Kage Baker,
Mendoza in Hollywood
(Harcourt, 2000)

In Mendoza in Hollywood, her third novel about the Company, Kage Baker returns to Mendoza, the engaging immortal heroine of In the Garden of Iden.

The year is 1862, and Mendoza is assigned to a new post, a stagecoach inn in what will eventually become Hollywood. Her new companions are an eclectic bunch: Porfirio, the security tech who has taken on stewardship of his mortal family throughout numerous generations; Einar, a zoologist and film buff; Oscar, an anthropologist posing as a peddler; Imarte, formerly of ancient Babylon who gleans anthropological data through her guise of a prostitute; and Juan Bautista, an ornithologist and brand new immortal.

Mendoza has to get used to being around other people, both mortal and immortal, after spending 160 years alone in the California wilderness. She suffers frightening nightmares about her first and only love, the Protestant heretic Nicholas Harpole, as soon as she returns to civilization, and the dreams are alarming in their intensity. She becomes accustomed to her new companions, enjoys the film screenings Einar hosts, and begins to take an interest in the historical aspects of this arid and rugged land. An anomaly brings her closer to the future reality of Los Angeles, and the experience makes her uneasy beyond the awe-inspiring ugliness the future holds and sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

Into her life comes another Englishman, a British agent named Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax, who is the spitting image of her beloved Nicholas. His arrival shatters her calm order as she faces the impossible choices before her and the dread of losing him yet again.

Baker takes the reader deeper into the intricate workings of the Company, but the main focus is Mendoza and how she tries to make her own choices. She is not content to be a "good machine" and toe the Company line; she wants control over her life. At the same time, the reader senses the futility at her core, how, in spite of all of her technological enhancements, what matter most is her intuition and her heart.

Three quarters of the novel is spent in setting the scene and laying the groundwork, but the pace hardly lags. Rather, it allows the situation to develop naturally and heightens the sense of doom. Edward doesn't show up until the last quarter of the book; as soon as he does, all hell breaks loose, but the reader is ready for the bumpy ride.

Although technically Baker's books are science fiction, the technology and time travel are only underpinnings to the psychologically rich plots and sensitive, perceptive characterization, both of which are well leavened by Baker's quirky humor, which ranges from subtle ripples to outright comic relief.

Mendoza in Hollywood is full of spoilers for the first two books, In the Garden of Iden and Sky Coyote. I urge you to read them first, if possible. You won't want to miss a single word.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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