July 21, 2013: A 17 (actually, 21) Question Science Fiction Book Meme!

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?

1

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

1

Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?

1

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?

1

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?

1

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?

1

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?

1

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?

1

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

1

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?

1

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…

1

Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?

1

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?

1

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?

1

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?

1

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?

1

Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?

1

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?

1

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…

1

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

July 4, 2008: With Extra Special Guest Star…Kage Baker!

Kage Baker
Kage Baker

Today, I turn the blog over to Kage Baker who has graciously taken the time to field your questions and comments on In the Garden of Iden, this month’s SF BOTMC selection. Truth be told, this is actually Kage’s second appearance here. The first was a quick cameo back in February when she offered some insight into “Plotters and Shooters”, her contribution to Lou Anders’ Fast Forward I: Future Fiction From the Cutting Edge. I so enjoyed that particular short story that I decided to check out one of Kage’s novels as well – this, the first installment in her Company series – and bring you all along for the ride. And, judging from your reaction, it was a great call.

Those of you who read my review know that I’ll be checking out the ensuing titles in this series. Hopefully, many of you will as well. And, along the way, if you’d like to learn more about Kage, her work, and her incredibly diverse background (graphic artist, mural painter, teacher of Elizabethan English for the stage) head on over to: www.kagebaker.com

Now before I turn things over to our extra special guest blogger, I’d like to thank Kage. First, for being incredibly thoughtful by offering to postpone her appearance here out of respect for the late Don S. Davis. (I assured her that Don would’ve good-naturedly threatened me with an Ozark butt-kicking if I’d even considered it.) Second, for being so accommodating, managing to find time for us amid a hectic travel schedule and a Guest of Honor appearance at the Las Vegas Westercon (July 3-6, at the JW Marriott Resort, 221 N Rampart Blvd,Las Vegas, NV – so if you’re in the neighborhood, drop by!).

Over to Kage…

Hello to Stargate fans! And my condolences on our losing Don Davis.

Let’s see if I can answer your questions…

Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “My question to Ms Baker, why did you choose the Spanish Inquisition and the English setting for the book? Both excellent choices for this tale, and a remarkable feat of story telling. Also which of the Company Series did you find the most rewarding and-or difficult to write and why? Thank you for a wonderful creation!”

Shirt ‘n Tie: You’re welcome! I chose the Elizabethan setting because I was throroughly familiar with that era, having taught Elizabethan English for many years and also done living history set in Tudor times. Since the Inquisition was such a powerful force, it made sense that the Company would have agents stationed in its ranks, to enable them to sift through the people and things that disappeared into the Inquisition’s dungeons. As for which was most difficult of the books to write: that would be the last one, the Sons of Heaven. All those plotlines to tie up!

Eva K. I adore the idea that nothing we can do can change the past; it’s very convenient for mucking about in the past without having to worry about stepping on butterflies.

But did you come up with the idea of solid unchanging history first and fit the plot of the book within those perameters, or did you need to figure out a way the plot could work, and thus came up with the way timetravel works?

Eva K.: I came up with the idea of a story involving time travelers first. Having done that, I had to lay out the rules for my own little universe, because I needed consistent parameters or my story wouldn’t be very effective. Time Travel as a subgenre has been handled a lot, so I wanted something a little different from most others. That was why I made the rules stringent: No travel into the future, no carrying objects from the past to the present, and moreover time travel is too expensive to do much of it. Sort of setting my Difficulty level at High. And, after all, no actual time travel takes place in the book!

Bar Stool Babe writes: “My questions for Ms. Baker are did the whole series develop at once or did new characters demand more time from you once your introduced them (I’m thinking specifically of the residents in Mendoza in Hollywood)? And did you have the whole mortals versus immortals tension when you started writing the Company books or did it evolve as you wrote more of the series. I also must applaud the way you show the inevitable progression of “political correctness” in the future. Yech!”

Bar Stool Babe: The main characters—Mendoza, Nicholas, Joseph—were in the series outline from the beginning. However, the others just popped up as the books went along and took on lives and opinions of their own, much to my surprise. The tension between mortals and immortals was always there. Mendoza is a deeply wounded person, and one of the series themes is her journey from complete alienation back to some kind of reconciliation with her humanity. As for ‘political correctness’—only last week I read that kids in the UK can’t call study sessions ‘brainstorming’ anymore—it might offend epileptics. The approved term now is ‘Thought Showers’….

Narelle from Aus writes: “The questions I have for Kage Baker:
1. Is it an equal interest in both History and Sci Fi that motivated you to write this series of books?
2. Why do so many Sci Fi authors have a fascination with Warner Brothers cartoons (and I’m putting my hand up as a big fan of them)
3. Do you find it difficult to switch from one character to another when writing each book? Ie: Mendoza for Iden, Joseph for Sky Coyote?”

Narelle: Actually I’ve always been much more interested in History than in Science Fiction. But if you’re going to write a time travel novel, it’s gonna be science fiction. I can’t speak for other SF writers, but I grew up with Warner Brothers cartoons, and really—could you find a better symbol for human futility and eternal hope than Wile E. Coyote? As for the point of view switch: it was a little difficult, from brooding superteenager to crafty old field agent. Joseph is based on a friend of mine, and one of the things I did to get his voice was put on a tape of a class he had taught and listen to it as I wrote, to memorize his speech rhythms.

