The Dr. Zeus universe finally coughs up some answers. Time travel makes for one scarey monopoly.
The 'Company' stories all deal with the idea that, in the 24th century, a company learns how to send people back in time. To creat agents for itself, it takes children of a part time period and turns them into immortal cyborgs, who work for them on missions such as saving 'lost' artworks and extinct species, hiding them safely so that they can be 'rediscovered' in the 24th century.
It's all very noble on the face of it, but as time goes on, the Company's motivations and methods begin to seem more suspect to many of the agents. Do the people of the 24th century really appreciate what they've done? What will happen when the agent finally 'get' to that century? Why does no one ever receive any communications or supplies from later than the year 2355? What Happens?
The series is very slow-moving, in some ways, because although the focal point of the series is the cyborg botanist Mendoza, some of the books look at events from other points of view and other characters. So although the stories themselves might be full of action, the larger picture hasn't developed very quickly.
'The Life of the World to Come' is an excellent entry in this series. Mendoza does appear - and plays an essential part - but the story focuses on Alec Checkerfield - neglected orphan, child prodigy, rogue, playboy, not to mention the Seventh Earl of Finsbury. Not to mention obsessed with pirates. A dissolute man of the 24th century - and a Company experiment. Coincidentally, he's a dead ringer for the only two men that Mendoza has ever loved, in her long, long life.
In this book, the reader finally gets a good look at the 24th century - it's worse than even the Company agents might have guessed.
My only quibble is that, although the trio of Company men who devise the Adonai project are just too dorky to be believed. They're funny, sure - but the amount of unchecked power they have, in their bungling way, just doesn't fit in with the smooth sophistication we see in the higher-ups. Perhaps it will be explained in a later book...
A word, first, on the publishing. Sometime between The Graveyard Game and this novel, Kage Baker switched to Tor. I am extremely grateful for that. The cover design is much sleeker, and there is a very definite style to the series covers from this point on, making it immediately obvious when you see the books lined up that they are, in fact, a series. The jacket descriptions, too, are much improved, as you can hopefully see from the one I included above. I just wish that Tor had the rights to the entire series, because the first four look very out-of-place on the shelf now. . .
To the story. The Graveyard Game felt unfocused, like nothing more than a transition; The Life of the World to Come does not have that problem. It's still told from the third-person, and does jump around in time, but it is entirely the story of Alec Checkerfield. Like In the Garden of Iden, it is a coming-of-age novel in the classic sense -- we see Alec from his very generation through to a major trial-by-fire and a falling in love. The one major issue I have with this novel, however, is the world Baker created for Alec to come of age in.
The future she has envisioned is pretty dire. It has been through several apocalypses of various sorts, and the few people that are left have emerged incredibly privileged, with advanced technology and all the resources of the planet at their disposal. As we got a glimpse of in Sky Coyote and The Graveyard Game, they have taken the supposedly moral high road on so many issues that they have completely whitewashed their own existence -- no real food (all stimulants and animal products are banned), no real sex, an abhorrence of violence of any kind, and all that extends so far that they can't even read books about such things, so they also have none of the cultural awareness that would at least come with education through literature. This means that they are perennial children, and Alec, as a product of that culture (though he naturally rebels against it) remains a child throughout as well.
Mendoza's previous two lovers were men with great strength of character, as noted in the description; Alec seems so weak compared to them that I highly doubt Mendoza would love him if he weren't genetically identical to her other loves. (Baker does provide a neat little explanation of why Mendoza fell so quickly for all three of the men, however, so maybe I'm wrong about that.) This makes the novel much less involving on an emotional level than the previous four, because all of the previous ones (yes, even the transitional The Graveyard Game) were imbued with passion -- in the two from Mendoza's perspective, passion for Harpole and Fairfax; in the other two Joseph's and Lewis' passion for Mendoza. The Life of the World to Come was more abstract. It moved the plot forward immensely, and I giggled at all the right places, but there were no moments that sank into my chest and made me feel. Even Alec's trial-by-fire seemed somewhat academic -- Alec himself simply wasn't mature enough to grow as I would expect from it.
But I would still strongly recommend this series, and I would still say that The Life of the World to Come is stronger than The Graveyard Game. Baker's prose is consistently good, the story moves along quickly, the ideas are fun to play with, and (best of all) each novel is a complete story arc that nonetheless moves forward the larger series story arc. This novel introduces some new players to the game (and I loved the Captain -- if more had been from his perspective I think Baker would have captured the passion of the earlier books in his love for his boy Alec) and gets us much closer to finding out what happens in 2355. I am still looking forward to each book, which is pretty darned good for a series of this length, I think.
Great story. It was my intro to the "company" books.
The live and times of Mendoza's lover. All three of him.
Book 5 of the series which started with In the Garden of Iden and told how Mendoza escaped the Inquisiton and became an Immortal preserver for the Company of Dr Zeus. This is the story of Alec Checkerfield (another creation of Dr Zeus) and the Captain, and how his life becomes intertwined with Mendoza's.
This is a fascinating, almost addictive series from an author with a really different imagination. Whether heroes or villains or something in between, characters are compelling.