Ray Gun Reviews
SF/F reviews — and ray guns!

The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker

(Note: This review originally appeared in Ray Gun Revival 54.)


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The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker
Tor Books, 2009, 303pp

In the late twenty-third century, the British Arean Company set about colonizing Mars. At the time, Earth has succumbed to political correctness and anyone even slightly outside the norm is put into hospitals to make them “normal.” When looking for colonists who are more independent of spirit, the British Arean Company naturally plunders these asylums. Also, the Celtic peoples have recently realigned themselves, creating a haven of political incorrectness for those who may be omnivores or a bit more aggressive than the norm. So, who better to settle Mars than they?

It doesn’t take long, however, for the BAC to realize that Mars is a losing prospect, and so they pull out their support, firing most of their employees. Without pay, this effectively strands most of the population of Mars on Mars with no hope of returning home.

One such fired employee, though, is Mary Griffith, who has three young daughters she has to support, so she sets up Mars’ first tavern, the eponymous Empress. She is, of course, frowned upon by the neo-Puritanical BAC and so exists in a delicate balance, providing a service many of Mars’ denizens want while being unappreciated by the ruling corporation.

The Empress of Mars tells the story of how Mother Griffith and her ragtag band of employees and acquaintances set about creating a life for themselves on a harsh and forbidding planet.

Originally a Hugo-nominated novella, The Empress of Mars is an associational novel, or as the cover describes it, “set in the world of the Company.” But that’s about all you need to know about the Company series to enjoy this novel.

Because it is expanded from a novella, this book is more episodic than most of Kage Baker’s novels and focuses more on the development of the various characters than on any forward-moving plot. It is, rather, an idea — colonization and independence — that moves the book on than any conflict as in a more traditionally plotted story. But that’s not a flaw — not at all! What the reader gets in exchange is a wonderful character-based story.

In the 15 or so years she’s been professionally published, Kage Baker has made a name for herself as an author who can write fun, fast-paced novels full of well-rounded characters. With The Empress of Mars, Baker proves once again that she is more than just a one-story or one-series author.

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