Skip to main content

The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker

* Note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate and sponsored links. Learn more on my Disclosure page.

“The Empress of Mars” is a 2003 science fiction novella by Kage Baker. It is about a woman who overcomes all sorts of obstacles to build an empire on Mars.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Olympus Mons“The Empress of Mars” follows the story of Mary, the woman who owns the only bar in the settlement on Mars. That wasn’t always her occupation, though, and as the story is told we learn that she has had a rough life – and learned to roll with the punches. Mary came to Mars as the xenobotanist for the British Arean Company – the corporation trying to make money by colonizing Mars the way they did the moon. However, after five years the BAC decided Mary was no longer of use and she was effectively stranded on the Red Planet. With a handful of loyal people she presses on and builds an empire on her own sweat and blood. Some pretty amazing things happen along the way that help her out, such as the ability to buy a field of barley, the discovery of valuable diamonds and an excommunicated Ephesian sister who has the remarkable gift of being able to see the future.

“Good morning, Mr. Morton,” said Mary, in English because his panCelt was still halting, and “Good morning, Ma’am,” said he, and winced as his bare feet hit the cold sanded floor. Half-hopping he picked his way to the stove and poured his tea, inhaling the steam gratefully; brought it back to the long stone table and seated himself, wincing again as his knees knocked into the table supports. He stirred a good lump of butter into the tea and regarded Mary through the steam, looking anxious.

“Er . . . what would you like me to do today?” he inquired.

Mary sighed and summoned patience.

He was nominally her employee, and had been so since that fateful afternoon when he, like so many others, had realized that his redundancy pay did not amount to half the fare back to Earth.

“Well, you didn’t finish the scouring on Five Tank yesterday, did you?” she said.

“No,” he agreed sadly.

“Then I think perhaps you had better do that, Mr. Morton.”

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • This is a well told story that is both believable and fun to read! Sure it’s long, but it’s broken up into three sections that can be read at your leisure over a lengthy time.
  • The future history of British space exploration is nicely done! There are so many cool little details that I believed the author was a British citizen – I was surprised to find out that she is American.
  • If you like stories about the colonization of Mars then you’re bound to love this one. It is one of the better ones I’ve ever read, and perpetuates the idea of space truly being the last frontier.

• The bad:

  • This is not a suitable story for kids – or people who don’t like profanity, blasphemy or thinly veiled sexual references. (There isn’t tons of it, but be aware that it does exist.)
  • It is a long story – but it breezes by if you only read one section at a time. Oh – and put on some nice Irish music to set the mood, that’ll really get you in the spirit of this story!

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 46
• Word Count: 25,674
“The Empress of Mars” garnered the following awards:

  • It was the winner of the 2004 Sturgeon Award.
  • “The Empress of Mars” was nominated for the 2004 Hugo Award and the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novella.
  • It placed 2nd in the 2004 Asimov’s Reader Poll and 3rd in the 2004 Locus Poll.

Where you can find “The Empress of Mars”:

  • This novella first appeared in the July 2003 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
  • You can read it online for free at Asimov’s web site.

Some Interesting Links:

  • “The Empress of Mars” is ranked 41st on the list of Top 100 Sci-Fi Short Stories. (Retrieved on May 18, 2008)
  • Did you know that Kage Baker was a teacher of Elizabethan English for the stage? Yep. You can learn more about this amazing author by reading the bio at

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Falling Onto Mars, about violent and non-reforming prisoners who are sent to Mars rather than sentenced to death on Earth, by Geoffrey A. Landis.