Anti-Social Butterfly writes: “My question for Ms. Baker concerns her use of anachronistic speech throughout the novel. What led to your decision to use it? Were you concerned that it might pull the reader out of the story? How did you draw the distinction between the jarring, over the top speech (exemplified by everything said by Joseph) and the casual, fluid speech (i.e. the conversations between Nicholas and Mendoza)?”

I won’t get spoilerish for those who haven’t read beyond the first book, but I would like to know if Ms. Baker created her own “Temporal Concordance” to keep up with all the characters and the convoluted plotting with changing times and locations.

Anti-Social Butterfly: Anachronistic speech was necessary to give each character his or her characteristic voice; after all, it isn’t a straight historical novel, but a time travel story. My editor begged me to keep the Elizabethan to a minimum, and I was able to comply with a certain amount of cheating; a lot of Elizabethan is actually pretty straightforward, and it’s possible to get the right voice without a lot of “beholdeths” and “walkests” and awkward grammar. Did I keep my own Temporal Concordance? I wish! As the series progressed I’d have to grab up previous books and frantically leaf through them to see what I’d written before about, for example, how old I’d said Joseph was.

Honshuu writes: “If I was to meet the author and ask questions, I would have only one, at this point. “Why did you choose to go with cyborgs as opposed to full androids? Was it to keep a human connection to the world they were supposed to help save/preserve?…or to add that human fallibility to the characters?””

A.Honshu: Yes indeed, because most of the series is about the human pull on people who are developing into posthumans. If I’d gone with androids… well, about the only story you can tell with androids is about an android trying to become human. The old Pinocchio game. Though of course there was Marvin the Paranoid Android!

Michelle writes: “I would ask Ms. Baker to explain more about what parts of the immortals are still human, though perhaps that’s more explained later in the series.”

Michelle: It is covered to some extent in the later books. Unbreakable ferroceramic skeleton, drastically modified spinal chord, brain augmentation by way of installed wetware, muscles and tendons reinforced with biopolymer, nanobots engineered to reside in the tissues and repair anything that’s compromised, organs modified to manufacture pineal tribrantine III, training to develop hyperabilities… the rest is all human, pretty much.

Sylvia writes: “Questions for Kage Baker
1. Early references to the people who bought the young girl, was a comment that “he, …likes young girls..” and this kinda rang a bell with the recent events of the FLDS – polygamy.
Why were children sought by the adult Mendozas?
The text implied the adult Mendozas wanted the child for sacrifice; or was there another reason?

2. The child (Mendoza) could not remember her or her family name, yet she was adamant stating she was not a Mendoza. Yet, she ended up with that name.
What was your thought process for giving the child the name?

3. Given the assumed normal morals for that “time,” I wondered why she was never taken to task for her relationship with Nicholas which became widely shared.

4. Did you intend to write a series of books when you started In the Garden of Iden? Or, did you decide at some point later?

5. Perhaps my sense of “timing” is warped, but as I read, I had the feeling that there was a sense of urgency as the operative Mendoza told her story. It comes from the very beginning. Like she had to get the story out before…something stopped her. Of course I have not read the other books…so, may I ask if this was intentional? Or, just a case of my perception?”

Sylvia: For questions 1 & 2: the implication is that the aristocratic crowd who buy Mendoza are into devil worship, or at least some kind of late-medieval neopaganism, and intend to offer her as a child consort to the Lord of the Fields. FLDS sex? Human sacrifice? Who knows? The Inquisition comes to the rescue first, and promptly arrests the cult’s intended victim too. A very small child in a largely illiterate rural environment might well not know her own family name, and any uncertainty would only be made worse by Inquisitorial terror tactics. “Mendoza” was simply the name that popped into my head the first time I ever saw her in my mind. 3: The morals of the day were actually pretty easygoing; the Puritans and Victorians were a ways off yet. A young couple shacking up wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows, especially if the girl’s father seemed to tacitly approve. 4: Yes, I did intend a series, though not as long a series as I ended up writing. 5: No, I think it’s your perception. Mendoza is writing from a place from which she can’t escape, and has enough time on her hands to review her past. You’d find out why in the third book, “Mendoza in Hollywood”.

Thornyrose writes: First, what appealed to you about the time period you set “In the Garden of Idun” in it? When you first started writing about the Company and its time travel adventures, did you originally approach it as a one shot, and build on the concept, or did you already have some idea of what direction it would take? When writing, what sort of envirement do you do your work? cozy office with no outside distractions, some sort of background music, regular hours at the computer or as the mood hits you? Which genre and format do you most enjoy? Fantasy/Sf/straight fiction/ short story/novels/series? And in the company series do we see any of the Immortal agents turning on the Company?

