- Author: Kage Baker
- Title: Not Less Than Gods
- Publisher: Tor 2010
- ISBN: 978 0765318916
I have to admit that I was a little worried when I saw the write ups on the back of the book, 'The Story of the Steampunk Origins of the Company.' I'm not a fan of steampunk. I think that aside from some very clever engineering and a little bit of literature, the Edwardian/Victorian era was largely one of terrible racism, exploitation of the poor and terrible misogyny that took a further hundred years to begin to stamp out. And I think that glorifying the Victorians by attributing a greater degree of rationalism to them is misguided at best, and downright insulting to the memory of the incredible suffering they caused and oversaw.
I was highly relieved to discover that the novel was incredibly good fun to read. Much like the other Company novels, it deals with hidden societies, secret science and mysterious time travellers from the future, who are attempting to raise civilisation beyond greed, materialism and inequity, apparently. We of course know that the Company of the future aims at no such thing, but in the past, the Company line is embraced whole heartedly by employees and operatives who desire a better world for all men.
This novel is not about the cyborgs of the other Company novels, and in fact does not even mention them. It tells a more complete version of the story of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax, Company operative (and experimental prehistoric prehuman primate of indistinct but clearly ALMOST human genetic origin) and later occupant of the body of identical triplet clone Alec Checkerfield, who is Edwards brother, of sorts, and also father, in a complicated kind of way. Sort of.
We see Edward conceived, raised, educated and recruited to The Gentleman's Speculative Society, and then on to his early missions, long before we encountered him in the original Company novels. Baker flesh's out the motivations and desires of this most complicated of characters, with a depth that was not seen in the other works. We see the origins of Edwards struggle for acceptance, his desperate need for validation from a father figure, and the destruction by stages of his early moral foundations until he becomes the operative that readers of earlier Company novels would recognise.
I would highly recommend this novel as an introduction to the Company series, because it sets such a vibrant image in my mind of the early days of the Company in the modern world. I think, if this novel had been first, that much of the humour, and the science fiction, of the earlier novels would have been far funnier, which is to say that the hilarious would have near killed me.
For fans of the series, this is an absolute must. Readers who disliked the character before will undoubtedly be vindicated in their feelings about this guy. Those who love him will be interested to learn more about the origins of this unfathomable rogue. See, everybody wins!
Five out of five.