Monday, July 2, 2012

Musings: In the Garden of Iden

In the Garden of Iden
I fell a little bit in love with Kage Baker when I read The Anvil of the World.  But Baker is much more known for her science fiction than for her fantasy (though I admit I am not sure why), and I knew I had to try her time travel series set around a mysterious organization called The Company.  I finally picked up In the Garden of Iden from my shelf recently and delved into the first of the series that revolves around the beautiful and rebellious time traveler Mendoza and her work as an Immortal for The Company.

In this first outing, we meet a very young Mendoza (first name unknown) as she is sold by her mother to a group of witches and then taken to prison during the Spanish Inquisition.  There, she meets a stranger who offers her a way out of life imprisonment and torture- she can become immortal like him.  Obviously, the young child agrees, and she is whisked away to a school in Australia where she undergoes all sorts of surgeries, learns extraordinary details about every era of history, and graduates with a specialty in botany (because she hates people).

On her first assignment, Mendoza is sent to a pleasure garden (The Garden of Iden) in Queen Mary's England.  There she falls in love with a strong-willed Protestant, and her life, as you might imagine, changes quite drastically.

I picked up In the Garden of Iden in the hope that it would be an excellent way to dip my toes into the science fiction genre.  I really want to read more sci-fi, and I figured time travel would be the best way for me to do so.  How awesome would it be to travel through time and witness great historical (and will-be historical) moments?  Or to just see what daily life for normal people is like in different places and in different eras?  And since I loved The Anvil of the World so much, I thought Baker would be the best way for me to start.

However, I don't think this is a typical science fiction book.  Yes, there is time travel, but it only happens once, backwards, to the 16th century.  There are some modern implements that the travelers use, but obviously, they have to fit into the time period, and so anachronisms are a no-no.  This makes complete sense, especially considering how suspicious people were at the time of anything they didn't understand.  BUT... when you are expecting space ships and aliens and teleportation devices, then listening to a universal radio station seems pretty lame.

I also did not expect nearly the amount of religious debate that was present in this book.  I can't imagine the amount of research that Baker did to put the arguments and words and theories into her characters mouths about Catholicism and Protestantism and free will and all the rest.  Mostly because I absolutely skimmed these sections of the book.  I sometimes talk to other people about religion, but not often, and I generally avoid books that have a religious feel to them.  Particularly when the religious debates are used as foreplay.

I did not know before I started reading this book that the romance was so central to the story.  Mendoza, the cynical, damaged and very skeptical young girl with whom we spend so much of the start of the story, becomes a lovestruck teenager who happily describes to us her every physical encounter with her beloved Nicholas.  This got really annoying.  I understand that this is supposed to be a romance that transcends space and time (a la the one in The Shadow of Albion) but, quite frankly, I don't think many romances at all transcend those parameters, and this one didn't convince me.

You can probably tell that I didn't particularly enjoy this book.  I don't think I'll be continuing with The Company series, though I certainly plan to read more of Baker's more traditional fantasy offerings.  And I'm still on the look-out for a quality science fiction author.  Any suggestions?

29 comments:

  1. I don't think I would like this book for all the reasons that you mention. I don't really enjoy religion that is heavy handed and used as a plot device, nor do I enjoy romance all that much. As secondary factors in a book, they don't bother me all that much, but used so heavily, I fear they would annoy. I can see that this was not the book you had hoped it would be. Have you read Ender's Game? That might be a good place for you to start with Science Fiction. Remind me to send you an email about some new Sci-fi titles that are coming out this summer. There is some great stuff on that list!

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    1. Ah, so happy to see you back online!! :-)

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  2. Seconding Ender's Game, and shouting from the rooftops that Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is an amazingly awesome way for a fantasy reader to get into sci fi. Various people have told me to start with Warrior's Apprentice (because Miles is the main character in the series and that's his first book) or the compendium Cordelia's Honor (because those two novels about Miles' mother are the first ones in the series). I really liked Cordelia's Honor and very strongly encourage you to read them right this minute.

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    1. I have had the Vorkosigan Saga on my TBR list forever, but can never find the first book on the shelf when I go looking for it! I still try, though :-)

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    2. Okay, a couple more thoughts on SF that I loved. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, does deal with a lot of religious themes (which I often love in books, but I totally see why one wouldn't). But it's very much in a thematic way, rather than having characters sermonize. It's a beautifully written book, and very thought-provoking about ethics, culture, and what we take for granted.

      The other one is called Hellspark, which is by Janet Kagan. It's a bit rough in the first two chapters, since it dumps a lot of info on you right away, but if you breeze through that it's pretty much a good old fashioned murder mystery in space. Again with the overtones of the importance of culture in making us who we are--funny how all my faves are like that.

      But seriously--Vorkosigans all the way, baby.

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  3. Weird about the religion!

    If you do find some good sci-fi books, let me know though!

