Red Mars

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redmars.jpg

Kim Stanley Robinson

GENRES:
Hard Sci-Fi, Environment, Adventure, Space

SUMMARY:
In the near future, 100 scientists and technicians have left Earth to found a colony on Mars. Their mission is to explore the planet and make it habitable for future colonists. These first hundred are made up mostly of Soviets, led by fiery Maya Toitovna, and Americans, led by cynical Frank Chalmers and iconic John Boone, although other nationalities are scattered throughout the group.

After coping with the long journey to Mars and associated social dynamics, the colonists get to work exploring and building on the red planet. A faction of colonists settle on the moon Phobos under the leadership of Arkady Bogdanov, a jovial dissident who proposes a radical new social and economic agenda for the new civilisation. Fractures also appear within the colonial group as well as back on Earth over the best environmental strategy for the planet, with one extreme believing it should be left as pristine as possible and the other advocating total global transformation.

Over time, both the planet and the colonists are irrevocably changed as a new social and economic order is born on Mars.

RESPONSE:
I often struggle with hard science fiction, not only because it actually requires me to pay attention and think, but also because I frequently find the characters two-dimensional and boring. If I can't identify with or be entertained by a character in a novel, it ruins a lot of the pleasure I get out of reading it. Unfortunately, many hard science fiction novels focus so intently on plot and principles that the characters seem to be tacked on almost as an afterthought.

Red Mars does not suffer from this problem. This novel is chock full of colourful and complex characters, and it's a testament to Robinson's writing skills that the sheer number of characters does not detract from the reader's empathy with them. Even more impressively, Robinson alternates his narrative perspective throughout the novel, thereby revealing surprising and sometimes unsettling sides to characters that the reader may have previously categorised as loved or hated, good or bad, intelligent or dull. For example, Maya seems quite rational and put-upon when the story is presented through her eyes, but she seems highly volotile and emotional when viewed through the perspective of Nadia, an extremely practical and stoic engineer.

Of course, this is after all a science fiction novel, and a damn good one at that. Red Mars is steeped in information about the planet. It's all covered here: geology, atmospheric science, and history of human exploration. Robinson has included an incredible amount of knowledge and has obviously done his research on Mars. Even more impressively, this information is so tightly woven into the multiple storylines that it never feels forced. The terraforming technology is cleverly presented and also lets Robinson explore themes of environmental purity and sustainability that ring true regardless of what planet you're talking about.

Red Mars is a meaty book with interlocking storylines and multiple themes of corporate control, economic and environmental sustainability, and social unrest. On one hand, the novel reveals the absolute wonder that science can offer, and on the other, it shows how easily people can screw it up.

POINT BLANK:
A rare gem - Epic hard sci-fi with fully-developed characters!