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The Empress of Mars

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The Empress of Mars

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Author: Kage Baker
Publisher: Subterranean Press, 2009
Tor, 2009
Series: The Company: Book 9
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Time Travel
Hard SF
Avg Member Rating:
(26 reads / 13 ratings)


When the British Arean Company founded its Martian colony, it welcomed any settlers it could get. Outcasts, misfits and dreamers emigrated in droves to undertake the grueling task of terraforming the cold red planet--only to be abandoned when the BAC discovered it couldn't turn a profit on Mars.

This is the story of Mary Griffith, a determined woman with three daughters, who opened the only place to buy a beer on the Tharsis Bulge. It's the story of Manco Inca, whose attempt to terraform Mars brought a new goddess vividly to life; of Stanford Crosley, con man extraordinaire; of Ottorino Vespucci, space cowboy and romantic hero; of the Clan Morrigan, of the denizens of the Martian Motel, and of the machinations of another Company entirely, all of whom contribute to the downfall of the BAC and the founding of a new world. But Mary and her struggles and triumphs is at the center of it all, in her bar, the Empress of Mars.

Based on the Hugo-nominated novella of the same name, this is a rollicking novel of action, planetary romance, and high adventure.

Listen to the author read the novella version of this story at Green Man Review.


Chapter One

The Big Red Balloon

What were the British doing on Mars?

For one thing, they had no difficulty calculating with metric figures. For another, their space exploration effort had not been fueled primarily by a military-industrial complex. This meant that it had never received infusions of taxpayers' money on the huge scale of certain other nations, but also meant that its continued existence had been unaffected by bungled wars or inconvenient peace treaties. Without the prospect of offworld missile bases, the major powers' interest in colonizing space had quite melted away. This left plenty of room for the private sector.

There was only one question, then: was there money on Mars?

There had definitely been money on Luna. The British Lunar Company had done quite well by its stockholders, with the proceeds from its mining and tourism divisions. Luna had been a great place to channel societal malcontents as well, guaranteeing a workforce of rugged individualists and others who couldn't fit in Down Home without medication.

But Luna was pretty thoroughly old news now and no longer anywhere near as profitable as it had been, thanks to the miners' strikes and the litigation with the Ephesian Church over the Diana of Luna incident. Nor was it romantic anymore: its sterile silver valleys were becoming domesticated, domed over with tract housing for all the clerks the BLC needed. Bureaucrats and missionaries had done for Luna as a frontier.

The psychiatric Hospitals were filling up with unemployed rugged individualists again. Profit margins were down. The BLC turned its thoughtful eyes to Mars.

Harder to get to than Luna, but nominally easier to colonize. Bigger, but on the other hand no easy gravity well with which to ship ore down to Earth. This ruled out mining for export as a means of profit. And as for low-gravity experiments, they were cheaper and easier to do on Luna. What, really, had Mars to offer to the hopeful capitalist?

Only the prospect of terraforming. And terraforming would cost a lot of money and a lot of effort, with the successful result being a place slightly less hospitable than Outer Mongolia in the dead of winter.

But what are spin doctors for?

So the British Arean Company had been formed, with suitably orchestrated media fanfare. Historical clichés were dusted off and repackaged to look shiny-new. Games and films were produced to create a public appetite for adventure in rocky red landscapes. Clever advertising did its best to convince people they'd missed a golden opportunity by not buying lots on Luna when the land up there was dirt cheap, but intimated that they needn't kick themselves any longer: a second chance was coming for an even better deal! And so forth and so on.

It all had the desired effect. A lot of people gave the British Arean Company a great deal of money in return for shares of stock that, technically speaking, weren't worth the pixels with which they were impressively depicted in old-engraving style. The big red balloon was launched. Missions to Mars were launched, a domed base was built, and actual scientists were sent out to the new colony along with the better- socially-adapted inhabitants of two or three Hospitals. So were the members of an incorporated clan, as a goodwill gesture in honor of the most recent treaty with the Celtic Federation. They brought certain institutions the British Arean Company officially forbade, like polluting

The Empress of Mars industries and beast slavery, but conceded were necessary to survival on a frontier.

So all began together the vast and difficult work of setting up the infrastructure for terraforming, preparing the way for wholesale human colonization.

Then there was a change of government. It coincided with the British Arean Company discovering that the fusion generators they had shipped to Mars wouldn't work unless they were in a very strong electromagnetic field, and Mars, it seemed, didn't have much of one. This meant that powering life support alone would cost very much more than anyone had thought it would.

Not only that, the lowland canyons where principal settlement had been planned turned out to channel winds with devastating velocity. Only in the Tharsis highlands, where the air was thinner and colder, was it possible to erect a structure that wouldn't be scoured away by sandstorms within a week. The British Arean Company discovered this after several extremely costly mistakes.

The balloon burst.

Not with a bang and shreds flying everywhere, exactly; more like a very fast leak, so it sort of dwindled down to an ignominious little lopsided thing without much air in it. Just like the dome of the Settlement Base.

So a lot of people were stuck up there without the money to come home, and they had to make the best of things. Under the circumstances, it seemed best to continue on with the job.

Copyright © 2009 by Kage Baker


The Empress of Mars

- dustydigger


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