Book One of the Mars Trilogy
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Science Fiction | 668 Pages | Published by Voyager in 1996
| Rating |
Following a resurgence in popularity this year, it was about time I jumped on the bandwagon and showed some appreciation for the Red Planet. I picked up a copy of Red Mars after it became Book of the Month for Dragons and Jetpacks and, having heard very mixed reviews, wasn’t sure which way it would swing for me. But I’m so glad I got on that Mars train because this is truly a science fiction epic – dazzlingly real, daunting in its scope and scale, and monumental in its undertaking.
Red Mars charts the colonisation of Mars over a thirty-five year span as one hundred scientists embark on a mission to bring civilisation to the Red Planet. Their success depends on their knowledge, their expertise and sheer luck as they carve out a new existence in isolation. Earth, however, remains in turmoil; politics, population growth and the strain on already scarce resources leaves people looking up to the night sky, to that beacon of wealth, success and knowledge – Mars. Can the hundred keep hold of their grasp on Mars as it becomes a refuge to humanity? Is history doomed to repeat itself even so far from home? As the tide of humanity washes over the Red Planet, one thing is certain – Mars will never be the same again.
| The Politics |
This is a novel about human society; it’s about the conflicts, arguments and dramas which have plagued are species for time immemorial. Red Mars takes this understanding of humanity, the good, the bad and the incredibly ugly, and deposits them on a dry, cold and barren planet. Just as the skills and the ingenuity of the human colonists are displayed, so too are the petty dramas and squabbles which threaten to undermine their endeavours. Earth’s religions and cultures are thrown together in what becomes a tinder box of conflicting desires; new groups, societies, and factions vie for dominance over Mars; and selfish desire and want is often put above the democratic consensus. This is staring into the sandbox and watching life and its varying dramas unfold.
| The World |
And this is one hell of a sandbox. The worldbuilding is, in my opinion, the most spectacular thing about Red Mars. I could have been sustained on the tales of the colonisation alone. Robinson’s thorough research details every nuance of life, defining somewhere incredibly real but utterly alien at the same time. The only part of this novel which didn’t feel ‘right’ was the relative safety Mars itself presented. Robinson’s Mars is one where a political faction might do you in but industrial or environmental accidents are rare indeed! However, readers be warned! This book is slow – slow and descriptive. If you don’t like a heavy dose of descriptive worldbuilding then I seriously doubt you would enjoy Red Mars. Luckily for me, I love it!
| The People |
The story is told through a multi-viewpoint narrative, giving us the opportunity to explore the lives and motivations of a wealth of characters; to see how each of them looks and acts according to another person; and to see how they react in such a volatile environment. These are incredibly real, sometimes frustrating and often irritating characters who are loved, hated or worshipped according to individual perspectives. The main problem with this characterisation, however, is that there is no defining protagonist to back, and as the strengths and the many, many weaknesses of all characters are apparent, it is hard to single a truly likeable character out… I’m still rooting for Nadia though!
Red Mars is a fantastic read which remains a solid – nay! – monumental piece of science fiction writing. The following two books are already on my to-read list and I cannot wait to find myself back on Mars. If you’re a craving a descriptive science fiction epic, pick up this book now!