Thornyrose: See above for why I chose the Elizabethan time period. I did actually have the whole story in my mind from the beginning, with the idea that Garden of Iden was the first movement, as it were. The story just expanded in a few unexpected directions as I wrote it. As for where I write: In my living room, at a big rolltop desk I bought with my first royalty check, generally with a screaming parrot on my shoulder. From time to time he sidles down and tries to steal my pens or bite through the mouse cord. The desk is cluttered with notes on scraps of paper, reference books, good luck writing juju, and St. Jude candles. Generally I listen to classical music as I write, because anything with song lyrics is distracting. My favorite reading matter boils down to 3 authors in 3 genres: Robert Louis Stevenson, Terry Pratchett, Patrick O’Brien. And as for whether the Immortals rebel against their masters: that would be telling! Read on…

Mercie writes: “My only question for Kage Baker is: Being an aspiring writer, myself, I was wondering if you ever end up writing a story and realize at the end that it is a completely different story than the one you intended to write? My stories tend to have a life of their own, and twist out of my grasp to become something entirely different. Not bad, mind you, just different.”

Mercie: Yes, very often! In fact, usually. The story takes on a life of its own and goes where it wants.

AMZ writes: “I haven’t been able to read In the Garden of Iden but I have a question for Kage Baker based on some of her short stories I’ve been fortunate
enough to read: How important do you feel humour is to your stories? “

AMZ: I never set out to write a story with humor in it; it just happens. Life, while perfectly horrible and tragic sometimes, can also be hysterically funny, often at the same time it’s tragic. My experience is that the SF field frowns on humor, as being lightweight and frivolous, but clearly they’ve never read Hamlet carefully enough…

Fsmn36 writes: “What was your inspiration for the subject matter? And in labeling it a bodice-ripper, was that your intent? Was writing something more romatically-based your goal, or merely a product of the universe and characters?”

Fsmn36: My inspiration for the subject matter was a scene I imagined once on a bus rolling through Central California, and it had nothing to do with the book I ended up writing. I was on a bus with about 50 other actors, coming home from a show we’d been doing in Northern California. We were traveling along I-5, which crosses a lot of what was then empty backcountry, and there were these lion-yellow hills rollling off to the western horizon, here and there dotted with oak trees. The image of a woman walking along through them came into my mind, a woman alone, walking purposefully to cover a lot of distance, in this searing heat under a hot blue sky. She stayed in my imagination; I wondered who she was and how she had come to be there, and the whole story of her life just sort of unfolded for me. The term “bodice-ripper” was a joke, because I was having a bit of fun playing with the tropes of romantic fiction. Those stories always end happily, and of course in Mendoza’s case real life intervenes instead. Did I mean to write something more romantically-based? Not really; but love makes the world go round, as they say, and love stories are powerful.

Dyginc writes: “My questions to Kage Baker are the following
> > 1)Why Queen Mary? Is that a time you are interested in?
> > 2)How much research did you have to do for the dance?
> > 3)I would like to know if you had to edit the down the Cabinet of Curiosities or did you not feel it would add another level to the eccentric behavior of Sir Walter?
> > 4)What authors inspire you?
> > 5)Are you a fan of historical fiction and if so do you read Philippa Gregory?
> > 6)Now that she is a cyborg and a young woman does she actually start to age?
> > 7)Is the Company more of a science verses faith idea?”

Dyginc: As above, I’ve always been interested in the Tudor era, and Mary Tudor is a particularly tragic figure– hated, and for a good reason considering how many people she had killed, but you can’t help but feel pity for her. For the dance– I didn’t have to do any research, because I knew people who did courtly dance and also I own about a dozen albums of period dance music. I did have to edit down the Cabinet of Curiosities! It was fun to write, but it slowed down the story a bit. What authors inspire me? As above, Stevenson, Pratchett, O’Brien. Read them and find out why. I read some historical fiction, yes, O’Brien for example, but I’ve never read anything by Philippa Gregory. No, Mendoza will never age physically past the age of young adulthood. If Immortals need to appear older, they have to wear padding and appliance makeup, or at least grey their hair. No, emphatically, the series is not science versus faith. I am on the side of science, I guess, being a secular humanist, but I’ve seen a lot of scientists who are idiots and a lot of religious people who are wise and humane. So I’d prefer both sides to live together in peace.

July 2, 2008: A Disastrous Dinner and a Deepening Discussion

Hmmm, everything looks so unappetizing...

Sis in happier times, ie. before the meal arrived.

Bone marrow ravioli, escargot and confits shallots roasted in bone marrow, lambs lettuce and lardons

Squash tortellini with truffle oil, boletus, baby peas and sage butter

Rabbit stuffed with lobster and mango, rosemary polenta, rabbit shoulder ravioli, Brussels sprouts with almonds

Roasted lamb, panoufle braised in citrus fruits and summer vegeables, potato gnocchi, avocado butter

Roasted veal filet, sweetbread lasagne, chanterelles and chard stalk, crunch salad.

I took my eyes off the menu to glance outside. On the other side of the big bay window, one of the restaurant musicians was emptying his spit valve. I redirected my gaze back across the table to my mother who was weighing her choices. By the look on her face, I knew exactly what she was thinking: “Thirty dollars for rabbit! I could’ve made rabbit at home and I guarantee it would be ten times better than what we’re going to eat here!” My mom is not one for fine dining but, alas, she was along for the ride on this night as we checked out Garcon, pegged by many as one of Montreal’s best.

