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Quite simply one of the greatest books I've ever read
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knowledge of the red planet has progressed over the last few decades and the science of his Mars is now somewhat out of date, he brings Mars to life at the same time as he describes his characters bringing life to Mars.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.