REVIEW: “Death on Mars” by Madeline Ashby

Review of Madeline Ashby, “Death on Mars”, in Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures, edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, (Center for Science and Imagination, Arizona State University, 2017): 115-136 — Download here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The premise of this story is an experiment:

To see if women—with their lower caloric needs, their lesser weight, their quite literally cheaper labor, in more ways than one—could get the job done on Phobos? (p. 117)

Even now, when so much work has been done to address the lack of women in STEM (which is sadly all too much reflected in SFF, both amongst the writers and the written), the status quo is still such that I’m not surprised it is a woman that has written a story based on this premise.

This was not the only thing that separated this story out from the others I’ve read so far in this anthology. The other was that the science was not the focus; instead, it is the women and their relationships with each other, and how these relationships are disrupted by the arrival of a newcomer bearing unwanted news. They are the heart of the story; the science, their life on Phobos, these are all incidental.

This was a quiet, poignant story, well worth the reading. It’s hard not to cry at it, but at the same time it’s hard not to recognize the beautiful wonder of seeing these women “where we’re supposed to be. Because this is where we are at our best” (p. 135). What better death could one ask for, than to die knowing they died where they were supposed to be, being the best they could be?