“There were three Empresses of Mars.”
So goes the first line of the book. It goes on to explain that the first was the only bar on Mars. The second was the lady who ran it. And the third was the Queen of England.
A Terra-forming project had begun in the twenty-second century. The British Arean Company had used every trick in advertising, dressing up old cliches and such, to get settlers interested in the project. They would take anybody interested, as well as various scientists in the disciplines necessary to get things going.
It was harder than expected and the company started hemorrhaging money. So the bureaucrats took over and began penny-pinching. Mary Griffith, a xenobiologist, had signed on to develop plants capable of surviving. When they were through with her, the company fired her. Never mind that she had three daughters and not enough money to return to Earth.
She opened The Empress of Mars, making her own beer, using barley bought from Clan Morrigan. The clan’s leader had a son with a disability, but he was also a genius. He developed small robot insects called biis(settlers had found bees imported from Earth wouldn’t fly) to pollinate the crop plants under the domes.
Manco Inca had been hired to design the plan for Terra-forming Mars and been fired when it was deemed to expensive. He worked now at the Empress.
While Mary was digging clay one day from her small allotment of land(her salary), she dug up a red crystal that some thought might be valuable, it was smuggled back to Earth past the BAC for assaying. It turned out to be a red diamond worth considerable.
That’s when new settlers started flooding in. Mars was the new Sutter’s Mill, drawing all sorts looking to get rich. As usual, they were drawing many types of people. Gamblers, conmen. Merchants looking to supply goods to the prospectors.
The British Arean Company was no longer a monopoly. They began scheming, not always legally, to get control of everything: the biis were especially valuable. But there were the diamonds(the uncontrolled flood was driving down the prices) as well. Not to mention the market goods.
This is the story of the little people struggling with the big boys for control of a suddenly valuable planet and its resources.
A quite good tale by Kage Baker. Though I have some of her Company novels, this is the first of her books I’ve read. I need to get to the others soon I suppose. If this one is any indication, neglecting her might have been a mistake.
The edition I have is by Subterranean Press, a small publisher of limited editions. It’s beautifully illustrated by J. K. Potter and signed by both author and artist. Tor is coming out with a hardcover in May.