Maybe so, but beside our table and the three musicians cleaning their instruments out on the patio, the place was dead. In all fairness, however, it was early, only a little after 6:00 p.m. Of course, by the time we left at a little after 8:30 p.m., the place was still dead. Again, it could have been timing. On the other hand, it could have been the quality of the dishes served. In retrospect, I’d lean toward the latter.

The menu offered some enticing alternatives and, after much thought, my sister and I both opted for the same bone marrow ravioli with escargot and confit shallot roasted in marrow bone with lettuce and lardons. My mother, however, wasn’t having any of it, skipping the appetizers and even passing on the simple garden salad suggested by our waiter. To make up for mom’s unwillingness to play ball, I ordered a third appy “for the table”, the squash tortellini with truffle oil, boletus mushrooms, baby peas, and sage butter.

The bone marrow ravioi was a huge disappointment, served dry-baked and devoid of any saucing, while the escargot and confit shallot roasted in bone marrow proved surprisingly bland, accompanied by shredded beef that seemed to have been boiled into submission.

The squash tortellini was relatively inoffensive in comparison. The actual tortellini was thin and nicely al dente, its squash interior devoid of any of the vegetable’s subtle sweetness. They may have well been potato tortellini and I wouldn’t have noticed a difference. The accompanying sauce (the baby peas and sage butter) was very good however, as were the roasted boletus.

For my mother’s main course, she had the rabbit stuffed with lobster and mango, served with rosemary polenta, rabbit shoulder ravioli, brussel sprouts and almonds. It was a bold but ultimately ill-advised attempt at marrying three ingredients that had no business being together, much less hanging around on the same neighborhood plate. It wasn’t terrible but by no means was it good either. My mother complained about the partially-cooked brussel sprouts, but did some to not mind her polenta. I thought the rabbit shoulder ravioli were nicely executed though.

Mom declared my sister’s roasted lamb the best of the three mains, which was a little like crowning Moe the smartest of the Three Stooges. Served medium-rare, the meat was tender but bland, accompanied by some very nice potato gnocchi with avocado butter, vegetables, and a pretty good lamb belly.

I went with the roasted veal filet that, I later informed our waiter when he inquired about our meals, was overdone and cold. “Overdone AND cold?”he asked. Yes. No easy feat. But I wasn’t too broken up over the veal since I actually ordered the dish for the accompanying sweetbread lasagne. It turned out to be a few morsels of lukewarm and fairly tasteless sweetbread and equal-sized morsels of fat layered beneath some sheets of spinach pasta. No sauce. No discernible spicing. I imagine that if the staff of my high school cafeteria had ever attempted this dish, they would have been more than equal to the task. The accompanying chanterelle mushrooms were inedible. Hilariously so. They were the type of food item you’d convince a friend to try just so you could see the look on their face when they actually tasted the damn things. I had half a mind to play this gag on my mother but given that she had already spat up a good half-dozen mouthfuls over the course of the meal, I gave her a break.

We didn’t dare risk dessert.

Service was actually quite good, the only low-point coming at the end of our meal when the waiter whisked my mother’s side plate away, sending its partially masticated contents sailing across the table and into my lap.

If this is truly the best fine-dining that Montreal has to offer, then I’m sticking with Smoked Meat Pete’s.

Some thoughts on your thoughts on In the Garden of Iden:

Whovian writes: “The characters seemed very real to me, whether I liked them or not. At first I was put off by Mendoza calling us all mortal monkeys.”

Answer: I too loved her from the get-go. Baker does a great job of introducing Mendoza as a precocious but incredibly charming child, then fast-forwarding her to adulthood over the course of a chapter. In my mind, those childlike elements we were introduced to early on remained with her throughout the book and, in my opinion, made her that much more sympathetic. Which is why I really wasn’t put off by her opinion of mortals. It was an innocent, child-like perspective. Besides, as this novel proves, she was right all along. We ARE monkeys!

Whovian writes: “I thought it was clearly shown how these immortals can suffer, fear, want, etc., when they cannot die. I truly believed and understood that life for the immortals is difficult, to say the least.”

Answer: True. That point was really driven home for me when Joseph gives her the lowdown on mortal-immortal relationships. He does so in a matter-of-fact way as someone who has experienced love and loss so many times that he has risen above its effects. Mendoza, however, is new to this game, and it’s her innocent belief that she COULD make it work that makes her falling in love with Nicholas so tragic. As someone else pointed out – you sympathize with the character and you desperately want her relationship to work but, in the back your mind, you can foresee it is doomed to end tragically.

Whovian also writes: “Mendoza may be immortal and highly intelligent, yet she is painfully young. Her lack of experience allows me to forgive her for her mistakes and harsh outlook on the rest of human kind. And when she wonders, “Are we really good for people?” I wondered along with her. It’s something that, for me, doesn’t really get answered.”

