Sky Coyote by Kage Baker

Dear Kage Baker,

Yes, I am writing you a letter.  You know that I only write letters to really special authors, right?  I wrote one to Elizabeth Strout after she blew me away with Olive Kitteridge and I wrote one to Sarah Waters after she frustrated me and wowed me with The Little Stranger.  I’m really sorry I didn’t get a chance to write you this letter before, I think I would have actually sent it to you.  I had to let you know though, I’m in love with your Company novels.

For folks who don’t know, the Company novels are science fiction books about a group of immortals (cyborgs who were once human and trained by the Company since they were young) who are employed by the Company Dr. Zeus to live through history in real time and save historical items.  Don’t worry, you can’t change the past.  Well, at least you can’t change recorded history.   Dr. Zeus is somewhat dubious, but for the most, their employees are genuinely trying to do good things, while hiding the reality of what they are.  In Sky Coyote, Joseph is a facilitator who is on a mission to save the Chumash, a Native American tribe in what will be Southern California.

I read In the Garden of Iden and I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  What I did love was what it promised me — a series that has an awesome premise and plenty of time to grow into something amazing.  You didn’t let me down, Kage.  I loved Sky Coyote.  It was charming and mysterious and funny. It has a hugely diverse cast of characters and breaks every possible stereotype that you could possibly think of.  It’s inventive and an absolute joy to read.

Like this quote.  It made me laugh out loud:

“Hey, Sky Coyote, You should have been here this morning!  We had quite a shaker!”

“Hell of a quake,” agreed Nutku, beating his best bearskin robe until the dust flew. […]

“I know.  Khutash is very angry.  She found out about Sun’s white men last night,” I told them.  They looked surprised.

“Khutash is angry?  Is that what makes earthquakes?” Sepawit blinked.  “Well, I guess You’d know, but we always thought it was a natural phenomenon.”

“What?” Oh, boy, I wasn’t at my quick-witted best today.

“We always thought it was the World Snakes down there under the crust of the earth, the ones who hold everything up?  We thought they got tired every now and then and bump into one another,” Nutku explained.  “The astrologer-priest says they push the mountains up a little higher every year.”

“Oh,” I said. (229)

So thank you, Kage Baker.  For having such an original idea, for writing so many books for me to read.  Thank you for making science fiction approachable for all readers, but incorporating historical and literary elements to make any literature junkie like myself smile.  I cannot wait to read all of these books and I will be devastated when I have read them all.  I wanted to let you know all of this, even if it’s too late for me to actually tell you.  You will be greatly missed, but your voice lives on, in all its delightful humor and wit, all its tenderness.

Love, Lu

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Kage Baker’s unique fantasy “In the Garden of Iden”

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s a moment when you’re reading a book and you’re filled with a sudden joy.  That moment came about 40 pages into Into the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.  I was suddenly reminded of what it was like to read Harry Potter for the first time, or Ella Enchanted, or a Wrinkle in Time even.  It’s a childlike happiness that’s hard to describe or pin down.   What those books have in common, above all, is the idea that life is not what we make of it and, in some ways, there is an escape.  There is an escape to the fantastic and to the wonderful to beat out the mundane, even though all of those books eventually show you that there is no escape, not really, that even a magical life is one that we have to fight for.  In the Garden of Iden takes this escape to the next level in a mature, historical context that solidifies it as a science fiction classic.

Mendoza is a young girl during the Spanish Inquisition when she is recruited by the mysterious company Dr. Zeus.  They whisk her away to Australia and begin to operate, giving her the gift of immortality and a job as a botanist, to save all the rare plants that will go extinct in the future.  You see, Dr. Zeus discovered time travel, but only so they could prove that their formula for immortality existed.  Mendoza and her team are sent to England during the reign of Queen Mary to the rare garden of Sir Walter Iden.  While there, Mendoza does the unthinkable: she falls in love with a mortal.

