Sunday, 8 December 2013

In the Company of Thieves by Kage Baker (and Kathleen Bartholomew)

In the Company of Thieves is a collection of short stories and novellas by Kage Baker, set in the Company universe (link to Goodreads series page). I've previous read all the Company novels (with the exception of The Empress of Mars, which doesn't fit chronologically with the others) and as many short stories as I could easily get a hold of, which was far from all of them. As such, I was coming to this collection already knowing a lot of the Company's back story. That definitely affected my reading.

As usual, notes on each story are included at the end of the review.

The stories seem to be arranged chronologically according to history. The first four stories are probably the most accessible to readers unfamiliar with the Company. My previous knowledge informed my reading significantly, but I think the stories will still work well for new readers. I had forgotten how hilarious Kage Baker's short stories can be; the novels, which stuck more strongly in my mind, are less funny, I think. The last three stories had me laughing out loud several times.

There are two pairs of stories that go together thematically. The first pair is "The Unfortunate Gytt" and "The Women of Nell Gwynne's" both of which feature the pre-Company secret society and have a steampunk setting. The last two stories, "Rude Mechanicals" and "Hollywood Ikons", feature the same two recurring characters, Joseph and Lewis, the former of whom has several novels written about him. Both also happen to be set in Hollywood.

Reading this collection made me want to try harder to get a hold of what Kage Baker stories of the Company I haven't yet managed to. I strongly recommend this collection to fans of the Company novels or stories. To readers new to Kage Baker's work, there are worse ways be be introduced to it. Since the stories cover several characters and time periods, In the Company of Thieves will in some ways give readers a better idea of the series as a whole than a single novel covering just one setting.

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“THE CARPET BEDS OF SUTRO PARK” — Autistic cyborg used as a camera recorder to capture San Francisco through to roughly the present from the 1800s. His love for the city and one of its inhabitants all that matters to him. Nice story.

"THE UNFORTUNATE GYTT" — A steampunk adventure to retrieve a special object. Featuring Edward and told from the point of view of a new recruit to the pre-Company secret society in Victorian England.

"THE WOMEN OF NELL GWYNNE'S" — Read before and remembered fairly well so I didn't re-read. A novella about women who serve the secret society of the previous story as spies.

"MOTHER AEGYPT" — Ultimately hilarious novella. It grew in me as I read, starting unremarkably and culminating in a pretty hilarious climax. I think there are certain extra nuances to be gained in this one for readers familiar with the Company world, but only in terms of backstory. The main story itself should be accessible (and amusing) to new readers as well as old. Although I can't say the main character was particularly likeable; a conman who, at the start, has fallen on hard times. But his plight and thought-processes are entertaining, so I didn't mind.

“RUDE MECHANICALS” — A hilarious comedy of errors following recurring cyborg characters Joseph and Lewis. Although I'd read this one before, in audiobook form, I had little memory of it (the occasional trouble with audiobooks). Lewis is working for a director in 1930s Hollywood and Joseph is trying to preserve a certain piece of treasure for their future overlords. The universe is against Joseph, however, and everything that can go wrong does, and he drags Lewis into his mess.

"HOLLYWOOD IKONS" — This story, if I interpret the foreword correctly, was researched and planned by Kage Baker but finished by her sister, Kathleen Bartholomew, after her death. The very start of this one didn't grab me because the voice did not sound like the Joseph I remembered. Also, it included more of a introduction to Dr Zeus than any of the other stories and that felt odd in the last story of the collection. But once the plot got started I was sucked in, particularly once the humour kicked in. In a way, it's another comedy of errors, but less so than the previous story. In this one, the errors mostly occurred in the past and Joseph, with a bit of help from Lewis, has to put everything right. Although I was sceptical at the start as to whether I would enjoy reading any other incomplete-at-death Kage Baker stories, this one ultimately convinced me to at least give another one a shot, should it come up. It also had me shaking my fist at cancer for taking her away too soon.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2013, Tachyon Publications
Series: The Company. Accompanying short stories.
Format read: eARC
Source: The publisher via NetGalley

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