Kage Baker, The Angel in the Darkness (Golden Gryphon Press, 2003)
We're spoiled here at Green Man. Really. Truly. We get to read, hear, and watch really cool material that you most likely have never heard of. It's a tough job but we generally bear up well under the burden of doing this. Now I'll admit that there's a lot of dreck out there that we are forced to deal with too, but the really cool stuff makes up for it. (The staff was recently discussing what clichéd words should be banned from fantasy book titles as the books so titled are frequently crappy. They came up with wind, shadows, magic, wolf/wolves, blood, lady, lord and sword. I won't discuss the fictitious film, based on a novel using some of these words in its title, that they came up with!)
So, where does the coolest stuff come from? Well, I mentioned in my review of The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases that 'it takes something really, really impressive to get me to remember our secondary motto. Some of the books that have done so included the Soulwave hardcover editions of James Stoddard's Evenmere novels (The High House and The False House), the Biting Dog Press hardcover of Neil Gaiman's Snow Glass Apples, and Charles de Lint's Seven Wild Sisters. Now what do these books all have in common? All of these fine publications come from small presses, something that should not surprise you at all as some of the finest works come from these presses.'
Kage Baker's The Angel in the Darkness is, not at all surprisingly, a chapbook from yet another damn fine small press. I really love chapbooks as they amount to little tales in a handy package that can generally be read in a hour or so. Paul Brandon sent me a lovely chapbook recently containing material that foreshadows The Wild Reel, his next novel; Charles de Lint blesses me each year with his annual chapbook, and we get chapbooks for review like Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe's A Walking Tour of the Shambles (Little Walks for Sightseers #16), Anthony Hayward's The Green Men of Birmingham, and Philip Pullman's Lyra's Oxford.
We even publish chapbooks our first was Jennifer Stevenson's Solstice, and Emma Bull's A Bird That Whistles is in preproduction now. (You can check out copies of Solstice in the Green Man gift shop if you wish. It's located near the Pub. Just ask Reynard or one of the other publicans to assist you if no one's there.) So many of us here really do love this format.
So it was with great pleasure that Grey Walker, our Book Editor at that time, told me a Company chapbook by Kage Baker had arrived for review. As I said in my review of the first four novels in the series, 'What if you discovered that time travel was practical, but only one way back into the past? You certainly don't want to be stuck in the past if you're planning on being very, very rich in the time that you come from. And mortals of the past are both frail and short-lived. Sigh.... Damn. But what if you could create immortal cyborgs by using the discards of their societies? (Being rich and clever is very, very good it also can be a terrible trap if you think too logically.) Now, the process only works on relatively young children, so you yourself will never be immortal. And though there are often horrible side effects, at least in theory you can create a cadre of loyal, extremely strong and intelligent workers who can be used to do your bidding for tens of thousands of years if need be. And the only rule governing your actions is that recorded history can't be altered. Not because it can't be changed, but because no one wants to find out what happens if you did. Remember the classic Heinlein story 'By His Bootstraps' in which events to change history were to no avail? Or Leiber's The Big Time, in which time was so changeable that nothing was fixed? It appears Dr. Zeus, Inc. is not interested in risking wealth, long lives, and really nice acquisitions on the chance that things might go terribly wrong!' (Rumor has it that Tor will be publishing the remaining books in the series. YEA!)
(Before I forget, there's also a collection of 'The Company' tales called Black Projects, White Knights The Company Dossiers. You can read my review here. It too is from the fine folks at Golden Gryphon Press.)
The Angel in the Darkness is a short riff off the series, but one that moves the lot along nicely. The description from Golden Gryphon Press is reasonably good: ''Quiet desperation' just about sums up Maria Aguilar's life. She is underpaid, overworked, and burdened with other people's responsibilities. Then things take a turn for the worse. An apparent ghost begins stalking her, leaving clues to a long-buried mystery and hinting at the existence of an all-powerful, time-traveling Company somehow involved with her family. Before she learns the truth, Maria will need all her courage and strength and the help of the Angel in the Darkness.'
Now if you've read the earlier novels, this tale will make sense to you; if you haven't read the novels yet in their correct order of In the Garden of Iden, Sky Coyote, Mendoza in Hollywood, and The Graveyard Game, what are you waiting for? After you've read them, read this seventy-five page gem of a tale about the ties that keep mortal and not so mortal members of a family together down the countless generations. And do savour the brilliant crafting of Kage Baker in evoking the Southwest USA setting of this tale. Brilliant, just brilliant!
It's not the place to start reading The Company series, but it must be read before the next novel comes out; it serves the same role as Philip Pullman's Lyra's Oxford in bridging the gap between two sets of novels in an ongoing tale. Bravo, Kage Baker! And bravo, Golden Gryphon Press for publishing works like this!