on November 17, 2015
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy is an astounding work of fiction. If were not in the genre ghetto that even the best science fiction gets stuffed into, I'm convinced it would be taught in literature courses around the world for its elegant plotting, delicately explored themes, and keen insight into a wide variety of human experiences. The trilogy features epiphanic moments, heart-pounding action sequences, political debates, and lots of great science fiction ideas. Like all great literature, it has the potential to be life-altering if it comes along at a point in your life when you're open to it.
Robinson is gifted when it comes to characterization. There is an omniscient third person narrator, but each section focuses on a particular point-of-view character that sometimes subtly and sometimes drastically alters the way the story is told, depending on each character's interests and propensities. A scientist studying the changing planet, a politician dealing with an explosive political situation, and an idealistic and charismatic celebrity will all experience a shared series of events in very different ways, and Robinson gets this across with such finesse that you barely even realize he's doing it.
Robinson's Mars is a place that feels real. While scientific knowledge of the red planet has progressed over the last few decades and the science of his Mars is now somewhat out of date, he brings Mars to life at the same time as he describes his characters bringing life to Mars. Alien landscapes are not only effectively described, but Robinson helps the reader understand how and why these landscapes begin to shape the philosophies and behaviors of the colonists in the same way real Earth cultures are affected by their geography.
It's not a perfect book. An early point-of-view character is an engineer, obsessed with tools and construction projects, and this section has been a major stumbling block for several people I've spoken to. Readers expecting scifi action may be disappointed by the pages devoted to listing tools and digging trenches, but even though this character's section has a great and moving pay off, it may still be too much for some readers.
There is no book I have recommended to as many people as the Mars trilogy, and nearly all of them have loved it. You owe it to yourself to pick up the first volume, Red Mars, and check it out for yourself.
on April 30, 2003
The colonization of the Solar System has been a big topic in science fiction for decades, and yet no book on the subject has met with as much success as Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series. The explanation is simple. When writing these books, Robinson went to great lengths to include every aspect of how human life would change on another planet. When describing the first manned mission to Mars and the experience of the "First Hundred" settlers, he looks in depth at all sorts of topics ranging from psychology (How would it feel to be constantly faced by a planet that appeared completely different from Earth?) to the politics of terraforming (Would everybody agree to plans to introduce life and create a biosphere on Mars, or would some people resist?) Robinson displays solid scientific knowledge in an incredible array of fields, and carefully weaves descriptions of the scientific progress that gets made into the story of the settlers' efforts to colonize the planet.
One of the best facets of "Red Mars" is the incredible description of the landscapes of Mars. Robinson gives a lot of thought to the topic of what the planet would actually look like to explorers standing on it from ground level. These sequences help set this book apart from other efforts where the planet is simply described as being red and rocky and left at that. When reading these descriptions, you can't help but share the belief of some of the characters that Mar's desolate terrain has its very own form of beauty. Of particular note are the landscapes during one character's voyage to the polar ice cap near the start of "Red Mars", and when a group of characters are navigating a dangerous canyon near the book's conclusion. Robinson also makes good use of the unique elements of geology and weather on Mars. For instance, when there's a gigantic dust storm on the planet, he gives convincing portrayals not just of the storm itself, but also of the depressing and claustrophobic effect that it has on the settlers when they aren't able to see more than a few feet when outdoors.
The story is told from the perspective of several different characters, each of them being the center of attention for about fifty pages. Some critics have complained about the quality of characterization in Robinson's books. It's definitely true that they don't have the same complexity as characters should have in true literature. However, they are satisfactory for telling the story that the author wants to tell. When two people have a discussion or argument in "Red Mars", it actually sounds genuine and convincing, and there are some interesting looks at how differences in policy and worldview affect the relationship between characters.
