Sunday, May 17, 2009

Review: The Empress of Mars

With the recent release of the Empress of Mars I decided I’d take a look at the novella that was expanded upon to make the most recent incarnation. I was interested to see the genesis of the story and then later read the expanded novel. The first incarnation of the Empress of Mars was released by Night Shade Books in 2003. It was a jacked hardcover release limited to 500 signed copies.

With this novel Kage Baker does an exceptional job of creating a plausible Mars scenario. Throughout the course of the novel she pulls away our preconceptions of what colonization of far off planets would be like. Oftentimes we picture shiny rocket ships with the perfect specimens of humanity aboard them in for the adventures of their life. However Baker makes us realize within the first few pages of the novella that this is not the reality in which we live.

She reminds us how truly dreadful and at times wonderful the colonization process can be. Baker uses historical precedent when taking into account the Colonization of Mars as she looks to the examples of Australia and Georgia which were set-up as penal colonies as is the Mars we are given in this book. Likewise with the Frontier where settlers took solace in their local saloon so do the denizens of Mars. As after a long day of work they head to the Empress of Mars which is run by Mary Griffith.

Mary Griffith along with an assortment of family members and castoffs from various walks of life make up the staff of the Empress of Mars. Mary is an intriguing character and reminds me of so many women I know. She’s tough, intelligent and above all stubborn. She deals with a great deal of sexism from the British Aerean Company (BAC) who for all intents and purposes owns Mars and her neighbors of the Celtic Federation. For me the way Mary handles herself is a pleasure to read about. She doesn’t take any crap from anyone. She knows who she is and she doesn’t change for anyone. The woman also knows her beer.

I no longer drink but at one point I considered myself a beer aficionado so it was nice to see a writer who was actually knowledgeable about beer. We don’t get the usual generic references to beer; rather we’re given various beer styles from Oatmeal Stone to a nice India Pale Ale. (which is fitting for the story as India Pale Ale was the choice of the British while they were occupying India.) It’s the little things like this that add so much to a story. Knowing which beers are served at the Empress add another tangible aspect that develops the world that much more.

At this point you might all be saying so it’s a story about a bar? It is a story about a bar, in fact it’s a great story about a bar but over the course of the novella playing out it becomes so much more. The story encompasses everything that human beings have an interest in; our place in the cosmos, women, drinking, religion, politics, family, loyalty and freedom to pursue life in our own ways. So if you as a human being have an interest in any of those things I can not recommend this novella highly enough.


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