Kage Baker,
The Graveyard Game
(Harcourt Brace, 2001)

There's something wonderful about watching an author's style evolve. In her earlier novels of the Company, Kage Baker was clearly having fun, but at times (notably in Sky Coyote), she seemed to sacrifice character development for cheap humor. In her fourth novel, The Graveyard Game, she has proven to be capable of fully integrating the tragedy of her erstwhile heroine, Mendoza, with solid, complex character development.

The Company is a shadowy organization (officially called Dr. Zeus) that has mastered time travel and immortality, and the cyborgs they've created as a part of their immortality process are the stars of the series. Mendoza, the heroine of the first and third novels, is this novel's macguffin. Her arrest at the end of Mendoza in Hollywood is unknown to all but a few Company operatives, and when, in the year 1996, Facilitator Joseph (who rescued Mendoza when she was a child, and views himself as her father), and Literature Specialist Lewis (who has been in love with Mendoza for centuries) find out about the arrest, they set out to discover what happened to her.

Of course, since the Company monitors its agents remotely, and since few know what has happened, their quest spans hundreds of years, and starts to uncover the vast conspiracy that was only hinted at in Sky Coyote. Joseph already knew something was amiss -- the Enforcers, a group of Company operatives from the old days, when violence was a more common tool of the Company, have all vanished. Joseph's own "father," Badu, is among the missing, and he left an encrypted clue about his fate with Joseph (from which the book gets its title).

Lewis, meanwhile, is uncovering even more unsettling news about Mendoza's fate, and that of her second human lover, Edmund Bell-Fairfax. Events that had previously been thought to be coincidences now appear to have been contrived by the Company. And the Company itself seems to have dark origins that were only hinted at previously. As Lewis and Joseph delve further into the conspiracy, and as the 24th century (and the official creation of the Company) approaches, the book takes our heroes down a paranoia-laden path, as they find reasons to distrust both their human masters at the Company and even some of their fellow cyborgs.

Although Baker takes us through three centuries of conspiracies and tragedy (especially as we discover the fates of Mendoza's colleagues from the previous novel), she paces The Graveyard Game wonderfully, fleshing out Lewis and Joseph as genuinely interesting characters, providing some wonderfully humanizing (and humorous) moments along the way, including a delightful scene in which our heroes go on a chocolate bender -- chocolate having the same effect on them as alcohol on mortals. Lewis's love of Mendoza (and his obsession with Bell-Fairfax), and Joseph's anguish at losing both his father and his daughter, add a depth to their quest for the truth about who they are, and who they work for. This makes the tragic denouement all the more poignant.

Baker's writing style has come a long way over the course of four novels. She has moved from writing fun romps to writing some of the best character-driven science-fiction out there. With The Graveyard Game, she has proven that she deserves to be placed on the same shelf as such writers as Connie Willis, John Barnes and Nancy Kress. It would be a delight to see her shortlisted (and even winning) a World Fantasy Award in the near future.

[ by Adam Lipkin ]

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