Answer: Yes, this is something else I wondered about. In the long run, are they doing more harm than good? In the big picture, I would guess yes, their work will better humankind in the long run so it is obviously worthwhile. But in the small picture, specifically as it relates to the players both mortals and immortals who are involved in the retrieval, one could argue that they are far worse off for their experiences.

Mercie writes: “I enjoyed Mendoza’s youthful take on all the goings-on during the story, and especially thought her initial aversion to humans and their “violent” nature was a very teen-feeling viewpoint.”

Agreed. I agree. If she had grown up in our contemporary society, I’d imagine her as a nihilist goth chick. Tres Lenore.

Nebula writes: “But once I read _In the Garden of Iden_, I went on to read all her Company novels and although her first is still my favorite, they are all a wonderful mixture of humor, adventure, poignant romance and historical facts.”

Answer: It’s great to hear the rest of the series lives up to this first book. Like I said, I really enjoyed In the Garden of Iden and do intend to pick up the rest of The Company titles.

Itsme writes: “ I liked her whole time travel theory but found the process to make them immortal unexplained, like I had missed something? – what were they doing to them??”

Answer: True. This is hinted at very early on but never fully explained. To be honest, I didn’t think it was that important to the story given that this is the first book in a series, and I assumed this subject would be covered in future entries.

Itsme writes: “In the beginning, the author gives us so much information about the Company that is really very interesting but really irrelevant because you never hear anything about it after that (but I assume this would be covered in the following books?? but after this one, there is no chance i’m going to find out) – but I found that I was more interested in The Company and its policies than I was about Mendoza’s individual story.”

Answer: What I found interesting was learning about The Company’s policies via Medoza’s experiences in the field. It was through the sometimes unforeseen circumstances that developed over the course of her first mission that we got to learn about this unique entity. Like you, by book’s end I was wanting to know more.

Bar Stool Babe writes: “I also must applaud the way you show the inevitable progression of “political correctness” in the future. Yech!”

Answer: Ha! Agreed.

Narelle from Aus writes: “The premise that you cannot change history was interesting. However, I did move onto Sky Coyote after finishing In the Garden of Iden and I think the motivations behind this philosophy is explored in more detail and it isn’t as cut and dry as it first appears.”

Answer: Ah, I’m intrigued. Perhaps my theory on history’s immutable nature in this series may be up for debate.

Narelle from Aus writes: “When you have an immortal as old as Joseph, when he speaks you wonder what multitude of experiences he is drawing from. So as well as reading the story on the page, his character allowed me to take my mind to what else he had seen considering his age.”

Answer: Yes. I could just imagine him reprimanding: “You kids who grew up during this Inquisition had it easy. In my day, they didn’t torture you with nice clean instruments. In my day, the instruments of torture were filthy and you’d die of infection long before you bled out…”

Narelle from Aus writes: “It would be difficult to watch humans make the same mistakes over and over and you not be able to do anything about it.”

Answer: And yet, throughout this novel, I kept thinking “how very topical!”. Those who do not learn from history…

Thornyrose writes: “ The one thing that seriously jarred me at the beginning of the novel, and that I couldn’t shake, was the early explanation of time travel. Ok, I can buy into the “you can’t change history” approach. But the caveat “But this law can only be observed to apply to recorded history”. My first thought was, if someone writes a journal noting something, but the journal is lost 200 years later, does that mean that its not really recorded history? If the Company wants to change history, do they in fact simply send agents to remove documentation so they can modify history in the way they want?”

Answer: In my interpretation of the laws of time travel set forth in this book, the removal of a historical document would not allow them to change history. Even though that journal was lost, it is still recorded history. The fact that The Company doesn’t have access to this document (and, thus isn’t privy to the way this specific aspect of history played out) gives the illusion that one can change the past. Of course, after reading Narelle form Aus’s post, it seems that I may have to revise this theory once I read the ensuing books in the series.

Thornyrose writes: “I enjoyed the time frame that Ms. Kage elected to set the story in. And the news reports picked up by radio to keep the agents informed of (relatively) local happenings. “

Answer: Yeah, I wasn’t sure what to make of those news reports at first. I didn’t know what the heck was going on and then, when I realized they were clandestine reports being filed by representatives of The Company, I thought them a clever way to update both the characters and the audience in highly entertaining fashion.

Thornyrose writes: “While I wasnt suprised at the physical relationship that developed between Nicholas and Mendoza, I was a bit curious as why the Company didn’t deal with that matter before putting people out in the field. I half expected that sexual training would have been part and parcel of the schooling, rather than letting a new agent out in the world, to have their hormones kick in in an uncontrolled environment.”

Answer: That’s a good point and one I didn‘t consider until you brought it up. It was strange that their orientation didn‘t cover this subject. Maybe past experience proved that no amount of orientation or theoretical grounding could prepare individuals for the inevitable heartbreak and loss. Perhaps the only way to learn the lesson is to experience it firsthand.

Thornyrose writes: “Loved Sir Walter, and his “modifications”. It felt right that the poor man would end up running off to take a second chance at grabbing for the brass ring.”

Answer: I too loved Sir Walter’s metamorphosis from a doddering old codger to frisky not-so-senior.

