Black Projects, White Knights


Kage Baker


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

October 21, 2005

ou hear a lot of praise about Baker's Company stories, apparently they have an enthusiastic following. The only thing that I have read by Kage Baker was Sky Coyote, which did not impress me much, so I have skipped the rest of the series. Recently I read a short story by Baker in The 22nd Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozios - the story is Mother Aegypt. (I haven't finished that big book of short stories yet, but so far everyone that I have read has been excellent, enjoyable, or merely pretty good - there hasn't been a bad story in the bunch.) Since Mother Aegypt was a fun read, I decided to give Baker another try. So when I saw Black Projects, White Knights at the library, I checked it out.

This is a collection of short stories about a group of immortal cyborgs who collect precious artifacts from human history and send them forward in time to the inhabitants of the 24th century. The cyborgs were all created by Dr Zeus, the time-traveling company that directs their activities. "Old Flat Top" is one of the better stories - it is the tale of Budu, an Enforcer, a near human warrior who ruthlessly directs civilization along the historical route that the Dr Zeus masters want to unfold. If a civilization or species is not in the plan, the Enforcers will wipe them out. The Enforcers are designed for killing, and they take great join in battle and slaughter. Althouh they are immortal, they can suffer grievous injuries (decapitation, disembowlment or dismemberment) that take significant time to heal. "Old Flat Top" is a chilling picture of killers. I wonder where have all these immortal Enforcers disappeared to in the modern era - did Dr Zeus transport them somewhere else? Perhaps this is explained in another volume.

"The Queen in Yellow" is a more lighthearted tale. A young cyborg, Lewis, is tasked with spiriting away a find from an archaelogical dig in Egypt. But the expedition chief suspects that Lewis is more than he seems, and difficulties ensue.

I especially liked the four stories about Alec, who appears to be a VERY bright little boy. I am not sure these stories ("Smart Alec", "The Dust Enclosed Here", "Monster Story" and "The Likely Lad") are related to the Company of Dr Zeus (despite the fact that the subtitle of Black Projects, White Knights is The Company Dossiers) but they are entertaining. Alec is an innocent, but he is not truly human. He seems to be an artifical construct, built for some unexplained reason. He exists in the near future, in a rigid society that closely monitors all it civilians (the population seems to be lower than modern Earth, but no explanation is offered as to why so many people are missing.) The immense processing powers in Alec's head allow him to subvert society, and adventure ensues. I am not sure why I like the stories, I guess the character of Alec is appealing.

Mendoza is apparently one of the favorite characters in Bakers novels regarding the Company, because she is a tortured soul. She makes an appearance in a couple of the stories here: "Noble Mold" and "Hanuman". "Hanuman" is the better story. Mendoza is recovering at a Dr Zeus rehab clinic - although she is immortal, she can still be harmed, and in this case she is recovering from a hotel disaster. What was she doing at the hotel, the time traveling Dr Zeus company knows when disasters will occur - but in this case something got screwed up. A australopithecus afarensis (some kind of prehuman who has been converted into a cyborg long long ago) interviews with Mendoza to hear her story.

Also making an appearance in these stories is Joseph, who stars with Mendoza in the first two Company novels, The Garden of Iden and Sky Coyote. Joseph is a lot more fun than the tormented Mendoza. He has an encounter with Robert Lewis Stevenson in "The Literary Agent" and with a suicidal woman in "Studio Dick Drowns Near Malibu". Joseph makes immortality seem like a whole lot of fun.

Overall, these are entertaining stories. Most of the fun is due to the characters, these stories do not present wild SF speculations, a sense of wonder or aliens. Everything takes place on earth, among humans (or proto-humans). The time travel aspect is a plot device, Baker doesn't offer much in how it works, or the paradoxs that time travel might cause. Not a bad read, I will probably give the Company novels another try, maybe starting with Sky Coyote was a mistake, since it was 2nd in a series and I hadn't read the first one.