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From Barnes & NobleKage Baker's first two novels of the Company, In the Garden of Iden and Sky Coyote, were lively science-fantasies featuring some of the most fanciful and inventive time-traveling frolics in recent memory. In her third outing, Mendoza in Hollywood, Baker returns with yet another distinctive setting to tell the always absorbing tale of a group of immortals who still have a lot to learn about the crafty ways of mankind.
The cyborg Mendoza is "employed" by the Company, also known as Dr. Zeus Inc., a 24th-century time-traveling corporation devoted to garnering wealth by manipulating past events. To accomplish this, the Company sends human operatives into the past in order to turn orphans into immortal cyborgs through drugs and implants. The immortals are then given centuries' worth of missions until they "meet up" with the 24th century, where they are supposed to be rewarded for their efforts with riches untold. Their objectives in the past are varied, including the saving of species, hiding cultural art treasures, making perfect future investments, or reallocating entire pre-industrial villages.
This time out, the cyborg botanist Mendoza is sent to Cahuenga Pass, California, in 1862, an area that will eventually become Hollywood. Her mission is to gather and save several plants bound for extinction that will one day help in the battle of future diseases. However, as usual, it's difficult for Mendoza to serve her distant 24th-century masters amid the immediate dangers of the American West while the Civil War rages on. Even worse, she is continually besieged by dreams of her long-dead lover, who went to the stake three centuries earlier during the Inquisition.
Surrounded by other similar-minded rebellious colleagues, Mendoza is influenced by the likes of Porfirio, a security tech who continues to have contact with his mortal descendants, although it is against every rule of his masters; Einar, a movie buff who constantly quotes from the films that will eventually be made in Hollywood; and Imarte, an anthropologist who lives life as a whore so she can "interact" and study human sexuality. As she continues on her mission, Mendoza seems haunted by the ghost of her lover, who suddenly appears to her in the persona of the handsome Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax, a British spy.
Kage Baker's characterizations are well thought-out and true to the circumstances of her protagonists. They're humorous and engaging, with a realistic depth that makes Mendoza and her fellow cyborgs not only independent creations but also crucial cogs in the greater machine of history. Mendoza is at once a slave and master of her own fate, and often the fate of humanity. Even more intriguing is how she finally begins to glean the true motives behind Dr. Zeus's orchestration of its operatives for its own mysterious purposes. To be deceived and beguiled during one's lifetime is bad enough, but to be betrayed through several lifetimes is as harrowing an ordeal as anyone could face.
Mendoza in Hollywood is a fine addition to an already daring and appealing world of historical threads and possibilities in the Company series. Baker's latest novel of wisecracking cyborg mercenaries combines vivid detail and page-turning action with a healthy twist of ironic wit. This is yet another solid entry in a series that is quickly becoming known for its thoughtful and intelligent examination of history and the human will to endeavor.