Sanura writes: “The first, since it was at the beginning, is her amazingly convincing portrayal of the thought processes and reactions of a five-year-old, without resorting to oversimplicity or mere obtuseness.”

Answer: I couldn’t agree with you more. It was this deftness that so thoroughly won me over. Those first few chapters detailing Mendoza’s childhood were among my favorites.

Sanura writes: “Admittedly, her characters were superhuman, but there’s still a certain self-identifiability with them, they’re characterized so well.”

Answer: Exactly. Even though they may have been physically changed they essentially remain true to who they were before the process. This is why I felt such sympathy for all of them – Mendoza, Joseph, and even goat-loving Nef.

Anti-Social Butterfly writes: “Both Nicholas and Mendoza had been deeply indoctrinated which should have built a unbreachable wall between them, but they were able to look past that for a while, and yet it was that dogma that eventually drove them apart. They had deluded themselves into believing the other would come around making it impossible for them to move beyond that romping sexual stage of their relationship.”

Answer: And therein lay the tragedy, the fact that both felt they would be able to overcome their differences and change the other, thereby attaining true happiness. What they hadn’t counted on was the fact that the person they fell in love with would prove as obstinate as they were.

A Honshuu writes: “Nicholas and his religious fervor would only have destroyed Mendoza in the end, making her doubt her life and her purpose.”

Answer: I think that Mendoza would have been destroyed by the relationship regardless of Nicholas’s religious convictions. In fact, I think that had she succeeded in saving him and changing his mind, the end would have been equally tragic. Regardless of how it worked out, he was a mere mortal and would have left her eventually.

Charlie’s Angel writes: “Joe, I can’t believe you didn’t mention that the immortals get buzzed from chocolate! I can just imagine them crashing your chocolate party.”

Answer: Yes! I loved the fact that Joseph dispensed those Theobromos bars as rewards of sorts. Took a page out of my book.

Sylvia writes: “There was also the temptation in the garden as she became entranced by Nicholas.”

Answer: A neat little reverse there. Nicholas hesitates taking the apple she offers him because he sees the symbolic parallels when, in truth, she is the one venturing to take the bite of the forbidden fruit in this case.

Sylvia writes: “At first my reaction to the “end” was – oh man, there is so much left “untold.” It is great there is a series of books…now to get them.”

Answer: That‘s exactly how I felt. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

Drldeboer writes: “Once she was rescued I just could not get any sympathy for Mendoza’s personal issues, and little sympathy for Nicholas and the actions of the people therein as it has all been unpleasantly hashed before.”

Answer: Really? I thought Baker realized some wonderfully sympathetic characters here.

Aboleyn24 writes: “The way that time travel is approached is great fun. Even though time travel is possible people from the future find it distaceful. So instead they make immortals to do the dirty work for them.”

Answer: Interesting. That’s a point I glossed over and never gave much thought to until you brought it up. Did I miss something? Why ARE The Company’s time-traveling employees strictly made up of immortals? Maybe this is something that will be explored in future books?

Anyway, great discussion. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts and please get the last of your questions for author Kage Baker in by tomorrow as I’ll be sending the rest her way by day’s end.

To Susan W. and her request that a Gene Wolfe title be considered as a book of the month club selection. Susan, I’m a huge fan of his and list Wolfe’s mammoth Book of the New Sun teratology among my very favorites. Definitely something to consider.

Finally, thank you for all your thoughts on Don. It’s really wonderful to see how well-loved the man was.

June 30, 2008: In the Garden of Iden

Read this book

I was first introduced to the works of Kage Baker through Lou Anders’ Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge, a former book of the month club pick. Baker’s contribution to the collection, “Plotters and Shooters”, was far and away my favorite of the short stories in FF1 and so, when it came time to put in my next book order with Amazon.com, I placed In the Garden of Iden at the top of the list.

It’s no secret that one of the thing my favorite authors have in common is a sense of humor – Abercrombie, Banks, Ford, Martin, Scalzi, Willis to name a few. I’m not talking about balls-out side-splitting comedy but an undercurrent of humor, often subtle, that serves to contrast the occasionally dark themes introduced. Now granted, “Plotters and Shooters“ was a fun piece of short fiction, and I was fully prepared to encounter a very different tone in Baker‘s novel. Still, I’ll admit to growing a little apprehensive after having Baker describe the book as a “Hard-Boiled Bodice Ripper”.

Bodice-Ripper? Images of a shirtless Fabio sweeping a swooning heroine off her feet materialized in my mind’s eye. And then, remembering this was SF – images of a shirtless green-skinned Fabio sweeping a silver spandexed heroine off her moon boots. Funny, yes, but not intentionally so.

Oh, me of little faith. One chapter in, and I was intrigued by the clever scifi premise. Two chapters in, and I was captivated by the characters, our plucky heroine Mendoza in particular. Three chapters in, and I’d been completely won over. If this book is indicative of the sub-genre, then I may have to start doing four BOTMC selections in the categories of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and, yes, Hardboiled Bodice-Ripper.