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    1. Will definitely do so :-)

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  4. I did get a bit confused..hm, but hey still wanna read it

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    1. Maybe you'll do better than me, then!

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  5. The only time travel book I've read recently was To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I absolutely loved. I'm sorry this one didn't work for you, but I appreciate your review. Doesn't sound like I'd like it much either.

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    1. I loved that one, too! It was hilarious.

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  6. Although you didn't enjoy the book your review of it intrigued me and now I'm curious to give it a try myself. I haven't read anything by Baker before though The Anvil of the World has been on my wishlist for a while.

    As someone who doesn't read a lot of scifi, here are some of the scifi books that I have really enjoyed:

    The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
    Venus of Dreams by Pamela Sargent
    Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
    Gateway by Frederik Pohl

    And, of course, there is Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, though they are pretty close to being fantasy as well.

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    1. Ooh, thank you! I have read the Hitchhiker's Guide (though not the entire series, I don't think) and enjoyed it, but wanted to read something not quite so comic and gently mocking. I'll look into the other ones you suggest!

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  7. I really like the Company novels but then again, I like the religious aspect of it because it's the religion I'm most familiar with. And I really want to know what happens to Mendoza. She skips around like crazy! I think I have three unread Company novels because I want to KNOW all at once, rather than wonder. Because I'm weird like that.

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    1. Haha, I know what you mean! It's like you want to read all the books at the same time, not one at a time.

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  8. I'll admit that though I quite enjoy sci-fi, I've never been a fan of time travel. The whole concept of a time travel paradox is enough to give me a headache, and almost all time travel books do a really bad job of dealing with it. It seems as though In the Garden of Iden does an even weirder job than most books in the genre!

    As for recommendations, I can second Ender's Game and The Sparrow. Both are very different types of sci-fi (The Sparrow was marketed as more "literary", is slightly more mature in writing style), but ultimately very good.

    Other good sci-fi books:
    Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is bizarre but very interesting (though apparently the translation into English is a double translation, and not very good...).
    Foundation by Isaac Asimov was very good, but might be better with a bit more familiarity with sci-fi
    The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham is excellent.
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is also utterly fascinating.

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    1. Thanks for the list! I definitely want to read some Le Guin, so I might try her first.

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  9. I tbr'd this because it had time travel but it will be awhile if ever that I actually read this.

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  10. If you want to read Science Fiction, you really ought to start with some Heinlein short stories, or some of Andre Norton's novellas. Longer fiction works are not the strength of the genre--most people read a short story (try one by Ray Bradbury, maybe Harrison Bergeron) and get interested in one of the ideas before they go on to a work in which many ideas are explored. The one we just reread at my house is Heinlein's "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," which is the title work of a collection. Right after it is "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants," which is Spider Robinson's favorite SF story. My personal favorite, I think, is Fritz Leiber's "Space-Time for Springers."

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    1. OH. That is good to know about the short stories vs. full-length novels! I never even considered that. I will definitely look into that more- thanks.

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  11. I remember really enjoying this one, but I also enjoy reading about religion and differences in thought. I have always had it in mind to pick up the next one in the series, but I just haven't gotten around to it. Perhaps I'll try her fantasy novel instead...

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    1. It isn't that I don't enjoy religion or differences in thought, exactly- it's that I don't enjoy them in the context of science fiction when I am expecting something else. But I admit I was not a fan of these discussions.

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  12. Too bad you didn't find more enjoyment with this one. The premise seems promising but I think if it contained more time travel you would have enjoyed it more. I, too have always been fascinated with the idea of time travel.

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    1. Yes, it just seems so cool to me! Maybe I should try the Thursday Next novels again.

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  13. Oh, interesting. I've had these books in mind for years and hadn't heard about the religious aspect of their plotting; I'm glad to know to expect that going in. Given your response to that part of the books, I'm guessing that you wouldn't be fond of Ender's Game either (nor am I) and that some of the classics (like Heinlein) might rankle you too. Most of my favourites are older too (Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed, Elizabeth Moon's Remnant Population, Joan Slonczewski's Door Into Ocean), but two writers have been recently recommended to me -- Karen Traviss and Liz Williams -- so I've picked up a couple. I've also recently picked up a copy of Beukes' Zoo City, which many also seem to be quite fond of. Whatever you do try next, I hope you find a better fit!

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations and the warning about Ender's Game. I'd probably give Ender's Game a miss, anyway, as I hear Orson Scott Card is a real jerk.

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  14. Aw, pooh, I'm sorry this was no good for you. If you hated this I don't know that you'd like the other Company books -- I wasn't expecting hard sci-fi going in, and I was mad about all the overarching stuff about the Company and their Evil Plans that happened over the course of the series. I love Evil Plans over courses of series, when they are done well.

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    1. I can totes see you loving Evil Plans over courses of series.

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