As a conclusion, let me say something in response to those reviewers who insist on judging the book by the author's politics rather than by the content of the book itself. "Red Mars" contains some amount of political and social commentary, although it occupies only a fairly small portion of the six hundred page work. For instance, there's a brief section where one character must resolve a dispute between business leaders and laborers who are upset about their living conditions on Mars. Well, this is just another example of what I mentioned earlier, which is that Robinson carefully considered every aspect of what conditions would be like for early settlers on another planet, and his explanation of the situation struck me as being very realistic. In Robinson's vision of the future, gigantic corporations work to undermine and supplant national governments on Earth as well as to control Mars; some have complained that this is unrealistic. But those of us who keep up with world events know that we're already starting to see the beginning of such a trend right now, so there''s nothing unreasonable about predicting that it will continue in the future.
on March 28, 2003
The three books in Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars Trilogy" are my absolute all-time-favorites. He is truly gifted at writing about advanced science and technology and equally adept at creating "real" characters, because he understands psychology. This is a rare talent: to be scientifically knowledgable and a master at creating believable characters. The books are part action, part scientific explanation (like Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame), and part character development.
In "Red Mars" (the first in the series) Robinson paints a totally believable picture of what our future might be like as we get ready to explore and colonize Mars. Mega-corporations, earthly power struggles, and the selection process for determining who might get to be the first to go to Mars, are all very possible and Robinson crafts a story around these topics with ease.
In the second book, "Green Mars," Robinson portrays the struggle to get vegetation growing and to create a breathable atmosphere. He also describes more political struggles between those on Earth and those on Mars. This was probably my favorite of the three, but mainly because I am more interested in the science that would be needed in this phase of colonization.
In the third book, "Blue Mars," the planet become more Earth-like. The atmosphere is more developed, water travel becomes possible, and more. (I don't want to give it all away!)
The books can be kind of scholarly at times, but I was so impressed with these books that I gave them to my teenage brother. He was so impressed with them, that he gave them to one of his very best pals. And we all had a blast discussing them together. If there is a teenage male in your life -- or if you love sci-fi and have always wondered what it might be like to go to Mars -- then this trilogy is definitely for you. Very highly recommended!
on June 1, 2002
before you pick this book up, there are some things you should know about it...and about yourself
first off, if you are not the kind of sci-fi fan who likes in depth scientific stuff...
put this down
you will be bored out of your mind, or find yourself skimming over things.
if you like, or at least mildly interested in biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, and just science in general...then read on
for me, this was one of the things that made the book enjoyable. i find a lot of sci-fi authors just gloss over the science aspects of their books. robinson takes the time to explain things (sometimes in quite a lot of detail).
about the book itself.
the book details the colonization of mars, from the start. the book begins in medius rex...(in the middle of things) with the murder of one of the central charecters.
after the murder, you flash back to the beginning of the colinization, from the trip out, to the establishment of the settlements
the main charecters are the 'first hundred', the first 100 settlers to mars. there are a few other charecters who pop up, all quite interesting, that are not from the 100. each of the 8 segments of the book follows around one different charecter (one of the 100), and their interactions with everything.
the human aspects of this book are incredibly poignant, and very touching. combining this with the time setting (relatively near future...2020-2060) this makes the charecters very believable.
the major conflict comes in when additional emigrants begin making the sojourn to mars. initially they are simply more explorers and scientists, who plan on staying on the planet for life. the trouble comes when transnational corporations (think microsoft + aoltimewarner + general motors + general electric and you get the idea of the money and power behind them) who have grown more powerful and wealthy than all but about ten countries, start to send people up, to mine for metals. the transnationals have approached mars as an untapped resource, and will stop at nothing to get their way.
over all, this is one of the most well written books i have had the pleasure of reading in quite a while.
on May 22, 2002
"Red Mars" is an astonishing achievement. As "hard science fiction" (ie, SF which is scientifically accurate), it rates high, though I did detect a few errors -- some possibly just typos -- in the area of astronautics. Still, it is clear that Robinson has great knowledge of and love for planetary geology and chemistry. His extensive discussions of the planet may even be boring for some readers, but I found them fascinating and highly believeable.
