Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

I’m a geologist by training who loves to read, but rarely does my scientific training add much to books I read for fun (it’s much more likely to take away from a book due to the clear misunderstanding of science of many authors I’ve read). The books by Kim Stanley Robinson are an exception, and in my opinion are exceptional pieces of scientific fiction. The science in his books tends to be very accurate, realistic, and well described in a fashion that even the scientific illiterate can appreciate. How can I best express how Red Mars fits? My wife is a planetary geologist with a PhD dissertation about the physical properties of the surface of Mars – many of my closest friends are also planetary scientists with expertise on Mars. Red Mars is the most often talked about piece of fiction about that planet among those circles.

I suppose that you can gather from my statements above that I had high expectations about this book – I was not disappointed. Red Mars is the story of the colonization of Mars by humans. The book captures the essence of the true hostility and isolation of this environment in incredible ways and truly expresses the affects on the first humans on Mars. Mars changes everything, yet human nature prevails with all its tragic results.

This is one of those books that has the chance to be prophetic – the US has an initiative to get humans to Mars and a colony on the Moon. With the current trends of the world, the scenario presented in Red Mars is remarkably close to what might happen. I wish and hope that this isn’t how things go.

Red Mars begins in a new settlement on Mars where one of the first hundred colonists gives a speech and then manipulates newer colonists to assassinate one his fellow first hundred. This point of view shows us just that – one point of view.

Next we jump back in time to the initiation of the trip to Mars. We learn of the selection processes and see the group psychology develop on long, confined journey from Earth to Mars. We slowly step through time and point of views as our colonists journey, land, build, are joined by new colonists, argue, debate, love, and die. Human nature is bitterly exposed as we see a clash of cultures, religions, scientific opinion, government, and corporations. This is the tale of the beginning of humans on Mars, the sequels Green Mars and Blue Mars complete the history, and I’m curious to see just how Robinson does this.

As this review shows, Red Mars is more than a story about the colonization of Mars. I could not help but become very introspective while reading and certainly at the conclusion of the novel. I won’t say that the characters are in the ‘gray area’ of neither good nor bad; the more correct statement would be that they are real people. They have passionate beliefs, strong motivation, ambition, emotional problems, and high levels of intelligence. They seem truly real, not characters in a novel – a rare distinction.

On my 10-point rating scale (described here), Red Mars rates an 8.5. This is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and strongly recommend.

1 comment:

Binder of Demons said...

just wanted to say that's a pretty nice summation of a great book. One of the best "pure" SCIENCE FICTION novels i have read.
It really gives you a feeling for what a manned mission would be like, and that it could really be possible. This is the type of Sci-Fi that I loved when I was growing up, something that that made me think, "What If??".

The inevitable clash between idealism and self interest brings a further touch of realism to the story.

I personally enjoyed Green Mars more, as the speculative aspects of the story increased, and it became more of an adventure (while remaining pretty firmly grounded). Blue Mars brings it all to a conclusion, but I found the detailed politics a bit of a drag to be honest.

It remains one of the best series of believable science fiction I have read.

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