The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker (Company #5)
Posted December 20, 2015on:
The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker (Company #5)
published in 2004
where i got it: purchased used
As this is the fifth book in Baker’s Company series, spoilers are unavoidable. You’ve been warned, and I am not at all sorry. If this is the first you’ve heard of Kage Baker, or of her Company series, stop reading right now and type “Kage Baker” into that search box thingy on the upper right.
I can never decide if I want to wait in-between Baker books, or binge read the whole thing. Because I want to know what happens . . . but I’m enjoying the anticipation. And like my Banks books of which I have become so fond, I must ration Baker. Because there will never be any more.
In the year 2350, a group of hobbyist re-enactors use their nearly limitless resources to change history. Or at least, sort of. One of the so-called rules of time travel is that history can not be changed. So how are these naive idiots doing it? Frankie Chatterjie and Foxen Ellsworth-Howard meet at their friends Rutherford’s home, which also serves as a museum. Wealthy, bored, (and thus supremely dangerous) and connected with Dr. Zeus, Inc, the three friends use anachronistic slang, sip fake brandy, and fuss about with genetics. You see, they’ve been tasked with coming up with a better, smarter, more contemporary version of the Company’s Enforcers. An upgrade, of sorts. This perfect person that they are genetically creating will be bright, irresistible, and willing to die for a noble cause. Each iteration of their fellow will tell our genetic dabblers what changes they need to make to build the perfect enforcer. He will be tall, not exactly handsome, determined, and irresistable. Sound familiar?
(The future is a shitty place, by the way. Knowledge is heavily controlled to the point where learning to read is considered dangerously antisocial; chocolate, alcohol and caffeine are illegal, and no one goes outside. The people are kept docile and happy. It’s the least fun version of the movie Idiocracy. )
Foxy, Rutherford, and Chatty need a way to test their creation. With all of history at their fingertips, they easily find moments in history to sneak in a baby, and have the child raised by Company operatives. The operatives know the child is company property, but they have no idea where this child originated or what its destiny is.
Here begins the best and most fascinating time paradox story I’ve come across. Granted, I have limited experience with time paradox tales, but in the case of The Life of the World to Come, Baker takes all the “rules” of time paradox stores, and she chuckles at them, knowingly, as she throws the rules right out the window. You can hear her wry sense of humor in every chapter.
As our three genetic dabblers are watching their creations be born, grow, and die, history has already happened, this person has already affected history. Their first iteration was born around 1526, educated in the Church and then trained to be a private secretary. Never told who or what he is, and not equipped to handle certain secrets, the man ends up dying a martyr’s death in 1555. The second iteration is some three hundred years later. Raised in England, trained as an intelligence agent, and sent to California during the American Civil War, this man also dies. The woman who avenges his death is arrested and given a life sentence in solitary confinement. This should really be sounding familiar.
In the tortuous history of Mendoza and the tall man, I couldn’t help but laugh along side Rutherford, Chatty and Foxy (even as I wanted to punch them for their callousness). As they were sitting in their faux leather chairs, drinking prune juice darkened to look like brandy, getting in trouble with the fire department for using their fireplace and saying “Look at how our new Enforcer is doing! isn’t this funny, that he has no idea who or what he is?”, I was laughing. Because in the year 2345, five years before the three gents ever even had an inkling of playing around with Enforcer genetics and testing their creations throughout history, everything they would come to do was already in the history books, just waiting to be discovered by anyone who was dumb enough to learn how to read.
It had all already happened. Nicholas had already been burned at the stake as a heretic. Bell-Fairfax had already been shot to death in California. The same woman witnessed both deaths, and it nearly drove her insane. Now, she resides on a deserted island, far from anyone she can hurt, and from anyone who can hurt her.
(oh how I wish i had read this book before being on the Time Paradox panel at ConFusion last year!)
History has already been written. And it was written in the future, but a handful of dangerously bright yet completely lacking in common sense Company Employees. That’s what makes this book so damn genius.
But that’s not all folks – there’s more. Way more. Someone has ulterior motives, someone who knows more than our three dangerously bright genetic dabblers. Thanks to strict controls on information and education, there are so many more unknowns. I haven’t even told you about the best plotline the in novel, the third iteration, an unloved young man who enjoys messing about with computer code. He’ll create an AI who might destroy the world, or save it. Depends on what your definition of save is. Depends on what your definition of destroy is. If I felt bad for Mendoza before, that’s nothing compared to how bad I feel for this fellow.
The Life of the World to Come had me laughing, crying, hating on the Company, and insanely curious about what happens next. I know a lot of people gave up on this series with Mendoza in Hollywood, and even I’ll happily admit that that novel feels like a total rehash of the first novel. There’s a reason for that, and it’s all explained in The Life of the World to Come. Baker plays the long game. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Baker had been a Company Operative who got in trouble for giving us too many hints.