Especially insightful -- almost spookily prescient even, in the light of recent images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor mission -- is the understanding that there is a real possibility of large amounts of subsurface water and ice; even though the surface itself cannot sustain liquid water due to the presently very thin atmosphere. However, it is plausible that liquid water could be trapped just a little below the surface, sealed under a hard- frozen layer of permafrost, somewhat as a liquid ocean seems to be present under the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa. The extent and accessability of such water is likely to crucially affect the economics and near-future development of any human settlements on the planet.
Fascinating as this all is to hard core space buffs, the real interest of the book is political and human. Robinson has what seems to be a very sophisticated understanding of the rich human complexities that may plausibly shape our future settlements in space, a vision that is both non-judgemental and I think pretty realistic, yet which is filled with hope and a fond appreciation for the human spirit and its heroism in the face of vast difficulites.
on April 6, 2002
The red planet comes to life in this brilliantly conceived and stunningly
executed novel from Kim Stanley Robinson. The story opens with a brutal
murder that takes place amidst the buzz of the annual festival. From there,
we go on an extended flashback that describes how the original 100 settlers
(a sampling of the world's brightest, if not necessarily most stable minds)
first colonized Mars. Summarizing their training, we get to know many of
the personalities intimately on the long voyage out, and as the initial
settlement is established. Like Faulkner, Robinson changes the point of
view with each section to give a variety of viewpoints on what was done and
why, allowing the reader to decide who is right and who is wrong. Returning
to the present, we see the fruits of their labors: several domed cities,
thousands of residents, a working space elevator (based on the Arthur C.
Clarke design), and a radical genetic treatment that will vastly alter what
it means to be human. But there are dangers present as well, and the
resulting catastrophe makes for an unforgettable climax to a masterfully
There's a lot to love about this book: the painstakingly detailed
descriptions of the Martian landscape, the attendant environmental concerns,
the even more pressing psychosocial problems, the mysteries of the stowaway
and the lost colony and the assassination all work together to form a Mars
that is more alive than any other. The powerful personalities at play in
this story, and their failure to come to terms with the greater issues at
stake, set this book apart from everything else in the field. A simply
overwhelming experience that doesn't let up through 500 pages; this reviewer
read it in less than a week, it was so gripping. Some day, man may really
try to conquer the planets, but for today, Red Mars is the next best thing
to being there.
on April 3, 2002
Nominally a future-history of Martian colonization, Red Mars covers the initial 100 Martian colonists, the influx of workers as corporations attempt to exploit the planet's resources, and the consequences as conditions worsen. The book is divided into eight parts, each telling the story from the point of view of one of six characters. Each character is interesting and three dimensional. The first, Frank Chalmers, is a stunning example - a machiavellian sociopath who arranges the murder of his best friend. The book suggests early on that the characters are dysfunctional, but most are not, and Robinson describes each personality in a way that's easy to relate to. Most readers will see some of themselves in every character, and will be moved when many disappear from the story as events unfurl.
Robinson's prose is easy to read and descriptive. He lovingly describes the Martian landscape, and the events that change the planet. He explains the processes and technologies being used to make the planet more habitable. Mars and its future is viewed through different cultures and ideologies. And Robinson describes political and social systems evolving, growing, and collapsing - the only challenges the colonists seem unable to solve are those that cannot be fixed technologically. The ending is dramatic and, cheesy last line notwithstanding, overwhelming.
A word about the politics: Several reviewers have trouble understanding the concept of sympathetic characters not representing the author. Nobody argues that, through Chalmers, Robinson is advocating murder, so why assume that characters portrayed as idealistic hot-heads advocating an enlightened Utopia (not communism) are attempts to convert readers to Marxism? Robinson's prediction of a near future where a handful of democratically unaccountable transnational corporations wield more power than governments is neither unreasonable nor extremist propaganda nor unique; nor is it that people sick of these conditions might reject them for something Utopian, and might make up a sizable proportion of those wanting to leave Earth. Robinson is describing what might happen and why, rather than pushing a particular ideology. It is notable that the consequences of the actions of most of the first 100 are hardly positive: why would an author promote a vision of an enlightened Utopia by having for it such divided, belligerent, builders?
If Red Mars has faults, they are that it is fairly humourless, and some of the science (nothing, fortunately, important to the principle of convincing the reader that colonization is possible) is somewhat stretched.
