the Little Red Reviewer

Gods and Pawns (stories of the Company) by Kage Baker

Posted on: May 11, 2017

Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker

published in 2007

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve been trying (and not always succeeding) to read Kage Baker’s Company books in the order of publication.   Which meant next up was Gods and Pawns, which was  published in 2007.   The series starts with In The Garden of Iden, a novel that completely broke my heart into a billion little pieces. Then came Sky Coyote, in which I fell a little bit in love with Joseph even though he is a complete asshole. Or at least, I thought he was an asshole until I met Porfirio, now that guy is a piece of work.  The Company books get darker and darker the further you read in the series, and yet Baker’s writing style is full of humor and wit, so you’re laughing at the same time.  With all the research that went into these novels and short stories much of her work reads a little bit like Tim Powers, that of course these crazy things didn’t happen . . . but no one can prove that they didn’t….

 

Gods and Pawns is a collection of short stories that take place in the Company world. Similar to her collection In The Company of Thieves, these mostly light-hearted short stories are excellent entry points into Baker’s Company world.

 

What is The Company? In the future, time travel is discovered. However, you can only travel backwards in time, and recorded history can not be changed. The owner(?) of The Company sends operatives back in time, where they take in orphaned children and turn the children into immortal cyborgs who are now employees of The Company.  For the cyborgs, it’s a post-scarcity life – they never need to worry about money, or a job, or a roof over their heads. The job security is great because they are immortal. But what are they working towards? What is the point of finding and then hiding all the valuable paintings and manuscripts and gems in the world for some future you may never see? Is this a good gig? Is it slavery?  What’s the retirement policy like?

 

I have condensed and vastly oversimplified Baker’s amazingly complex world. If you enjoy long running space opera series with fantastic writing, time paraxodes (paradoxii?) horrible secrets, lots of dark humor, all written by an author who is a genius at playing the long game, this is a great series for you.  If you’re not sure if that is something you’d like, the short stories are a great place to start.  For more information, and possibly epic spoilers, checkout the Company reread that Stefan Raets did at Tor.com last year.

 

While I was disappointed that Mendoza doesn’t star in a larger portion of the stories in Gods and Pawns, I was happy to see my favorite side character, Lewis, get the spotlight.

 

Surprising nobody, my favorite short story in Gods and Pawns is the Lewis/Mendoza story, “To The Land Beyond the Sunset”, in which our two immortal operatives act as mortal guests of a family of supposed gods.  Mendoza is excited about the rare plants she finds on their property, and Lewis is trying to figure out how exactly these people are related to each other, and why they seem so ignorant. There’s also the whisperings in the walls of a secret family member who keeps getting moved around the villa so the “visiting mortals” can’t see him. There’s the expected humor in this story, Mendoza and Lewis are immortal, and do have what could be construed as godly power. And this lonesome family appears to be underfed, ill-informed, living in a ramshackle villa, and not godly at all.  Everyone is playing a role, it seems.  Mendoza’s first discovery makes me hope these people die a horrible death for what they are doing. The next discovery makes me feel so terribly sorry for them.

I always imagine Lewis looking like Cyril from Archer.

“The Angel in the Darkness” isn’t the first story in the collection, but it’s where new-comers should start.  Down on her luck Maria balances paying for her ailing father’s rest home care, helping to raise her nephew, and a full time job. It’s not easy, and it just gets worse when weird things start happening at her Dad’s rest home, and she starts getting threatening letters at home. The police are of no help, and who is going to listen to a Hispanic woman who sounds hysterical anyway?  When a friend of her father’s re-enters her life, Maria is angry and feels betrayed.  Porfirio makes a pot of coffee, and does his best to explain to her that on the one hand he’s been keeping an eye on her family for longer than anyone was aware, he’s not a vampire, and oh yeah, there’s this thing called the Company that he can’t tell her much about. He tells her what he can, through story and metaphor and his memories of what he went through and why he does what he does. Then something worse happens.  Porfirio is an asshole, but if a muggle like Maria (or a reader!) needs a quick explanation of the The Company, he’s the best guy to get it from.

 

“Standing in his Light” is another fun and completely stand alone story.  Johannes Vermeer (yes, *that* Vermeer) is struggling to find patrons, struggling to sell his work, struggling to pay his bills. And then a patron finds him.  She gives him tools, and paints, and income, buys as many paintings as he can paint, and she tells him what to paint.  So much gold! So much blue! Because those are her boss’s favorite colors.  Vermeer grows bored and desperate to paint something more interesting. Peppered into the story are scenes from the 24th century, where Vermeer is seen as an artistic master. Although, most of his original paintings have been altered to be acceptable in future, milk and wine being painted over to appear as water or fruit juice.  There is nothing wrong with this story, it is gorgeously written, but I find I prefer the stories that include Company characters I already know. I didn’t care about Van Drouten, I wasn’t invested in her.

my brain tells me Joseph looks like Alex from The Expanse

Another favorite story, probably because it stars my favorite partners in crime, Lewis and Joseph (probably? definitely!) is “Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst”.  On the surface, this is a fun romp during a party weekend at William Randolph Hearst’s mansion in the 1930s.  But oh wow is this story jam packed of big picture hints of what the future brings!  I also enjoy Joseph’s point of view.  He’s the guy who recruited Mendoza, he’s been very good at his job for a few millenia. A little too good, and he knows a little too much, or at least he thinks he does. He’s not sure what he’s seeing when he finishes his negotiations with Hearst, but he’s also a pro at lying to himself.  I always feel bad for Joseph.  He does good, or what he tells himself is good work, and everyone ends up hating him for it. Is what he’s doing worth it?

 

Gods and Pawns is fantastic for Company fans of all flavors – maybe you read In the Garden of Iden and never read further (too much oozy romance?), maybe like many readers you stalled out after Mendoza in Hollywood, maybe you’ve read some of Baker’s Nell Gwynne novellas and haven’t dived into more Company stuff.  Maybe you loved The Anvil of the World but aren’t sure if her scifi time travel stuff is for you. This collection is a great entry point for any of the above, and I loved reading it.
Last year I read The Machine’s Child, but going through my blog I can’t find that I ever reviewed it. I’ll need to read it again and write a review, but that book is full of so much WTFery that I’ll warn you right now, the review might consist entirely of “this book fried my brain and I can’t explain any of it”.

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4 Responses to "Gods and Pawns (stories of the Company) by Kage Baker"

Well, if I ever do read these, now I’ve got faces stuck in my mind 🙂

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I love the Company series! Thanks for the Tor link – I’ve bookmarked it for reading later.

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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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