Reading Mendoza in Hollywood was a strange experience. I have very clear memories of checking the book out of my library about a decade ago, mostly because the library copy had a very memorable cover, but I have only the vaguest memories of the book itself. When I hit the final 75% this time around, I actually began to wonder if I failed to finish it, as certain events were a complete blank. Maybe the climax lost its memorability without the previous books, but at the same time, I think certain aspects were far more tolerable when I was context-free.
In Kage Baker’s Company series, in the far future, Dr. Zeus Incorporated manages to discover both time travel and immortality. Unfortunately, the time travel only works towards the past and only allows unrecorded events to be changed. The surgeries and procedures to gain immortality can only be performed upon children, and the result is more cyborg than human. Dr Zeus, deciding to make the best of things, combined the two: the Company created immortal cyborgs in the far-distant past. These cyborgs would do the work of the Company, preserving lost treasures and species and historical events, and making more of themselves as the ages roll by. And now it’s the mid-1850s, and Mendoza finds herself in the city of fallen angels, the Hollywood of soon-to-be.
Baker is an engaging writer, but like The Garden of Iden, I found the enjoyability of the book severely limited by my dislike of Mendoza. In Garden of Iden, Mendoza suffered from a bad case of puppy love, and apparently not even a few centuries are enough to mend her broken heart. She spends a great deal of time maundering on about her lost love, leading me to ponder whether the book is actually improved by no context. I originally read Mendoza in Hollywood out of order, so I had no idea just how noxious and stiff and irritating and cardboard-cutout Mendoza’s lost love actually was. He annoyed the hell out of me in Garden of Iden, and it’s frustrating that Mendoza seems determined to turn him into her eternal doomed lover. She’s also a slave to those emotions, willing to bend every principle to recover her love.
I liked most of the male characters, particularly the Facilitator. I love Facilitators--they’re all fast-talking tricksters and add a certain spice to the story. I also enjoyed the young ornithologist immortal who spent the whole book collecting stray birds to keep as pets. (He starts out with a baby condor named Erich von Stronheim and ends up with a pelican named Marie Dressler. The only other female character is Imarte from Sky Coyote, and she’s been flanderized from an earnest anthropologist to an oversexed prostitute. She and Mendoza spend the whole time sniping at one another, and despite the female narrator, I think the book fails the Bechdel test. Given that the book takes place in Hollywood, its focus on movies is perhaps unsurprising, but my ignorance about early films made the long digressions into various movies rather boring. The book itself is rather slow, with a meandering and ill-defined plot and a lot of introspection. The themes are similar to the previous books: a rejection of extremism in all its forms:
"We don't have pets, Juan. Pets require time we haven't got, because we're operatives and all our time belongs to the Company [...] Pets require constant attention and love, and we can't afford to love them, because they're mortal and they'll die, which will make us unhappy, which will interfere with our doing a good job for the Company."
At the same time, I was fascinated by the ways Baker wove together her “hidden history;” the painstaking details reminded me somewhat of Tim Powers. Mendoza in Hollywood certainly isn’t the strongest in the series, but I found myself carried along with Mendoza and her troubles. The framing of the story and the end also pack a certain punch. Onwards to Graveyard Game, which has the added delight of Joseph as a narrator.