A Review by Rich Horton
The SF/F field mourned the untimely death of Kage Baker on January 31. Baker, in a writing career of not much more than a decade, established a reputation as one of the most purely entertaining of writers, yet a writer with serious purpose underlying the fun. She wrote novels and stories in several series, both science fiction and fantasy. Her best-known project was collectively called “the Company,” and comprised several novels in its main sequence as well as a couple further novels and numerous short stories.
This latest novel (though at least one more is coming) is another Company novel. The overall story arc has been completed, so Not Less Than Gods serves to fill in details about one major character, Edward Bell-Fairfax.
This novel is set in Victorian England, and tells the story of Bell-Fairfax’s life to the age of about 25. It is related to her recent stories about the Gentleman’s Speculative Society and its sister organization, Nell Gwynne’s. The Victorian setting combined with the advanced technology the GSS secretly develops (with some help from the time traveling Company that lurks behind them) gives the book something of a steampunk feel. It stands alone fairly well, but undoubtedly readers familiar with the Company in general and the later career of Bell-Fairfax in particular will get more out of it.
Edward Bell-Fairfax is revealed to be the illegitimate child of a rather disreputable London lady, adopted by a childless couple, but raised mostly by servants and by the mysterious Dr. Nennys. After a brief naval career he is recruited to the Gentleman’s Speculative Society, where his physical characteristics (remarkable height, strength, and eyesight among other things) and his also considerable mental abilities make him a great asset. The GSS is revealed to be one of several secret organizations that work to bring the “great day,” a future of justice for all people. But they also are loyal to Britain.
After quickly covering his early life, the book primarily records the first field assignment for Bell-Fairfax as he and three other GSS members head to Turkey and then to Russia in an attempt to head off the Crimean War which they know is looming.
The action is rather episodic as the GSS folks take on a series of tasks in several different locations. The tasks are linked by encounters with a group of dastardly Americans. We see a lot of (not always quite sporting, somehow) use of the steampunkish tech available to them. Eventually a sense grows that the GSS, although they seem to be on the side of good, are morally ambiguous. This theme is developed more thoroughly in the other novels, but it is one of the aspects of Baker’s work that give even her frothiest entertainments a certain heft.
Not Less Than Gods is an enjoyable book, but not Baker at her best. Its episodic nature, and more importantly its status as a fill-in to an existing (and essentially complete) series, serve to weaken it structurally. Any further work we are lucky enough to have been left from Baker, however, is welcome.
Not Less Than Gods
$25.99 | hc | 320 pages
Kage Baker’s Company Novels (in order of publication):
- In the Garden of Iden
- Sky Coyote
- Mendoza in Hollywood
- The Graveyard Game
- The Life of the World to Come
- The Children of the Company
- The Machine’s Child
- Empress of Mars
- The Sons of Heaven