The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker

Erg. Excuse the funky cover–in fact, excuse the funky covers that the current printing of all the books in the Company series seem to have. They make me think of Reboot, but not in a fun, nostalgic way.

They look so generic and goofy–the covers, not the Reboot characters–and don’t match the fun, exciting, clever books inside them, more’s the pity, because more people (way more people) should be reading and loving Kage Baker.

I’m departing from the new format I’ve adopted from Jessica, mostly because this is the fifth book in a series and I want to avoid spoilers that come with all the published summaries. Normally I’m not the spoilers-avoiding type, but I want so badly to get someone, at least one person into this series so that we can talk about it! And if that means avoiding spoilers, then, by gum, I’ll do it.

Most of The Life of the World to Come follows a new character, Alec Checkerfield, Seventh Earl of Finsbury, who lives in the 24th Century and who is destined to meet Botanist Mendoza, our sometimes-narrator and heroine previously in the series, for reasons that become clear later on in the novel. There’s pirating, time travel, genetic engineering, and the impending Silence, when Dr. Zeus–the titular Company with the power to convey immortality upon certain mortals and send them back to the past–no longer knows what is to come. As Alec grows up, an idealistic young man with a love of old-fashioned pirates and the sea, he realizes that there’s something strange about himself, and when he comes to find out the truth of his origins, he decides that he’s going to do anything it takes to bring the Company down.

I have to hand it to the late, amazing Kage Baker: she knows how to hook you in. Woof. The Life of the World to Come answers a few questions from the previous novels, but creates a few more, and it’s only the fact that the library is closed that I’m not immediately bolting out the door to go check out The Children of the Company and marathon-read it to find out WHAT HAPPENS. It’s not just the story, although I will give the story its due; Kage Baker planted the seeds for some of the crazy stuff happening now early on, and as everything is starting to untangle and become clear, I’m left about as eloquent as Keanu Reeves. Yeah, whoa.

After five novels and one short story collection, I’m seriously devoted to the characters, even Alec, our new man on the scene. I did want to punch him occasionally, especially for underestimating Mendoza, but that’s fine! (Side note: I cannot help but envision Alec–at least, grown-up Alec–as played by one Benedict Cumberbatch:

Benedict Cumberbatch with his natural lighter hair, anyway. He’s got the eyes and the cheekbones and everything!) The point is, the characters are funny and complex and imperfect and real and human–even the non-human ones. Some old characters come back on the scene towards the end (although I’m still left wondering if we’ll see Lewis again, my lovely bookish Lewis). Kage Baker writes such thoughtful, interesting science-fiction, and I’m glad I still have four or five novels and a short story collection to go, because I’ll be sad to see the series off, as much as I want to rip through it at the expense of sleep and work.

Plus, there are little unexpected bits where it’s just so funny:

Christmas was a very popular month, in the year 2350. (p. 181)

Come on. Tell me that’s not funny. Tell me that Christmas as a month isn’t funny. (Funny slash scary slash practically true anyway.) The books are witty and clever and also sometimes rip your heart out of your chest, but in a way that doesn’t give you total whiplash from the humor of things.

Most of this may sound like gibberish to those of you who haven’t read the series, but that’s what I’m saying! Go! Go get them! Start with In the Garden of Iden! Right now, people! I’ll wait. Then come back here and we’ll have a little chat. And you can back me up on the Cumberbatch thing.

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