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Mars' greening is long and tedious
on July 7, 2002
Using Heinlein's classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as a blueprint, Robinson tries to portray a second Martian revolution in this sequel to his brilliant novel, Red Mars. Disappointingly, this volume is almost completely consumed by character and setting, perhaps trying to make up for the shortage of action, which doesn't really take off until the last few dozen pages. Admittedly, the crisply drawn characters and realistically invoked Martian landscapes were perhaps the best parts of the earlier book, but readers may remember that some of the best characters from Red Mars were killed off, and the new characters introduced are remarkably wooden and dull, while their contributions to the plot are so negligible that one suspects they were added merely as padding, and not because they needed to be there. As a result, this novel takes forever to get moving - the first 470 pages could easily be cut to a quarter of that length without any harm to the story whatever. In Red Mars the interior monologues informed the readers of the action taking place as well as providing intimate portraits of the men and women who colonized the planet. In this installment the monologues seem more like vague ruminations that don't move the plot at all (the first sentence of this review tells you more about the plot than the first couple of hundred pages of this tome), nor do they tell us anything terribly interesting about the characters, let alone make us like them. Robinson clearly had enough material here for a very short novel, and filled it out with the same techniques that worked so well for him in Red Mars, but by keeping the plot effectively a secret from his readers, he leaves us with nothing to do but admire the scenery and listen to some fairly unpleasant (even fanatical) people. While not exactly a bad book, it's a serious letdown from the majesty of Red Mars.