the Little Red Reviewer

Mendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker (The Company, book 3)

Posted on: May 23, 2014

mendoza in hollywoodMendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker

published in 2000

where i got it: purchased used

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This is the third book in the company series, and it’s my third favorite.   Some quick non-spoilery background on the The Company for those of you that don’t know: 350 years from now, time travel is possible.  But you can only go back in time, you  can’t bring anything back to your “home”  time, and history can’t be changed. Ok, so how to get rich quick if artifacts can’t be brought back? Easy.  Send some crews and technology into the past, have them build safehouses and a staff of employees who will set aside your artifacts, and wait, patiently, nearly forever. Company operatives are cybernetically immortal, given an education about everything that will happen, ever (because this is the past for their instructors and doctors, who are from the future), and programmed to be fanatically loyal to the company.

 

Thus, we get science fiction/historical fiction. Which, if you ask me, is one of the best genre combos EVER.

 

Anyways, in the first the book in the series, we met Mendoza, who is rescued from the Spanish inquisition by a company operative. She’s raised and educated within the Company, and completely bombs her first assignment. The second book follows different characters with Mendoza as a very minor character, and in this third book, we are back with Mendoza.  She’s gotten over the raw, raging anger of what happened all those years, but she’s far from healed.

 

Mendoza has been by herself for a very, very long time, and I get it, she hates people, I’m ok with that (some days I hate people too).  So she’s used to very quiet days, very little interactions, not much going on, just being one with nature. Introvert, indeed. Her new assignment is to a post in the Cahuenga Pass in Southern California in 1862, with the mission of collection valuable plant specimens before the drought (and grazing animals) kills (and eats) everything.  Mostly unaffected by the Civil War, it’s an interesting time to be in Hollywood’s backyard.  Mendoza has no choice but to take the assignment, and besides, maybe some conversation would be good for her.

The plot moves along quite slowly for the most part. Mendoza and her fellow operatives set up in a stage coach inn, observing and conversing with people who pass through.  Being with the other operatives isn’t too bad, young Juan Bautista is adorable in his  bird collecting naivety; Oscar conducts his anthropology research by door to door sales of trinkets and pots and pans;  zoologist Einar has made a pet project of the films and notables of early 20th century Hollywood; main facilitator Porfirio tries to keep an eye on his mortal family; and  beautiful anthropologist Imarte does her research by playing the part of a woman of ill repute and getting her customers to answer her overly details questions all night long.

 

Do Cyborgs dream?  Mendoza knows that she dreams. Intense, horrible dreams of the man she couldn’t save.  If she were dead, she could see him again.  But cyborgs can’t die. Porfirio is especially worried about her, as she kicks out screaming quantities of Chrome radiation when the dreams are especially bad.  So she’s a Chrome generator, so what? If no one at the company can tell her what’s so important about being a Chrome generator, damned if she’s going to worry about it. And those dreams! Those precious moments with her love!  Her love for him is so powerful and so strong that it’s almost as if she wills into existence a man who resembles him in every way.

 

The shining part of the book for me was the history.  Baker grew up in California, and loved old Hollywood.  She didn’t need to do much extra research for this, she grew up steeped in the legends of Hollywood, and walked past famous houses and locations as a child. And all the characters in the story too, know exactly where the Hollywood sign will go up, know the layouts of future roads, can stand on the not-yet-build foundations of the homes of famous people. The look out across vistas and plateaus and can surreally see the layout of 20th century Hollywood. Really, it is incredibly surreal.

 

At about the midway point, there’s a profound discussion about time, and our unwitting cyborgs place in it.  Drunk on theobromos, one of the few narcotics that has any effect on them, they have just finished watching an old movie, and Einar is trying to explain, in that drunken philosopher way that we’re all familiar with, how he and his cyborg companions exist outside of time, and that for them, every moment is happening simultaneously.   It’s an interesting group that’s been collected here at the Inn, ancient, multi thousand year olds sitting next to the merely hundred year olds.  Juan Bautista is so young and idealistic, he believes he is a perfect machine who will be perfect forever. But how can he look into the eyes of Imarte and Einar, and not see their ancient madness?

 

Thanks to an opening scene, and a few asides from Mendoza, we know something is going to horribly, irrevocably wrong.  But what could possibly happen, since history can’t be changed?

 

Pretty hard for me to defend that this isn’t my favorite Company novel after those paragraphs I’ve just typed, but Hollywood lore and flawless historical research do not a exciting novel make. the characters were fun and funny, the dialog is Baker brilliant, and the book had a number of key atmospheric scenes. But something was off in the pacing – I kept waiting for that “a-ha!” or an “oh shit!” moment, and by the time I got it, there was maybe ten pages left in the book.

 

And who knows how much truth I’m getting from Mendoza anyways?  As cyborgs go, she’s a pretty unreliable narrator.  There’s so much inside of her that she’s straining to hide, even more, I believe, that she’s hidden from herself.  So when the “a-ha!” moment came, it was riddled with questions about not Mendoza, and not old timey Hollywood, but The Company itself.  What do they do with misbehaving cyborgs? If you refuse to, or can’t bring yourself to be a “good little machine”, what’s to happen to you? Mendoza is about to find out. And suddenly that drunken discussion about immortals existing outside of time took on a whole new meaning for me.

 

It was funny, at the very beginning of the book, I thought to myself “ooh! we’re back with Mendoza! I’ve been wondering what she’s been up to all this time!” and then I got annoyed and bored with her, to the point where I was crossing my fingers that the next few Company novels will follow some other character, because really, anyone has got to be more interesting that Mendy, who is so damn focused on her obsession with a dead man that she won’t allow anything else in her life. Now that I have the slightest hint that there is something very wrong, or at least very strange about what’s happening around her, I can’t wait to run into her again in the next Company novel.
So bottom line, mixed review for Mendoza in Hollywood. In the meantime, I am enjoying this glowingly sneaking suspicion that as I read further into the series, things that happened in this novel will become incredibly important later.

3 Responses to "Mendoza in Hollywood, by Kage Baker (The Company, book 3)"

I just loved the atmosphere in this book – one of my favorites in the series, which I now *really* want to re-read again thanks to your review.

Also, Kage wrote some really cool posts about those movies on Tor.com – http://www.tor.com/tags/Ancient%20Rockets

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I liked Mendoza in Hollywood, but it’s my least favorite of the Company novels. She does actually go off-stage for a while now, IIRC. The novels get really insane pretty soon, too.

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I think this was the last one I read. I started with the first and it seemed to me each was slightly less fun. Probably just me.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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