What was most exciting about In the Garden of Iden was the prospect of what is to come.  Iden was not perfect and there were times when the story dragged a little, but if  this first novel is any indication of what the series will be like, it is all I can do to keep myself from running out to the library right now and pick up the second book.  The characters were believable and enjoyable to read about.  Iden manages to not only have a clever science fiction premise, but also seamlessly incorporate historical elements.  To top it all off, it’s a heartbreaking tragedy and a beautiful romance.

I can’t recommend this book enough.  Tragically, Kage Baker passed away on January 31, 2010.  Thank you Kage Baker for such a wonderful story, I’m only sad that we didn’t meet sooner.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Recommended by: bookshelves of doom.

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Call me Zits in Sherman Alexie’s Flight

Sherman Alexie is one of those authors that everyone loves and for good reason.  He’s ambitious, witty, fearless and unbelievably creative.  I’ve been interested in picking up more of his books recently, especially after reading and loving The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianTen Little  Indians and some of Alexie’s poetry last year.  I’ve also been listening to Nancy Pearl’s podcasts on my commute and one of her older archived interviews was with Sherman Alexie right after he published Flight, which is, as far as I can tell, one of his least popular books to date.  It did not sell well and has received very mixed reviews.  Something about the way Alexie talked about his narrator Zits really made me want to read it and I suggest everyone go watch the video!  If that doesn’t make you want to read Flight, I’m not sure what will.

“Call me Zits,” the novel begins, introducing us to one of the most original narrators I’ve read in a long time.  He’s a half-white-half-indian teenager who has been wronged by life, a not uncommon tale, of an absent father and a loving mother who dies when Zits  is young, forcing him into an uncertain life going from foster care family to foster care family.  After one particular incident with a new foster care family, Zits is arrested and while in jail he meets Justice.  Justice convinces him that he can bring his mother back, but only if he kills someone in a revenge murder.  So Zits shoots up a bank and is killed by a police officer, dying immediately.

But that’s not where Zits’s story ends, that’s only where it begins.  As Alexie explains in the video, he becomes “unstuck in time” like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, going from one moment in American history to the next.  At each moment, he experiences a revenge killing of sorts, making him relive the moment when he made the decision to shoot the bank.  Zits inhabits the body of all sorts of men and boys throughout history – men who betray their wives, soldiers who betray their army, even a little boy who is asked to do an unspeakable thing.  Each time he feels the guilt multiplied until he cannot understand making that decision over and over and over again.

One thing I think is clear from reading Flight is that we are all capable of revenge.  It can be a small thing, it does not have to be as big as murder, but that is a human feeling.  It does not matter what race you are or what gender you are or what age you are.  It is a powerful human emotion that can make anyone do something they will regret.  Zits’s story ends well, at least he tells us it does.  We are left at the end, unsure of what to believe or knowing what was real.  In the end, though, it does not matter if it was real or all in Zits’s head.  It does not matter if he killed in 2007 or the 1970s or the 1700s, or if he killed at all.  What is important is what he learned along the way – the danger of exacting revenge for something that no one could stop and the ability to forgive.  At least we hope he learned something.

Alexie, through Zits, provides so many insights that make Zits completely believable as a character, such as:

And then it’s the white kid and me.

He sits on the floor at one end of the cell.  I sit on the floor at t he other end.  He stares at me for a long time. He’s studying me.

“What are you looking at?”  I ask.

“Your face,” he says.

“What about my face?”

“It doesn’t have to be like that,” he says.  “They got all sorts of medicine now.  I see it on TV.  They got miracle zit stuff.  Clear your face right up.”

I’ve seen those commercials too.  The ones where famous people like P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson and Brooke Shields talk about their zits and how they got cured by this miracle face cream made from sacred Mexican mud and the sweet spit of a prom queen.  And, yeah, I’d love to buy that stuff, but it costs fifty bucks a jar.  These days, you see a kid with bad acne, and you know he’s poor.  Rich kids don’t get acne anymore.  Not really.  They just get a few spots now and again. (21)

This novel is so unique, drawing on influences from literature and popular culture, but making it into a completely original story that encompasses many aspects of our culture in one short novel.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: Bibliofreak.

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