The Empress of Mars
by Kage Baker
"once it was generally known that Mary has both beer and pretty daughters, the Empress of Mars was in business.
For five years now it had stood defiantly on its rocky bit of upland slope, the very picture of what a cozy country tavern on Mars ought to be: squat low dome grown all over with lichen patches most picturesque, except the weather-wall where the prevailing winds blasted it bald with an unceasing torrent of sand, so it had to be puttied constantly with red stonecast leavings to keep it whole there." (p 31)
Set on Mars in the distant future this enjoyable novel by Kage Baker was written with a style that reminded me a bit of some of the stories of Ray Bradbury. Mars has been settled initially by the equivalent of the British East India Company, who are of course interested in profit above all else. At first, they lure the best scientists in the hope of making Mars fruitful, but when that turns out to be more costly and difficult than expected, they abandon these people with only no support leaving only the hardiest among those who succeed. One of these survivors opens a saloon, The Empress of Mars, which caters to long-distance drovers and accumulates a host of misfits.
The story centers on Mary Griffith and her friends. After being let go as the xenobotanist for British Arean, she makes a new life for her and her daughters on Mars. The story charts the gradual development of the tiny colony into a self-sufficient city. A series of new settlers arrive on Mars over the course of events, each of whom ends up becoming pivotal in the establishment of a new service for the city. Mary and her allies must contend with interference by British Arean Company, resistance from various local collectives and a Neo-Pagan Ephesian Church. There is plenty of scientific background about Mars to hold the interest of all but the most particular hard science fiction fans. The climate, one that seemed at times comparable to Antarctica only with a red tinge, and its impact on the society that has developed on Mars is especially well-drawn. This was brought home effectively early in the novel when a young man succumbs to the incredibly unforgiving climate in a scene that was tremendously emotional.
Everyone is just barely holding on until like Sutter in nineteenth century California Mary discovers diamonds on Mars. In true Kage Baker style, the Martian misfits have resources undreamed of by the British Arean Corporation. This easy-going writing style, the engaging humor, the fascinating characters, and their interesting story made this an above-average science fiction novel.
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