David Willson's Reviews > The Empress of Mars

The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker
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's review
Aug 03, 2011

liked it

I would give this novel four stars, if I hadn't read so many five star novels by recently deceased Kage Baker.

Baker's more recent novels, set in the same universe as her Company series, are not nearly as satisfying. That is too bad, because she was an excellent author. The innovative overarching plot of Baker's eight-book Company series was a wry twist on the science fiction time travel genre which provided elements of danger and uncertainty that made the motivations of her characters more compelling. It also allowed Baker to thoroughly blend Twainish cynicism, science fiction and historical fiction into a heady brew. I highly recommend them. Especially, the first five.

The Empress of Mars is an expansion of her earlier novella of the same title. Still, it reads more like a series of short stories and vignettes that have been loosely cobbled together into a single plot. The story takes place in a struggling Mars colony where the protagonist's brew pub functions as just about the only communal meeting place. Fans of Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon may feel some love here. The colony and its challenges are well conceived. The story stumbles in places, though ever buoyed by Baker's trademark wit. Ultimately, the book left an ardent Baker fan disappointed.

Another recently released post-Company series/Company universe book, Not Less Than Gods, left me feeling the same way. I suppose, from a publishing standpoint, it makes good sense to delve into the back stories and ephemera of the Company Series and release more titles. Certainly, fans will appreciate more fully fleshed out characters and settings. But ever since Baker tied up the original series with a satisfying conclusion, her wonderfully creative and innovative Company plot and humorous take on the ridiculously politically correct human race of the future have appeared in subsequent books as minor elements ... little more than faded background scenery and comic relief. And that leaves a void.

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