1/01/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Subterranean Press. 321 page 474 numbered limited edition signed hardback. Price: $60.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-283-2.
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com
Often in interviews, an author will say that while writing a particular novel a lesser character will demand more time and that the author tells their story. It is more likely that the character concerned is actually more interesting than the main ones and the writer subconsciously knows this. Occasionally, it is the readership that demands more of a character, as Anne McCaffrey discovered with her 'Pern' books. Master Robinton ended up being the central figure in subsequent novels. In 'The Empress Of Mars', Kage Baker took a character that had been mentioned virtually in passing and created a larger than life, feisty personality in a tale that could be read on its own even though it is barely linked into the 'Company' novels. 'The Empress Of Mars' is a good, enjoyable Science Fiction romp.
It is a shame that this novel, 'Not Less Than Gods', is so disappointing.
The focus of the 'Company' novels is Mendoza, a child rescued from the Spanish Inquisition and turned into an immortal cyborg, given an education far beyond her time's facilities and the task of preserving rare plants. In the first volume, 'In The Garden Of Iden', she falls in love with Nicholas and sees her lover burnt at the stake. In 'Mendoza In Hollywood', she meets Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax who is the spitting image of her lost love and who is also killed at the end of the novel. Later in the series we meet Alec and discover that all three are genetically enhanced clones and that Edward and Nicholas's personalities have been copied and stored and that they can be re-animated.
In 'Not Less Than Gods', we are introduced to Edward's early days. His embryo is implanted into a Victorian socialite and after birth is foisted on a couple who have just lost a baby but is virtually brought up by the servants. He is taken off to a private school at the age of eleven by a Dr. Nennys (a Company man) and later his purported 'real' father, Lord Fairfax, enrols him in the navy as a midshipman. It is only when he is about to be executed for mutiny that he is rescued by a shadowy organisation, ostensibly guided by the Company. This all happens within the first forty pages. The rest of the novel follows Edward as part of a quartet who travel Europe as spies and a kind of assassination squad bumping off people who will change history in the way the Company does not want. They are equipped with anachronisms, like torches, to make their job easier and at one point descend to the luxurious underground railway that takes them from Constantinople to The Netherlands direct in four days. Most of the time, on the surface, the group are pretending to be permanently inebriated English toffs on the Grand Tour in order to take photographs (openly using the equipment of the day, actually with a miniature film camera hidden in a hat band) of local defences and fortifications. After a while, this larking around, though supposedly amusing, becomes tiresome.
What the novel does provide is an insight into how the Company operates to manipulate governments to their own ends. The problems lie in the characters and settings. Largely, the viewpoint is not Edward's and the narrative style is bland. Edward is astonishingly good at everything from marksmanship to hypnotising women to have sex with him. He has enhanced senses and reflexes, making him physically different from other humans. Added to this his abnormal height would make it hard for him to be inconspicuous. But we do not really get inside him as a person or any of the others. Descriptions of places are scarce and very unconvincing, especially Victorian London and St. Petersburg. To find out how to write about historic London, see how another American, Dan Simmons, does it in his novel 'Drood', set in the same period.
The most disappointing thing is that there are about eight years between the end of this novel and when Edward meets Mendoza, which means that there is plenty of space for more adventures before then. If there are to be such, there will have to be a lot better than this to make the exercise worthwhile. Baker is a much better writer than this book suggests as this feels like a first novel rather than one from an experienced writer.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA