The debut of a major talent. Kage Baker is a fresh, audacious, ambitious new voice.
In the Garden of Iden (The Company Series #1)by Kage Baker
This is the first novel in what has become one of the most popular series in contemporary SF, now back in print from Tor. In the 24th century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza… See more details below
This is the first novel in what has become one of the most popular series in contemporary SF, now back in print from Tor. In the 24th century, the Company preserves works of art and extinct forms of life (for profit of course). It recruits orphans from the past, renders them all but immortal, and trains them to serve the Company, Dr. Zeus. One of these is Mendoza the botanist. She is sent to Elizabethan England to collect samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden.
But while there, she meets Nicholas Harpole, with whom she falls in love. And that love sounds great bells of change that will echo down the centuries, and through the succeeding novels of The Company.
The debut of a major talent. Kage Baker is a fresh, audacious, ambitious new voice.
The prose is compulsively readable - it has the breezy feel of someone casually telling us a story, a feeling I associate with, say, Heinlein at his best. . . In fact, the whole book is a great deal of fun . . . it's easily on a level with Le Guin's or Resnick's first novels.
So, how do you classify a seriously philosophical time-travel story of a young cyborg's first love amid religious conflict? As a good read.
Read an Excerpt
IN THE GARDEN OF IDEN (Chapter One)
I AM A BOTANIST. I will write down the story of my life as an exercise, to provide the illusion of conversation in this place where I am now alone. It will be a long story, because it was a long road that brought me here, and it led through blazing Spain and green, green England and ever so many centuries of Time. But you’ll understand it best if I begin by telling you what I learned in school.
Once, there was a cabal of merchants and scientists whose purpose was to make money and improve the lot of humankind. They invented Time Travel and Immortality. Now, I was taught that they invented Time Travel first and developed Immortals so they could send people safely back through the years.
In reality it was the other way around. The process for Immortality was developed first. In order to test it, they had to invent Time Travel.
It worked like this: they would send a team of doctors into the past, into 1486 for example, and select some lucky native of that time and confer immortality on him. Then they’d go back to their own time and see if their test case was still around. Had he survived the intervening nine hundred years? He had? How wonderful. Were there any unpleasant side effects? There were? Oops. They’d go back to the drawing board and then back to 1486 to try the new, improved process on another native. Then they’d go home again, to see how this one turned out. Still not perfect? They’d try again. After all, they were only expending a few days of their own time. The flawed immortals couldn’t sue them, and there was a certain satisfaction in finally discovering what made all those Dutchmen fly and Jews wander.
But the experiments didn’t precisely pan out. Immortality is not for the general public. Oh, it works. God, how it works. But it can have several undesirable side effects, mental instability being one of them, and there are certain restrictions that make it impractical for general sale. For example, it only really works on little children with flexible minds and bodies. It does not work on middle-aged millionaires, which is a pity, because they are the only consumers who can afford the process.
So this cabal (they called themselves Dr. Zeus, Incorporated) came up with a limited version of the procedure and marketed it as truly superior geriatric medicine. As such it was fabulously profitable, and everyone commended Dr. Zeus.
Everyone, of course, except all those flawed immortals.
But about the Time Travel part.
Somehow, Dr. Zeus invented a time transcendence field. It, too, had its limitations. Time travel is only possible backward, for one thing. You can return to your own present once you’ve finished your business in the past, but you can’t jump forward into your future. So much for finding out who’s going to win in the fifth race at Santa Anita on April 1, 2375.
Still, Dr. Zeus played around with the field and discovered what could at first be taken as a comforting fact: History cannot be changed. You can’t go back and save Lincoln, but neither can you erase your own present by accidentally killing one of your ancestors. To repeat, history cannot be changed.
However—and listen closely, this is the important part—this law can only be observed to apply to recorded history. See the implications?
You can’t loot the future, but you can loot the past.
I’ll spell it out for you. If history states that John Jones won a million dollars in the lottery on a certain day in the past, you can’t go back there and win the lottery instead. But you can make sure that John Jones is an agent of yours, who will purchase the winning ticket on that day and dutifully invest the proceeds for you. From your vantage point in the future, you tell him which investments are sound and which financial institutions are stable. Result: the longest of long-term dividends for future you.
And suppose you have John Jones purchase property with his lottery winnings, and transfer title to a mysterious holding firm? Suppose you have an army of John Joneses all doing the same thing? If you started early enough, and kept at it long enough, you could pretty much own the world.
Dr. Zeus did.
Overnight they discovered assets they never knew they had, administered by long-lived law firms with ancient instructions to deliver interest accrued, on a certain day in 2335, to a “descendant” of the original investor. And the money was nothing compared to the real estate. As long as they stayed within the frame of recorded history, they had the ability to prearrange things so that every event that ever happened fell out to the Company’s advantage.
At about this point, the scientist members of the cabal protested that Dr. Zeus’s focus seemed to have shifted to ruling the world, and hadn’t the Mission Statement mentioned something about improving the lot of humanity too? The merchant members of the cabal smiled pleasantly and pointed out that history, after all, cannot be changed, so there was a limit to how much humanity’s lot could be improved without running up against that immutable law.
But remember, Gentle Reader, that that law can only be seen to apply to recorded history. The test case was the famous Library of Alexandria, burned with all its books by a truculent invader. Technically, the library couldn’t be saved, because history emphatically states that it was destroyed. However, Dr. Zeus sent a couple of clerks back to the library with a battery-powered copier disguised as a lap desk. Working nights over many years, they transferred every book in the place to film before the arsonist got to it, and took it all back to 2335.
Even though the books turned out to be mostly liberal arts stuff like poetry and philosophy that nobody could understand anymore, the point was made, the paradox solved: What had been dead could be made to live again. What had been lost could be found.
Over the next few months in 2335, previously unknown works of art by the great masters began turning up in strange places. Buried in lead caskets in cellars in Switzerland, hidden in vaults in the Vatican Library, concealed under hunting scenes by successful third-rate Victorian commercial painters: Da Vincis and Rodins and Van Goghs all over the place, undocumented, uncatalogued, but genuine articles nonetheless.
Take the case of The Kale Eaters, the unknown first version of Van Gogh’s early Potato Eaters. It wasn’t possible for the Company to go drug Van Gogh in his studio, take the newly finished painting, and leap home with it: nothing can be transported forward out of its own time. What they did was drug poor Vincent, take The Kale Eaters and seal it in a protective coat of great chemical complexity, paint it over in black, and present it to a furniture maker in Wyoming (old USA), who used it to back a chair that later found its way into a folk arts-and-crafts museum, and later still into other museums, until some zealous restorer X-rayed the chair and got the shock of his life. Needless to say, the chair was at that time in a collection owned by Dr. Zeus.
As it happens, there are all sorts of chests and cupboards in lonely houses that don’t get explored for years on end. There are buildings that survive bombings, fire, and flood, so that no one ever sees what’s hidden in their walls or under their floorboards. The unlikely things that get buried in graves alone would astonish you. Get yourself a database to keep track of all such safe hiding places, and you too can go into the Miraculous Recovery business.
And why stop there? Art is all very well and can fetch a good price, but what the paying public really wants is dinosaurs.
Not dinosaurs literally, of course. Everyone knew what happened when you tried to revive dinosaurs. But the Romance of Extinction was big business in the twenty-fourth century. To sell merchandise, you had merely to slap a picture of something extinct on it. A tiger, for example. Or a gorilla. Or a whale. Crying over spilt milk was de rigueur by that time. What better way to cash in on ecological nostalgia than to revive supposedly extinct species?
In May of 2336, people turned on their newspapers and learned that a small colony of passenger pigeons had been discovered in Iceland, of all places. In Christmas of that same year, four blue whales were sighted off the coast of Chile. In March of 2337, a stand of Santa Lucia fir trees, a primitive conifer thought extinct for two centuries, was found growing in a corner of the Republic of California. Everyone applauded politely (people never get as excited over plants as they do over animals), but what didn’t make the news was that this species of fir was the only known host of a species of lichen that had certain invaluable medical properties …
Miracles? Not at all. Dr. Zeus had collected breeding pairs of the pigeons in upstate New York in the year 1500. They were protected and bred in a Dr. Zeus station in Canada for over half a millennium and then released to the outside world again. Similar arrangements were made for the whales and the fir trees.
Anyway, when the public imagination was all aglow with these marvelous discoveries, Dr. Zeus let the truth be known. Not all the truth, naturally, and not widely known; business didn’t work that way in the twenty-fourth century. But rumor and wild surmise worked as well as the plushiest advertising campaign, and the Company didn’t have to pay a cent for it. It got to be known that if you knew the right people and could meet the price, you could have any treasure from the past; you could raise the lamented dead.
The orders began to come in.
Obsessive collectors of art and literature. Philanthropists sentimental about lost species. Pharmaceutical companies desperate for new biological sources. Stranger people, with stranger needs and plenty of ready cash. There were only two or three questions.
Who was running Dr. Zeus now? Even its founders weren’t sure. Its most secretive inner circle couldn’t have said positively. Suddenly they were surrounded by the prearranged fruits of somebody’s labor on their behalf—but whose labor? Just how many people worked for the Company?
Also, were they now faced with the responsibility of making sure history happened at all? Quite a few species had been declared extinct, only to turn up alive and well in unexpected places. Were these Dr. Zeus projects they hadn’t been aware of? Someone went digging in the Company archives and discovered that the coelacanth was a Dr, Zeus special. So was the tule elk. So was the dodo, the cheetah, Père David’s deer. And the Company archives had an unsettling way of expanding when no one was looking.
Finally, where do you get the support personnel for an operation the size that this one had to be? Besides the cost of sending modern agents to and from the past, the agents themselves hated it. They said it was dangerous back there. It was dirty. People talked funny and the clothes were uncomfortable and the food was disgusting. Couldn’t somebody be found who was better suited to deal with the past?
Well. Remember all those test-case immortals?
A team from the future was sent back to history’s predawn, to build training centers in unpopulated places. They went out and got children from the local Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, and shaved their diverse little skulls and worked the Immortality Process on their little brains and bodies. They brought them up with careful indoctrination and superior education. Then they went back to their own time, leaving the new agents there to expand the operation.
And what did Dr. Zeus have then? A permanent workforce that didn’t have to be shipped back and forth through time, that didn’t suffer culture shock, and that never, never needed medical benefits. Or, to put it in the corporate prose of the Official Company History: slowly these agents would labor through the centuries for Dr. Zeus, unshakable in their loyalty. They had been gifted with Immortality, after all. They knew they had a share in the glorious world of the future. They were provided with all the great literature and cinema of ages unborn. Their life work (their unending life work) was the noblest imaginable: the rescue of living things from extinction, the preservation of irreplaceable works of art.
Who could ask for anything more, you say?
Ah, but remember that Immortality has certain undesirable side effects. Consider, also, the mental discomfort of being part of a plan so vast that no single person knows the whole truth about it. Consider, finally, the problem in logistics: there are thousands of us already, and as the operation expands, more of us are made. None of us can die. So where are they going to put us all, when we finally make it to that glorious future world our creators inhabit?
Will they allow us in their houses? Will they finally pay us salaries? Will they really welcome us, will they really share with us the rewards we’ve worked millennia to provide them with?
If you’re any student of history, you know the answer to that question.
So why don’t we rise in rebellion, as in a nice testosterone-loaded science fiction novel, laser pistols blazing away in both fists? Because in the long run (and we have no other way of looking at anything) we don’t matter. Nothing matters except our work.
Look. Look with eyes that can never close at what men do to themselves, and to their world, age after age. The monasteries burned. The forests cut down. Animals hunted to extinction; families of men, too. Live through even a few centuries of human greed and stupidity and you will learn that mortals never change, any more than we do.
We must go on with our work, because no one else will do it. The tide of death has to be held back. Nothing matters except our work.
Except our work.
IN THE GARDEN OF IDEN Copyright © 1997 by Kage Baker
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
This novel was the starting point Ms Baker used to build a rich and complicated fictional universe filled with corporate ruthlessness and greed masking itself as idealism, time travel, cyborgs, and immortality. She knew a lot about the Elizabethan world into which she drops her vivid characters. Although you can pick up the series in one of the later books and figure out what's going on without much trouble (she always tried to provide enough back story to orient her readers) this is a marvelous tale of futuristic characters journeying through a vanished world. Besides, cyborg girl meets sexy Elizabethan boy? What could be better than that?
