What's the difference between Fantasy and SF? Video game designer Sean Patten suggests it may be scale, with fantasy tending toward personal scales and SF tending towards societal scales. The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker supports this notion. While the protagonist, bar owner Mary Griffith, and her myriad customers, provide a seemingly endless parade of interesting characters, the central theme is the evolution of civilization on the frontier. The conflicts between rugged pioneers, opportunistic crooks, fanatical missionaries, and corporate investors provide the majority of the plot motivation.
Of course, since this is Science Fiction, we learn much of life on Mars, such as the need to nanotechnology pollinators to replace bees that can neither fly nor survive in the Martian environment, and the dangerous Strawberry, a tornado of red dust sprinkled with black rocks. There is plenty of science here to satisfy the hard SF reader.
But, like Episode I, another science fiction adventure on a large scale, I found the economics and politics less engaging than the characters. But this may only be me. With my tendency towards Asperger's I am forever fascinated by the mystery of human relationships and emotions, while my age and education put me beyond much interest in fictional politics.
In the end, I found this to be excellent Science Fiction with a balance of science, plot and characters and very readable - an echo of older science fiction before the genera got bogged down in so much techno-babble and nerd worship.
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