Baker"

Isn’t it fantastic to discover books like that? It is such a great experience to find a book that you could swear was written just for you, having all the ingredients that make it just right for you. And the exciting this is this isn’t a stand alone and there are other Company books for you to experience!

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and like the Culture books, I’ll need to savor the Company books. Because there will never more written. Realizing that has got me feeling a little melancholic.

” a book that you could swear was written just for you”

I had that reaction to A Natural History of Dragons, by Marie Brennan. no surprise, that title will also make it into my best of the year list!

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I really wish I could like this series. I tried to read book 1, but it just didn’t work for me… I will try again one day!

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I can totally understand that. I really liked the first book and it was a good intro to what was going on, but there was parts of it that dragged and annoyed me. Sky Coyote was more enjoyable for me in every way. I’m happy I knew about The Company series before picking this book up, because the cover art was a huge turn off for me.

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[…] Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act. […]

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