My first encounter with Kage Baker was a short story in the anthology Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy. Her contribution was the highlight of that collection for me, a brightly polished gem of a story small in scope and warmly, wonderfully knowing. On the strength of that story alone I decided I would love the author. This was my first novel by Baker and her first novel as well, and if it was not quite as brightly polished as the short story (which was, after all, written a decade later) it still maintained all the wit, warmth and wisdom. The premise has rightfully drawn comparisons to Connie Willis' Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog. The first chapter, which works as a sort of prologue, introducing The Company and its operatives, is a delight. I especially like the idea that time travel was invented as a byproduct of their invention of immortality, to test whether or not the process worked. But regular SF readers be warned: the first chapter is the only major SF world-building that occurs in this novel. I suspect there is more in later books in the series, but the focus of this novel is much smaller: it is a romance and a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of Queen Mary's marriage to Prince Philip of Spain and the subsequent Marian Persecutions in England. There is very little to like about the young Company agent Mendoza. She is spunky, clearly, but also despises humanity and is supremely self-centered. She is, in short, a teenager. Smartly, the Mendoza that narrates the story is much older and wiser, and even if her wry, sardonic tone isn't groundbreaking, it is still very effective. Needless to say, the story Mendoza relates is the story of how she lost that self-centeredness and fell in love with one of the despised humans. All of those elements, would fit nicely in a Connie Willis novel, and the story moves with ease between the lighthearted tone of To Say Nothing of the Dog and the darker, richer tone of The Doomsday Book. The love interest, Nicholas Harpole, however, would have absolutely no place in a Connie Willis novel -- he is cast from a mold that reminded me very strongly of Father Ignatius in Louisa May Alcott's A Long Fatal Love Chase. Harpole is a martyr, a soldier of god, and he aches to save his beloved's immortal soul -- little knowing her immortal body has already been bought and paid for by The Company. While I share Joseph's evaluation of Harpole far more than Mendoza's, the couple's plight delivers excellent narrative tension, matched nicely by the increasingly grim news reports the Company agents listen to on their subvocal radio. I spent the entire second half of the novel waiting for the guillotine to fall, and when it did I read breathlessly through to the end. Ultimately, while In the Garden of Iden was not as good as either Connie Willis novel I mentioned, it showed great promise as the start of a series. I'll admit that I cheated and looked at the descriptions of the other books, so I know a bit of where the series is going -- it looks like there will be quite a bit more world-building in later novels, for instance -- but I think even if I did not know that, and if I hadn't loved that short story so much, on the strength of this novel Kage Baker would still have made my "buy immediately" list. Absolutely recommended.
I picked up this book because of some recommendations from friends on Shelfari. I was greatly disappointed! This book starts out so well, describing the Company, time travel and immortality and then goes to Spain in the 1500's where a little girl (Mendoza) is rescued from the Inquisition and put in a 'special program' with other children. They are trained and receive a number of surgeries that transform them into Cyborgs. The book then goes downhill from there as Mendoza is sent on her task to work in 1500's England during the end of Queen 'Bloody' Mary's reign. From there it is painfully dull and very difficult to finish. What also made this book difficult was that the vast infrastructure that was set up underground in the 1500's is very unbelievable. This book is definately not on my recommended list!
The idea behind the book is that 'the Company' places their operatives back in time to save life and valuable works of art before they are destroyed or become extinct. It's a very interesting idea and has a lot of potential. However, as soon as our main character is sent to her first posting (less than 1/4 the way into the book) it quickly turns into a romance novel. Character development falls by the wayside to make room for the young couple to flirt and run around. A few quick references are all that remains of the science fiction book I though I was going to read. I hope that the other books in the series can stick to good character development and take advantage of the concept behind the story - instead of turning into the dimestore romance novel this book turned out to be.
In the Garden of Iden introduces us to Kage Baker, a uniquely original new talent in science fiction. Baker has crafted an intriguing premise for time travel -- a company, Dr. Zeus, in the 24th century discovers that movement through time is possible, but objects from the past cannot be brought forward. To make time travel profitable the company sends operatives back in time, finds children and performs operations and indoctrination to turn them into immortal cyborgs dedicated to the preservation of materials which will be of value in the future. These valuables are stashed away in caches to be 'rediscovered' in the 24th century, to the financial benefit of the Company. The book tells the story of Mendoza, a child rescued from the 16th century dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition, and transformed into an immortal who specializes in botany. Her first posting is in Reformation England during the time of Queen Mary Tudor, a catholic queen who persecuted her Protestant subjects. Baker's command of the history of the time is laudable; she captures the nuances of Tudor society and deftly shows the depth of the religious feeling which was tearing apart a continent. She cleverly juxtaposes 16th century life with the technological sophistication of the operatives of the Company, who perform their collection duties supported by an infrastructure which allows them access to advanced computers, futuristic medical procedures and an eclectic array of radio entertainment. Mendoza's first foray into love serves to propel the action of this thoroughly engrossing novel. Baker shows an especially apt hand at humor, a particular strength of all her writing. I highly recommend this wonderful first novel in a highly imaginative series.