[info]limyaael @ 05:41 pm: Kage Baker, Race, and Gender (contains mild spoilers for the Company series)
It's bothersome. I already bought all ten books in the Company series, and I really do like the style of humor and the narrative drive behind the plot, so you'd think I'd zip right through them. But I'm stuck in the ninth one.

The Company series is SF, set mostly on Earth with a few trips to the Moon and Mars, and mostly in historical periods. (The future in Baker's world only goes up to 2355, after which something unknown and probably awful will happen). The Company is Dr. Zeus, a group of investors and scientists that perfected immortality- but it will only work on children- and time travel- but you can't bring any objects out of their own time forwards. So the Company makes its money by finding orphans, turning them into immortal cyborgs, programming them to want to preserve art treasures, endangered species, and the like, and then having them hide away treasures in safe places so that they can be "rediscovered" at the right time to make Dr. Zeus rich. Since the Company has the Temporal Concordance and knowledge of every historically recorded event up to 2355, and no one can change history, it's extremely hard to fight them. Some of the cyborgs- particularly the main characters, Botanist Mendoza and Facilitator Joseph- try anyway. The series has a lot of adventure, a lot of hopping back and forth in time and between places, and some genuinely affecting drama and emotional moments. (The ending of book four, The Graveyard Game, is my favorite gut punch in the series so far).

I started getting bothered with the colonization issues in book two, Sky Coyote, where Joseph, Mendoza, and several others are assigned to collect a native Californian tribe for Dr. Zeus. The white characters (and nearly all the cyborgs are white) are so damn condescending and exploitative of the natives' legends- Joseph dresses up as Coyote in order to con them, for example- and it isn't really suggested that this is wrong, though the mortal scientists' enslavement of the cyborgs is certainly made a moral issue. But it's only up to book 9, Gods and Pawns, where I am now, that I really saw how disturbing the overall pattern is.

Most of the cyborgs are white, as mentioned. The very few characters of color divide into a) those who are mentioned but never appear on screen, b) stereotypes (a mammy to an all-important white male child, for example) and c) those who seem to be portrayed more equally but have only a secondary role in the plot. Also, there's a tendency to describe the major character of color (a West African woman) as an ebony figurine, etc. Narrative drive and action rests almost exclusively with the white male characters, for both good and evil.

That's another thing. Out of the dozens and dozens of cyborg characters mentioned so far, only about seven of the prominent ones are women. Two of these pine away for love and act only to save the men they love, one plays a prostitute in her most extensive appearance and acts like a bubbly airhead in the other, another is the mammy, a fifth uses sex to manipulate everyone around her, etc. Mendoza is a female character with unique abilities and, at least nominally, the center of the story, but since she's one of those who only acts on behalf of and because of the man she loves, this is less effective than it otherwise might be. Joseph, the white male (of course) Facilitator who recruited her, does three times as much and does not passively resign himself to his fate, as Mendoza has a habit of doing for large portions of the series.

It's too bad, because I really do like the plot in these books. It moves along! It's connected! It's complex and ties back to itself! (I value that all the more because it's one of the qualities I read epic fantasy for, but other qualities inherent to the epic fantasy genre keep me from liking those books now). But the race and gender politics bother me to the point that I haven't felt like picking up Gods and Pawns in a week- and since I'm in the middle of a story where Mendoza and a white male character investigate the secrets of a native Bolivian tribe, I'm not really sure I want to finish.


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