There are no ray-guns or bug-eyed aliens: there is much to think about. If you're looking for an airport novel, go read L. Ron Hubbard. If you can watch CNN talking 23 hours a day about scandals effecting minor Democrats, and still grumble "Darned liberal bias", you may be too right-wing to cope with fictional characters disagreeing with you; go read some "Doc" Smith or something instead. Otherwise the reader needs patience and a willingness to get inside a whole range of radically different characters. Most of the book is interesting, but the climax is especially so.
Posing more problems than answers, Red Mars leaves the reader uneasy about humanity's progress, with a mix of optimism about what we can do, and pessimism for what we are likely to do; it portrays characters the reader can feel for, and a planet to fall in love with. What a wonderful book.
on October 31, 2001
Red Mars was an outstanding novel. It is only barely hard science fiction (the robotics are incredibly advanced for a story taking place a mere 25 years from now and the longevity treatments seem less likely than overt genetic manipulation of embryos) but none of the laws of physics are broken open, so I guess you have to call it hard sci-fi (so don't expect to go anywhere faster than light or anything like that with this one).
The story is not very fast paced and if you tend to not like books that move at anything less than a breakneck speed, you probably won't have the patience for this one. But, if you like carefully reasoned stories full of big ideas on big stages, then buy the whole trilogy. Right now. You will find them especially enjoyable if you have a background in the sciences (well...the physical sciences anyways...I can't speak for biologists) but I think you'd like them even if you didn't. Unless you have a solid background in geology and planetary science you will not be able to avoid learning *something* from this book about the planet Mars.
on August 26, 2001
I don't remember when I first got this book, or had the idea to read it. It was a long time ago (I think I was 14, I'm now 17). However, like all good things, my experience with this book rose from a bed of murkiness to become a defining moment of my life. Since I read it a few years ago in the whirlwind of pre-teenagerhood, I don't remember many specifics. What I do remember is a wonderfully captivating story in a setting that is unbelievable. My whole life I've been searching for a book that quenches my thirst for knowledge, science fiction, and the like. This is it. Some of my favourite parts are: The trip to Mars. Now that is just cool, it's like a traveling home. I loved that part. The formation of the Trans-nats. It's so truthful...I mean who doesn't think that'll happen to our all-too real world? The Space Elevator connecting to Clarke (and later New Clarke, hehehe). And most of all, Burroughs. Who couldn't love Burroughs, the majestic capital of Mars? For those who have read the other two books, you're in for a sad surprise :(. That's about all I have to say about this book. READ IT!
on June 24, 2001
I could easily write a book on why I love Kim Stanley Robinson, and especially why I love his Mars series. But briefly: Robinson's writing style is very tight, very beautiful prose in the "hard sf" tradition. His science is amazingly realistic and painstakingly researched (not that I'm familiar with every detail he mentions, but he presents his fiction based on fact, in a way that is comfortingly convincing). These novels don't stop at science, however. The near-future he describes includes political and social environments that have visible roots in our world. His is a future that we could all belong to, and build ourselves. It is by no means a perfect world, which of course makes it all the more believable, but it is one that I would want to experience. Although I don't think I'll personally make it to Mars, I certainly believe in the Mars Robinson has created.
I also love Robinson for his philosophies of life. His portrayal of the ways in which humans can and should live as part of their environment have made me take stock of the way I live, down to the very house I should live in. The communities he describes are full of interesting, intelligent people that often don't get along, but would never, ever be boring. And the parties are just fantastic.
I also love how thought-provoking the series is, not just in terms of one central idea, but on every level. I have found a synthesis of ideas on everything from personal relationships to government to religion in these books, all of which apply directly to my life.
The bottom line: As I read this series, especially RED MARS, I built Mars alongside the First Hundred. I invested my life and emotion into this new planet and new chance for humanity, at least in my mind, and it changed my way of thinking about how I am living this life on this planet. I don't think this is a book for everyone, but if you're susceptible to daydreaming and are interested in a worldview that has nothing and everything to do with this world, read this series.