01/07/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: TOR/SciFi Channel. 431 page hardback. Price: $25.95 (US) $26.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1746-9.
check out website: www.tor-forge.com
The concept of the trilogy is fast approaching its sell-by-date. What is wanted now by many readers is the series of indeterminate length but in which each book is a discrete part of the whole, such as Laurell K. Hamilton's 'Anita Blake' books. It makes it easier to pick up any of the volumes and have an equal chance of being drawn in, thus creating a market for the rest. But even these series come in different varieties. There is the concept series in which the author has at least an outline of each volume before they start writing. Each volume moves closer to the denouement and the final reckoning will come after a finite number of volumes. A different scenario is where the author has an idea that could be turned into a series but plots each volume in turn the series ends when the author gets tired of the characters and wants to move on (unless the publisher is very encouraging but when this happens, the quality often deteriorates). Sometimes, though, as in Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' stories the characters have to be brought back from the dead (by public demand). In other series, the ending never seems to get any closer. Does anyone remember the interminable 'Perry Rodan' series? Sometimes one variety morphs into another.
This series of 'The Company' novels by Kage Baker has the feel of having altered course during the writing of it. In some ways, this is not surprising. What can start off as a good idea can be hijacked by bigger ambitions. In the first book in this series, 'In The Garden Of Iden', we were introduced to Mendoza, a Spanish child rescued from the Inquisition and turned into an immortal cyborg. Here we are introduced to the concept of the far future Company, headed by a Dr. Zeus, which is keen to preserve plants and animals that have gone extinct in the past and save artworks that would otherwise have been destroyed. Company staff are able to go back in time to recruit and train operatives, but people like Mendoza can only move forward a day at a time. Also history, from the perspective of the 24th century, is unchangeable. They have tried and failed every time, so there can be no time paradoxes. On her first assignment, Mendoza falls in love with a mortal who is subsequently burnt at the stake.
In a later novel, 'Mendoza In Hollywood', she falls for a man who looks exactly like her first love. Thus a new element has to be introduced. By the time the series has reached this, the tenth and possibly final novel in the sequence, there have been a number of changes. Some have enhanced the complexity of the plot, others have the appearance of back-tracking to explain earlier events that had perhaps not originally been intended to have such a great significance. The other major change is that Mendoza has gradually been becoming more peripheral to the thrust of the plot and characters that seemed less important have been given bigger roles.
One fixed point in the series has always been the year 2355. This is when history apparently ends. At least, the Company has no information about what happens after the 9th July in that year. This novel, 'The Sons Of Heaven', take us to that point.
Mendoza has always seemed a passive character, becoming involved in events rather than initiating them. In 'The Sons Of Heaven', this is even more so as she becomes merely a vehicle for events. In previous novel, it has been discovered that Mendoza's two lost loves, Nicholas and Edward, as well as Alec Checkerfield are bio-engineered and essentially born from the same DNA so are physically identical. Also that the personalities of Nicholas and Edward have been preserved electronically. The Edward personality has laid claim to the extant physical body and has conceived the idea that Mendoza should bear twins to house the personalities of Alec and Nicholas. Because this group, unlike the rest of the world, are able to travel backwards and forwards in time at will, they have plenty of time for the children to grow to adulthood
Elsewhen, everyone is awaiting the apocalypse. As they do not know what it is, different factions make plans. The human part of the Company are planning to try and kill the cyborgs (no-one has managed this yet) and have hired a wizened little scientist called Ratlin to develop a method which will be delivered in chocolates. He is a drone in a degenerate human hive society who thinks he has managed to kill a cyborg, called Lewis (a relict from earlier in the series). However, Lewis is slowly recovering, with the help of a child of the hive who has styled herself Princes Tiara Parakeet. Other factions are preparing an all out assault on the company headquarters on the appropriate day.
There are too many characters to make the end game satisfactory. It is difficult to know who is allied to whom or whether everyone is just piling in and hoping to be on the ascendant side. A number of the characters, such as Joseph and Victor, were introduced originally in the first book of the series and have been developed greatly. In fact, they are now more interesting characters than Mendoza herself. Perhaps they always were.
'The Sons Of Heaven' achieves much of what is intended in that it brings the series to a conclusion and explains what happened in 2355 but it does not focus enough on the interesting plot elements and too much on the sentimental aspects of Mendoza's life style.
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