Top critical review
even worse than Red Mars
on September 25, 2002
Robinson's Red Mars formula of intriguing, well-researched colonization and terraforming technologies forming the background dressing for long-winded, asinine political polemic from a dozen cookie-cutter Ralph Nader campaigners continues here, with even less success than in the original. The laughably demonized transnational corporations are at it again, not content to wrack Earth alone with the spasms of war and environmental catastrophe which are apparently their sole modes of economic activity. The noble Marxist settlers, meanwhile, continue their endless bickering over whether the lifeless geology of Mars is a sacrosanct natural environment that can only be poisoned by the presence of humans, while stirring up in rebellion against the oppressive capitalists. While "Red Mars" made settling Mars incredibly easy, prepare to keep suspending your disbelief as a multi-talented physicist now also becomes an expert at genetically engineering life to adapt to the Mars environment, while also designing interplanetary ballistic missiles for the People's Revolution in his spare time - despite being lobotomized by the baddies.
Our red heroes also get a few new friends, including a new Mars-born generation who may or may not have supernatural hippie powers, and a few new émigrés from Earth for whom fondness for surfing replaces the white cowboy hat as the emblazoned symbol of their Good Guy status. It's a shame, because one of them starts out the novel looking like an actual meaningfully different character, and a step outside the tedious Robinson norm, in a terse scene where his frying pan symbolizes his estrangement from his wife and other attachments to Earth. As soon as he gets to Mars, though, he catches the virus that apparently infects everyone on the planet with a disease that makes them talk and act like mass-manufactured new age hippies from UC Davis.
A few slight hints at redemption are offered, such as a passage where the purple sky of the Martian dusk effectively conveys the pathos of a Russian main character, and at the end of the novel, when an intriguing engineering solution allows the rescue of a doomed city of colonists. But it's scant consolation for all the many hundreds of wasted pages of yawn-inducing rant. I actually picked up Blue Mars after finishing this one, with one iota of hope left that it might offer some redeeming virtue to explain why each of these three novels was awarded either the Hugo or Nebula Prize. A few pages into it, I gave up and swore off Robinson forever. In one emphasized passage, a young Martian proclaims, "I don't give a damn about Earth." Well baby, we don't give a damn about you either.