IN THE COMPANY OF THIEVES [Amazon | Kobo | The Book Depository | Scribd], Kage Baker’s posthumous final (?) collection of stories about the cyborgs of Dr. Zeus Incorporated, brings together three novellas and three shorter works. The first five previously appeared elsewhere, while the final offering was completed by Kathleen Bartholomew, Baker’s sister, based on Baker’s extensive research notes.
While I suppose the collection could serve as an introduction to Baker’s Company series, I imagine it’s much richer if you’ve already got a background with the material. "The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park" and "Hollywood Icons" stand more or less alone, but "The Unfortunate Gytt," "The Women of Nell Gwynne’s," and "Mother Aegypt" all contain twists and tidbits that mean much more in the context of the wider series. I’ve been told, too, that "Rude Mechanicals" is confusing to anyone not already acquainted with its cyborg protagonists.
If you’re an established Baker fan, though, don’t hesitate to dive in. You’ll enjoy yourself immensely.
I myself loved "The Women of Nell Gwynne’s" and "Rude Mechanicals" the most, perhaps because they were both rereads rendered all the richer by foreknowledge. The former was the first Baker I ever read, and while I liked it back in the day, it’s infinitely more enjoyable now I’m familiar with the homo umbralis and their relationship with the Company’s operatives. Freed of the need to parse what exactly was going on, I delighted in the language, the historical detail, and Lady Beatrice’s take on events. The sly, often subtle humour with which Baker infuses most everything she writes is well represented here, as is her knack for fostering sympathy between character and reader via a few choice details. I came away well pleased.
"Rude Mechanicals," now, is frickin’ hilarious. Lewis and Joseph stories are my favourite, and this just might be the best of the lot. I grinned and chortled my way through the entire madcap caper, even though I’d read it before and remembered more or less how it came out. There ain’t nothin’ subtle about the humour here; it’s slapstick, in-your-face stuff that relies as much on the tension between the characters’ personalities as on the absurdity of the many scrapes they get themselves into. Hell, I’m in stitches again just thinking about it.
IN THE COMPANY OF THIEVES is worth picking up for those two novellas alone, though the rest of the stories also make for good reading. I suspect "Mother Aegypt," like the examples cited above, will only get better each time I revisit it, and the others are an excellent way to spend an hour or so.