Our protagonist, Mendoza, is one of a class of immortals, former orphans rescued from certain death and transformed into cyborgs by Dr. Zeus Inc. Under the employ of The Company, these cyborgs (humans in mind but physically superior) are dispatched to points throughout history to collect extinct species and valuables that will better humankind. Mendoza’s first time-tripping assignment finds her in 16th century England where she and her team – high-strung mentor Joseph and no-nonsense zoologist Nef – have been sent to gather samples from the garden of Sir Walter Iden. Alas, these are complicated times in England with Bloody Mary’s ascension to the throne. And so, amidst a backdrop of political and religious struggle and techno-temporal subterfuge, the hitherto hardnosed Mendoza discovers the very best and very worst that humanity has to offer.

Thematically, it is somewhat reminiscent of Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, a book that, similarly, follows the exploits of a time-hopping retrieval crew, but The Garden of Iden is its own unique beast. In fact, were I to compare it to any other work, I’d liken it to a futuristic Jane Eyre. Like Bronte [not Austen, oop], Baker does a beautiful job of immersing the reader in period detail, offering up a very convincing setting complete with equally convincing characters, possessed of a charm and subtle humor that draws the reader in from the get-go.

Baker’s treatment of time-travel is interesting, neatly side-stepping the issue of paradox (ie. You travel to the past to kill your grandfather. But can you ever be successful because if you do succeed in killing your grandfather, you would have never been born and so who was it that traveled into the past and killed your grandfather?). In her world, time-travel to the future is impossible. It is only possible to travel back to the past but, in so doing, one can never change the course of history. If it’s a part of recorded history, it’s set in stone and cannot be changed. However, the smaller details of history that have not been recorded can theoretically be changed, although one can argue that were these smaller instances detailed, they would always play out the same way, either through The Company’s interference or without. What this presents us with is not the ability to change the unrecorded details of the past, but the perception that the past is changeable when it is, in fact, not. Sure, The Company can influence history in small ways (ie. by rescuing a goat) but one could argue that these influences were, for lack of a better word, “fated” to play out a certain way (ie. in the grand scheme of things, that goat was always destined to be rescued). The absence of a historical record concerning certain details gives the illusion that one can influence the past in certain ways because one does not know the outcome. So it is with Mendoza at novel’s end as she struggles to save Nicholas’s life. Success or failure are not in her hands, but in the determination of an immutable history. And I feel that the book’s conclusion says as much.

At first, I was a little disappointed with the way things wrapped up but, upon further reflection, I realized that, thematically, it was the only possible ending for this novel. We, as readers, are much like the agents for The Company, mere witnesses to these past experiences – the oft baffling, occasionally amusing skirmishing of monkeys. It’s easy to see the errors committed in retrospect which is why the desire to change past mistakes overwhelms. But what strikes home is not so much the inability to change what was, but the inability to see what is – history’s lessons applicable to the still compliant present. And, at book’s end, when Mendoza notes “There were monkeys out there fighting, screaming and pelting one another with rotten fruit” and she shudders, I shuddered right along with her.

Well-written, thought-provoking, and enormously entertaining. And, the best part is, it’s the first in a series.

So, what did everyone else think?

Hmmm. I see yesterday’s post engendered a fair amount of panic in fandom land. Sorry. I was in an introspective mood for a number of reasons and I wanted to put things into perspective. Too often, supporters of a show are left in the dark concerning the realities of film and television production and I just wanted to make sure you were all informed because, quite frankly, as supporters of this franchise for so many years, I thought you deserved to know that, often, a show‘s fate is not as cut and dried as one would thing. Now, given everything that was covered in yesterday’s entry, what most failed to note was my reference to SG-1’s impressive and surprising 10-year run. Way back when, we assumed it wouldn’t make it past a fifth season – and it did. Boy, did it ever. Things look more hopeful on the Atlantis front however, especially given its ratings (and, as I mentioned in yesterday’s comments section, particularly in key demos). And if this uptrend in the ratings continues, it will certainly go a long way toward making a case for a sixth season pick-up. Still, in spite of what some may assume, that decision is still a long way off. Come mid-season, I believe we’ll have a pretty fair idea of how things will play out. Until then – rally the troops and help get the word out! Give ’em a damn good reason to pick us up!

Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday boy Enzo Aquarius and to new Stargate fan Adria Nicole.

June 26, 2008: My green initiative, more special guests, and next month’s Book of the Month Club picks.

A little bit of early 20th century charm in early 21st century Vancouver.

The gang is cranky because I woke them up to look at some shots.

Salad days.

Breaking news on the bulletin board.

Bones is dubious.

