Kage Baker liked writing about Mars. That surprised her when she started it.
I mention this because yestreday I touched a Martian meteorite, at the Griffith Park Observatory. It had been upwelling lava from under the skin on Mars; now it is warm red stone, the colour of Kage’s hair.
Mars had not been a particular interest of Kage’s when we were kids, although her favourite Bradbury stories were those about Mars. It may have been the autumnal beauty of the dying Martian civilization that appealed to her, or even just the image of floating down the Grand Canal with one’s lover on a distant Martian night. But it was a mild interest to start with, and nothing much inspired her about the Red Planet.
Until we started losing spacecraft up there. That fascinated her. None of her ideas about what was eating them made it into stories (I have the notes, though); instead, she got interested in Mars As The Frontier. Mars With People On It. How Will We Live On Mars? turned out to be the real draw for Kage. She could never resist the exploration of human nature.
She figured no one would actually make it to Mars unless they saw a way to make money from it. And life on Mars would initially be fairly desperate. There’s a brief glimpse of the grim, humourless Collective when the feckless Alex Checkerfield delivers guns to Mars in The Life of the World to Come: a cold, politically aggressive society, closed in on itself in a kind of Neo-Puritan righteousness. After she wrote that, though, Kage felt guilty about the charmless world she had implied, so she added Mars 2 as a cosmopolitan balance to the deadly earnest agrarians. Though neither societies were sketched in much detail, they were set on clear contrast to one another. And Kage had a detailed conflict pictured in her mind.
Then, of course, she blew them up.
The bomb in the arethermal energy plant on the slopes of Olympic Mons blows a literal hole in Mars 2 (It was not a volcanic eruption. All you people who complain about that, go back and read that part again, please). Then Kage felt even guiltier about what she’d done, so she wrote The Empress of Mars to explain how Mars 2 got there in the first place.
Empress was one of those stories that got away from her. It went where it wanted, places Kage didn’t expect – she was as surprised as anyone else at what happened. And when Tor Books asked her to expand the original novella into a novel, that held even more surprises.
The main one was that it was due 6 months earlier than she had thought it was, and she simply forgot to write it. On making this discovery (and once the screaming and throwing things had stopped) she sat down and carefully interwove another plot and a half into the story. She did it in 6 weeks. It was one of those stories where she kept asking “What happens next?” and I would moan and make silly suggestions and gnaw on my knitting until she finally said, “Oh, I know!” and got back to supplying the Tharsis Bulge with Painless Dentistry and A Fine Assortment of Recreational Pharmaceuticals.
Kage still felt bad about blowing it up, though. And even though she rid the Martian Collective of its evil corporate overlords, she also pretty much abandoned the colony on Mars. So she wrote some stories about it – about children, as children are any societies’ future: “Where The Golden Apples Grow” (Escape From Earth, paperback from Firebird, 2008), and the forthcoming “Attlee and The Long Walk” (from Jonathon Strahan, in Life On Mars, due out in April 2011 from Viking).
More, she outlined much of What Happens Next. She meant for Mars 2 to rise again, for the Long Fields to continue and for Mary’s bloodline to go on. I could feel that future like a pulse in the red stone under my hand yestreday. And so – I guess it will.
Tomorrow: the Observatory