Sky Coyote (A Novel of the Company, Book 2) - Kage Baker

Sky Coyote wins the prize as the first physical book I've read in over a year, and I regret nothing. It continues the saga of The Company, but this time, the story is told from the immortal Facilitator Joseph's perspective. In this case, the Company isn't satisfied with grabbing lost artefacts and to-be-extinct plants; they decide to take an entire Chumash village as well, and decide to send in an agent in the guise of the trickster god Sky Coyote to persuade the village to come along peacefully. It's a perfect role for Joseph.

I find Joseph a far more appealing narrator--and character--than the unpleasant, immature, icy, self-righteous Mendoza. There's nothing I love better than a fast-talking crook with a heart of gold, and Joseph fits that label perfectly. Plus, just in case you had any doubts, in this book, Mendoza takes the opportunity to prove just how humourless and unforgiving she can be.

Joseph's narration is wry and appealing:

"You know why I've survived in this job, year after year, lousy assignment after lousy assignment, with no counseling whatsoever? Because I have a keen appreciation of the ludicrous.
Also because I have no choice."

Baker's portrayals of the native populations-- Mayans, Chumash, and some unknown Chinigchinix tribe-- combine good research with an interesting choice of dialect. Rather than the stilted pidgin dialogue all too common in the characterization of native peoples, the servant Mayans sound like reproachful Jeeveses and the Chumash voice their modern attitudes with modern slang. For example:

Sepawit, sluicing off ash with a basket of water, greeted me cheerfully.
"Hey, Sky Coyote, You should have been here this morning! We had quite a shaker!"
"Hell of a quake," agreed Nutku, beating his best bearskin robe until the dust flew.[...]
I tried to remember what I'd been about to say.
"I know. Khutash is very angry. She found out about Sun's white men last night," I told them. They looked surprised.
"Khutash is angry? Is that what makes earthquakes?" Sepawit blinked. "Well, I guess You'd know, but we always thought it was a natural phenomenon."
"What?" Oh, boy, I wasn't at my quick-witted best today.
"We always thought it was the World Snakes down there under the crust of the earth, the ones who hold everything up? We thought they just get tired every now and then and bump into one another,"
Nutku explained. "The astrologer-priest says they push the mountains up a little higher every year."
"Oh," I said.

The whole plot is as bawdy and crazy as many of the coyote stories I've read, including an interlude that's basically one long (wince) penis joke.

But then there are the larger plot arcs. It took me years to really give the series a try, partly because I find immortality depressing, and partly because the plotholes and paradoxes induced by time travel tend to make me cringe. Certainly Baker's basic setup can't sustain much thought without falling apart, but all the same, I found myself fascinated by the drama of it. Immortality is gained only by shaking off mortality and much of humanity. These immortals are cyborgs, good little machines trained to do the Company's will, feared by the humans they serve. They are told that their future holds great rewards, but if so, why don't they have any information after 2355? Why do all who question the Company disappear without a trace?

The book is satisfyingly cynical, another indictment of extremism, a tired, jaded, humorous portrait of the tragically unchanging nature of humanity.

"Happy endings aren't so easy to come by when you're an immortal, because nothing ever quite seems to end. Well, things do; we don't, which is part of the problem."