A co-worker and I got to talking about books a couple of weeks ago. (Not surprising, considering what I do for a living.) And we discovered a mutual interest in time travel novels. The next day, she brought me a stack from her own collection. In that stack were Kage Baker’s In the Garden of Iden and Sky Coyote, the first two books in her series about the Company.
In In the Garden of Iden, the first book of the series, we learn about the Company, Dr. Zeus, Inc., a company that owns time travel and immortality technologies (read the Wikipedia article for more information about how this works). The only rule that seems to apply to Dr. Zeus is that they have to follow the historical record. So, no killing Hitler, etc*. Essentially, employees of Dr. Zeus travel back in time and create immortal agents to actually do the work of saving historical artifacts, animals, plants, and other important things that would otherwise be destroyed or become extinct. Dr. Zeus works this way because the people from the future hate the past; they think it’s dirty and dangerous.
In this book, we are introduced to Mendoza, a girl rescued from the Inquisition and put to work for the Company as a botanist. Her job is to save genetic material from plants before they go extinct. She is assigned to go with a group to Kent, in the 1550s. This puts Mendoza and her fellow agents right into the middle of England’s switch from Protestantism under Henry VIII back to Catholicism under Mary–a very dangerous time for just about everyone but especially dangerous for the agents since they are masquerading as Spaniards who came over with Philip II of Spain. In Kent, the group travels to the garden of Sir Walter Iden, who collects “rare” plants. Iden buys anything that sound rare. (He once bought a goat thinking it was a unicorn.) But it turns out that he has some important plants that will go extinct later. Meanwhile, Mendoza falls in love with Iden’s secretary, Nicholas Harpole, who is a very staunch Protestant.
In Sky Coyote, the story is told from the perspective of Joseph, another immortal agent. In this book, Joseph has to convince a village of Chumash Indians to travel north to Canada, thereby saving their culture. Also, for the first time, we get a glimpse of what happens to humanity in the future. For me, this was the really interesting part. The immortals are constantly frustrated by these guys because the future agents are terrified of getting hurt, killing animals or people, and they’re scared of the immortals because both groups have totally different modes of operation. For the immortals, it’s like hanging out with uptight vegan pacifists who can’t see that sometimes you have to play dirty to achieve the greater good.
Unfortunately, my co-worker didn’t have any of the rest of the series, so I’m going to have to track them down on my own. I was utterly fascinated by the way that Baker plays with time travel, and how she uses it to ask the big questions about ethics, religion, and how we ought to be behaving.
* I recently read a really fun short story about how new time travelers are always tempted to kill Hitler on their first trip out. Read it here: http://www.abyssandapex.com/200710-wikihistory.html