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The Empress of Mars
Kage Baker
Subterranean Press, 272 pages

Kage Baker
Kage Baker was born in 1952 in Hollywood, California. She grew up there and in Pismo Beach, where she now resides. She has worked as a graphic artist, mural painter and assorted roles in the theatre. Many years of total immersion research in Elizabethan as well as other historical periods has left her with a working knowledge of period speech and details evident in her writing.

Kage Baker Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Rude Mechanicals
SF Site Review: The Children of the Company
SF Site Review: The Angel in the Darkness
SF Site Review: The Anvil of the World
SF Site Review: Black Projects, White Knights
SF Site Review: The Graveyard Game
SF Site Review: Sky Coyote
SF Site Review: Mendoza in Hollywood
SF Site Review: Sky Coyote
SF Site Review: In the Garden of Iden

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

The Empress of Mars For science fiction writers, Mars always beckons. H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs were there right from the beginning, of course, and Robert A. Heinlein wrote one of his better known books about a guy named Mike who hailed from Mars. Then, the 90s saw a sudden boom in Mars novels with everyone from Paul J. McAuley to Greg Bear to Kim Stanley Robinson and several others turning out epic stories set on the red planet. Now Kage Baker takes us back there with The Empress of Mars, a story of greed, exploitation, determination and eventual triumph set on the wild frontier of the sands of Mars.

On Baker's Mars, the planet is being colonized and terra-formed under the auspices of the British Aerean Company, an off-shoot of the British company that had successfully built a colony on the moon. Colonizing Mars hasn't gone quite as well, there turns out to be a lot less immediate profit involved. As the story begins, many of the Martian colonists have found their jobs with British Aerean terminated, and they are being left to fend for themselves. Prominent among them is Mary Griffith, proprietor and brew-master of the only bar on the planet, and The Empress of Mars, for the most part, is the story of how Mary, her family, and various friends and customers make a life for themselves on a world they can no longer afford to leave, even if they wanted to.

Those friends and customers form a pretty colorful cast of characters. Among them there's Cochevelou, leader of an agricultural cooperative, the Heretic, a refugee from the moon, Stanford Crosley, a con man and entrepreneur who sets up the planet's first casino and traveling dental clinic, and Ottorino Vespucci, an Italian immigrant who can't help but compare everything going on around him to scenes from his beloved Western movies. Together, their adventures make for a fast-moving tale of life, death, rebellion and survival on a planet that puts all who attempt to live there to the test.

Kage Baker is best known for her series of novels about the time-traveling Company. Like the characters in those novels, many of the characters in The Empress of Mars show little respect for the conventional ethics and morals of their own time. There are also hints of a lively history that has taken place in the several hundred years that separate our time from theirs. Great Britain has taken a leading place in the development of space, something has happened that leads most people to see religions, including Christianity, as suspicious cults. There is one exception to that rule, involving the Ephesians who indulge in Goddess worship, and that factors into the story as well. It's also true that some things just don't change; EastEnders, it seems, is in its 350th season.

Those hints of a greater history lurking in the background of The Empress of Mars also mean that there is plenty of room here for Baker to return to this universe for more stories, if she so desires. That would be a welcome development, especially if the rest of Mars, Luna, and Earth is populated with characters as refreshing and fun to visit as those that inhabit this very enjoyable novel.

Note: About three weeks after sending this review, I read in an interview with Kage Baker that The Empress of Mars is indeed set in the Company universe. Although that fact doesn't change my opinion of the book in any way, it does place the remarks about there being plenty of room for more stories in the history encompassed by the novel well in to the domain of the superfluously obvious.

Copyright © 2009 by Greg L. Johnson

Count reviewer Greg L Johnson among those who look up at Mars in the night sky and can't help but think of alien invasions and red planets turning blue. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.

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