A Nice Piece of Swampland in Elysium Planitia

Kage Baker postulated, loudly and frequently, that Mars would never be colonized until someone figured out a way to make money off of it. This wasn’t just her innate pessimism, but rather a judgment based on her studies of history: especially of the British East India and Hudson Bay Companies. Also the history of Mussel Shoals (now La Conchita, what portion of it is not under various mudslides) and other railroad towns.

This was one of the basic premises in her novel The Empress of Mars. In fact, it is essential to her entire history of the colonization of Mars, being first mentioned in the Company series in connection with the disaster that eventually overtakes Mars Two. The primary – and official -Martian colony is founded by a for-profit company, the British Arean  Corporation. Mars Two is founded independently by literal outcasts of the agrarian corporate system.

As a matter of fact, in the course of the novel, both colonies end up pretty much ignoring the mandates of the BAC and both eventually prosper in their divergent ways. True, Mars Two suffers a serious setback when someone plants a bomb in the magma chamber of Olympic Mons that Mars Two is using as a source of arethermal energy; the resulting pyroclastic explosion is a pivotal disaster in the alternate history of the Company novels.

Mars Two survives, though. (It’s in Kage’s notes. I’ll get it written someday …)  And Mars One does succeed as an agricultural society, eluding the efforts of the BAC to turn it into a monoculture slave-labour tree farm. Mars becomes a free society rather than a company town. But still – no one gets up there to even try to colonize until the BAC foots the bill in its hunt for obscene profits.

This scenario has worked many, many times. It’s one of the driving forces of imperialism and colonization, and appears as a prime mover throughout human history. (References and citation available upon request …). And now, it seems that it has finally dawned on the embattled folks at NASA:


NASA has long prided itself on being a purely intellectual agency, driven by the most incorrupt versions of the hunt for expansion of human knowledge: not run by the military, not corporate shills. Overlooking the fact that the majority of the astronauts have been required to be military personnel – and some aberrations like lowest-bidder contracts on O-rings – they have clung to this ideal with admirable tenacity. But they are not just ivory tower intellectuals; a lot of the founding generation had roots in WWII, and the current generation has grown up in literal combat with the US Congress for the right to stay alive.

They are tough and realistic at NASA. They are used to inventing new systems to accomplish their aims. They would have found a way to power rockets on the human spirit by now, if they hadn’t had to sell their souls to Congress just to stay in business … and the model of the mercantile-exploration company has finally come round again to their attention.

Want to buy a piece of Mars? Instead of the individual con men who have been “selling” square feet of the Moon for the last 40 years, you may soon be able to invest in a real, honest-to-Mammon corporation and acquire a stake in Mars! And eventually you’ll be able to homestead; as long as you promise not to come back.

It does work. It has its drawbacks and problems, of course, and can blow up in your face – but no more frequently than solid-fuel rockets, and our record with those is pretty good. It’s sure as hell worth a try. Kage would be cheering madly for the attempt, and laughing madly, too, to see it happening.

But it will. There is money to be made Up There on Mars, and someone will try. Kage postulated that a colony would have to be underwritten by the appetite for profit – and now this is being considered. She pointed out that a Martian colony must be one-way, or the colonists would scamper home at the first chance – and now the one-way trip is all the rage. She observed that it would have to be funded on speculation and hope and greed, because humans work well for those goals: in this desperate world, the perfect balance of those forces is coming ever closer to completion.

Let us pray, also, that whatever corporations pony up the brass for this marvelous opportunity do not read Kage Baker’s books. In fact, keep ’em away from any science fiction! Because the other thing that always happens is that the colony founded by the company – whichever company it is – eventually breaks free. It becomes Ontario, Boston, Macao, Honolulu … Mars Two.

I’d invest in that.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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1 Response to A Nice Piece of Swampland in Elysium Planitia

  1. widdershins says:

    Me too! … maybe we should send some SF their way though… keep ’em thinking outside the box.


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