The Mastermind Mark Savela

Hurray! Today, I received my $100 Climate Action Dividend from the government of British Columbia. According to the document that accompanied the check: “…this year’s Provincial budget is making it easier for British Columbians to choose a lower carbon lifestyle.” I suppose, for instance, the $100 could be put toward the purchase of a scooter or a hand lantern or one of those pedal-powered generators that the Professor built on Gilligan’s Island. As most of you know, I incorporated some major lifestyle changes last year to help reduce my carbon footprint (read all about them here: http://josephmallozzi.com/2007/07/07/july-7-2007/) so the prospect of having this extra one hundred dollars to spend on my green initiative is heartening. Of course, technically, it’s not really an extra $100. I mean, the government would like us to think it is and their use of the term “revenue neutral” to describe their new carbon tax would imply that, at the very least, we’d break even in the long run. And maybe if I didn’t partake in lavish excesses like driving a car or heating my home, I would break even. But, sadly, because of my unstinted addiction to things like food and water (which, incidentally, is trucked in to supermarkets by companies that will be hit with this new gas tax and inevitably pass the cost on to consumers), it looks like the government’s grand gesture will mean very little to me in the long run. Still, $100 is $100. I could use the money to create a new state-of-the-art compost heap. Or, follow Fondy’s suggestion and use it to purchase one hundred dollars worth of gas to fill my SUV which I would leave idling through most of Friday. I’m inclined to go with the latter.

Hey, a great response to yesterday’s announcement that actress Janina Gavankar (aka Dusty from the upcoming Stargate: Atlantis episode “Whispers”) will be swinging by to chat with us. I’m going to continue gathering questions until Friday night at which point I will send them Janina’s way and, hopefully, receive a response from her some time this weekend. Also, on the same topic…

I thought it might be fun to profile various of the behind-the-scenes players on Stargate: Atlantis by having them follow Janina’s lead. So, in the coming weeks, you’ll be able to query the likes of Visual Effects Supervisor Mark Savela, writer-producer Alan McCullough, and Production Designer James Robbins. It’ll be a real a real treat for a) those interested in television production and Stargate: Atlantis and b) a lazy blogger looking to fob off an entry on some poor unsuspecting soul. I’ll keep you posted on upcoming guests.

Speaking of which – Kage Baker will be answering your questions this coming week! Finish up In the Garden of Iden so that you can weigh in with your opinion once discussion begins. Then move on to K.J. Bishop’s The Etched City because K.J. will be joining us the following week. Then motor right into Jennifer Pelland’s Unwelcome Bodies as Jennifer will be joining us the week after that. It’s all there in the right sidebar, folk, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As for next month’s BOTMC selections… Well, let’s face it. It’s not really a Book of the Month Club. It’s more of a Book of the Month and a Half Club as I want to give participants time to read all three books if they so choose. And, if you’re looking to get a jump on August’s picks, here ya go.

In the SF category, it’ll be Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor. Now this is an omnibus made up of two novels, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, so you have a choice of reading one or both.

From the publisher: “In her first trial by fire, Cordelia Naismith captained a throwaway ship of the Betan Expeditionary Force on a mission to destroy an enemy armada. Discovering deception within deception, treachery within treachery, she was forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Aral Vorkosigan—he who was called “The Butcher of Komarr”—and would consequently become an outcast on her own planet and the Lady Vorkosigan on his.

Sick of combat and betrayal, she was ready to settle down to a quiet life, interrupted only by the occasional ceremonial appearances required of the Lady Vorkosigan. But when the Emperor died, Aral became guardian of the infant heir to the imperial throne of Barrayar—and the target of high-tech assassins in a dynastic civil war that was reminscent of Earth’s Middle Ages, but fought with up-to-the-minute biowar technology. Neither Aral nor Cordelia guessed the part that their cell-damaged unborn would play in Barrayari’s bloody legacy.”

Discussion on Cordelia’s Honor begins August 11th.

 

 

In the FANTASY category, it’ll be Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden.

From Publisher’s Weekly: “A lonely girl with a dark tattoo across her eyelids made up of words spelling out countless tales unfolds a fabulous, recursive Arabian Nights-style narrative of stories within stories in this first of a new fantasy series from Valente (The Grass-Cutting Sword). The fantastic tales involve creation myths, shape-changing creatures, true love sought and thwarted, theorems of princely behavior, patricide, sea monsters, kindness and cruelty. As a sainted priestess explains, stories “are like prayers. It does not matter when you begin, or when you end, only that you bend a knee and say the words,” and this volume does not so much arrive at a conclusion but stops abruptly, leaving room for endless sequels. Each descriptive phrase and story blossoms into another, creating a lush, hallucinogenic effect.”

Discussion on The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden begins August 18th

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And, finally, in the HORROR category, it’ll be Stephen Dobyns’ The Church of Dead Girls.

From Library Journal: “Despite the lurid title, Dobyns’s latest novel (he is a poet and author of the “Saratoga” mystery series) is a compelling mystery that shows how the people in a small town change because of a series of murders. First, a promiscuous woman is murdered. Then three girls disappear in succession. The narrator reports how the symptoms of fear escalate into a raging disease consuming the community. Cloaking prejudice and fear with righteousness, certain citizens target individuals who are on the community’s fringe. By the story’s end, no one escapes suspicion. Many characters and the complexities of human interactions receive well-rounded treatment. This absorbing tale, fit for any general collection, is highly recommended.”

Discussion on The Church of Dead Girls begins August 25th

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I was at The Bridge today to preview some of the Whispers visual effects shots with Mark Savela. While there, I made a point of snapping some pics of the VFX gang still hard at work (and eating the occasional salad). Check out their quaint red brick dwelling. Probably the last place you want to be when the big one hits, but charming nevertheless.