Mendoza in Hollywood: A Company Novel
by Kage Baker
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0765315300
Date: 02 May, 2006 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The story takes its own sweet time getting going, as Mendoza gets to know the various station folk, rides around with Oscar, an agent posing as a door to door salesman of the era, and drinks in the settings of movieland to come, extensively overlain by their knowledge of the future. For high entertainment, the agents even ship in movies made in the locale, for what has to be the first film festival every held.
In world beyond the fledgling town of LA the nation is deep in the civil war, and while it's attention is turned inward, it develops that other nations attentions are turning to the vast California territory. Soon Mendoza and her friends find that they're in just the right place and time to watch a previously unknown plot for England to wrest control of California away from the Yankees, a plot they know will fail, but one that absorbs their historical interest all the same.
Just when you think the entire book is going to be a collection of loosely strung together short stories reminicing about either the region in the days of stage coaches and desperadoes, or the early days of the silver screen, Baker starts to draw the strings together and turn it into a real page turner. Not that the somewhat aimless romp around the Hollywood hills wasn't fun...but it isn't until a genuine British secret agent shows up and steals away with a valise full of important papers, as well as Mendoza's heart, that things really get moving.
Mendoza, as readers of the first two books of the Company no doubt remember, fell in love with an Englishman once before, a few hundred years earlier, and though it would have hurt her when he got old and died, it devastated her when his religious beliefs wound up getting him burned at the stake. Then along comes this charmer working for Her Majesty's Secret Service, though of course he's too smooth to let that slip, and between the dreams she's been having of dying in her lovers arms so that they can be together in the great by and by, and his uncanny resemblance to said swain...well Mendoza doesn't stand a chance. Not that falling in love with secret agents is any safer than falling in love with religious reformers.
Throughout the book the plots slowly thicken, both the one with the British and the one where the agents divine Dr. Zeuss real purpose behind their operations. It will take another two books for Kage to reveal all, but Mendoza makes a good bit of headway here, though only toward the end.
I have to admit that I got off on the wrong foot with Kage Baker's novels of the company. Somehow when I heard that there were a bunch of stories about a "Company" that had agents traveling back in time on secret missions I conjured up visions of Andre Norton's Time Traders, or some sort of Temporal MIB. Not a bunch of cyborgs living forward in time, day after day, year after year. And for what? All to collect treasures that the future wanted saved. Art, extinct plants, historical documents. And who turns out to be the chief protagonist of all this? A botanist with an aversion to "mortal humans", a cyborged gal named Mendoza.
It took me a little while to get over my unreasonable pique, but soon I found I was looking forward to these clever tales of past, present, and future all compressed into one, and told by the immortals that were born human, but turned into living machines by the company known as Dr. Zeus. Zeus only takes children into its service, and then only orphaned ones who have little or no prospect, and while it probably seems like a good offer at the time, the agents of the company have plenty of time to wind up regretting their fortune. Watching the mortal world flower, seed, and return to dust while they remain young. At least they get the company of other immortals.
You could, and probably should, start at the beginning, in The Garden of Iden, where Medoza falls for her original Englishman, but I'm not a fan of the period, and think that Mendoza in Hollywood stands quite well on its own. Baker's style and concept are both unique and well worth getting to know better, and Tor deserves credit for bringing out this volume of the Company saga in paperback for those who missed it the first time around.