Short Story Review: DEATH ON MARS, by Madeline Ashby

A Short Story from Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection # 2018

Edited by Gardner Dozois



Short stories’ collections always offer a mixed bag, at least according to individual tastes, and this eclectic anthology proved to be no exception: there were stories that did not speak to me, others that were nice but did not compel me toward a review, and then there were those that gave me that something extra that made all the difference.  Here is one of them…


I don’t know exactly what I expected from this story given its highly dramatic title, maybe a tale of something going horribly wrong, or one of a desperate struggle for survival against unforgiving odds – but in the end it caught my eye because of the word ‘Mars’: the red planet has returned with a (welcome) vengeance in speculative fiction these days, probably because the first manned mission seems to be looming closer and our curiosity and expectations for what we will find have reached new heights.

And yet, Death on Mars managed to surprise me because it was not even close to what I had imagined – it was better than I anticipated and it also was a deeply emotional journey, one that moved me beyond words.

A group of women has been sent on a station orbiting Mars to study in depth the planet and prepare the ground for the first ground mission and settlement: they have been chosen because of their greater adaptability to enclosed spaces and the ability to sustain the great and small annoyances of a long-term assignment. And also for their lesser body mass and reduced caloric needs, as one of them remarks with sarcastic clarity.   Over time they have developed a close relationship, almost a family bond, and as the story starts they are waiting for the arrival of a technician who will help solve a problem with the sampling drills downplanet: the group wonders if this new addition – a young man – will upset the balance they have managed to build over time, and in fact Cody’s appearance does bring a huge disturbance, not so much because of his presence, or his personality, but rather because of something he carries with him from Earth, something he brought for one of them…

The dramatic revelation this engenders seems to upset the balance that the group reached with dedication and effort, and for a while the atmosphere aboard the station feels quite tense, until a technical problem offers what looks like the perfect – if heart-wrenching – solution.  The last part of the story affected me deeply, and made me wonder if Madeline Ashby’s longer works will hit me in the same powerful way: I guess there is only one way to discover it…

My Rating: 

17 thoughts on “Short Story Review: DEATH ON MARS, by Madeline Ashby

  1. Indeed anthologies/short stories tend to be a mixed bag which is why I’m so gun shy about trying them, but you seem to be lucking out at every turn! Madeline Ashby is actually an author I’ve read before, if you do want to try some of her longer works, I highly recommend Company Town! Vn was okay too, but be prepared for WEIRD 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, there is nothing wrong with weird, although much depends on the degree of weirdness 😉
      Madeline Ashby is one of the authors on my “want to read” list, and Company Town one of the titles that had caught my attention in the past, so thank you for reminding me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. From the title I thought I had read this one but apparently not since the synopsis doesn’t ring a bell xD Anyway I think I read a couple of short stories by Ashby and I enjoyed them all, I have yet to read her longer works but I’m definitely interested by them as well.

    Liked by 2 people

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