on 15 August 2002
The first volume of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy is absolutely magnificent. This is a book for non-SciFi readers, as well as SciFi fans: the subject matter is wide-ranging and the book kept my interest throughout.
In some ways it struck me as a 21st Century version of what it must have been like for the early colonisers in the United States.
The book is beautifully written, a pleasure to read, and manages to get inside the heads of the main characters without falling into the Dickensian trap of too much description and not enough action.
I read it cover to cover in under a week and had to buy the second book the day I finished the first one.
I would put this in my list of all-time best reads, and for me that is saying something!
on 24 August 2002
This is one of the classics of modern SF. Strangely, though, there's very little literal science fiction in there. Apart from one gimmick later on, almost all of the science in this book we could do today. And therefore the story ends up being much more about the people and the politics. When I put it down, I was struck by two thoughts. Firstly that it's very easy to forget that Robinson has never actually been to Mars to research it, since the detail is so great. And second, that when we colonise Mars, this is exactly how we'll mess it up.
on 20 December 2005
"Red Mars" in particular, and the remainder of the trilogy as a whole are quite simply the best novels I have ever read. Ever. And I have read quite a few, s/f or otherwise. I recommend this to everybody, whether they like science-fiction or not.
It starts out, as an epic soap-opera - for want of a better description - about a group of 100 carefully chosen scientists, sent on their way to establish the first permanent colony on another planet, and all their curious personal interactions. Halfway there, they decide - as one might expect to happen - if they are to start a completely new civilisation, why should they be controlled from another planet, and do everything in accordance with NASA protocol. There begins the rebellion, which - a couple of tens of thousands of new colonists later - develops into a guerilla war for the control and sovereignty of our second home.
Kim Stanley Robinson likes to set up interesting little philosophical arguments between the main characters (as in "The Years of Rice & Salt", also an excellent book), and thus we see the continual disagreement between those who believe we have a duty as intelligent space-faring beings to spread life wherever there is none, and those who believe there is intrinsic value in a barren but untouched landscape, and that it should be left well alone.
All the characters are very well thought-out and developed (Sax being my favourite), and with a few notably exceptions, all of the technology the author proposes is very "near-future".
I have no idea what was going through the minds of the people who gave this book "1 Star". They should probably tackle something less challenging first, like one of Enid Blyton's epics. This book is unashamedly big and long, but it is so, because it covers an important and epic story.
Some day we will do this for real, assuming we haven't already killed ourselves off - which is a distinct possibility.
Read it, and take it for what it is: an incredibly well-constructed epic story about the human condition, transplanted to another planet. I find this book truly inspiring, and it is one of the only few I re-read at least once every two years.
The second book is about 85% as good as the first one, and strongly recommended also. The third one mainly really ties up loose ends, and is definitely worth a read if you liked the other two, but is certainly nowhere near as groundbreaking.
READ IT. READ IT. READ IT. (Then read the other two).
on 16 December 2012
Red Mars is the first of a series of 3 books (..green and blue Mars). All of these totalize around 2500/3000 pages of real science fiction if I could say. The story gravitates around the 100 first humans to colonise the planet and their subsequent struggle to save it from earth's greedy exploitation.
For some reasons, Mars has always fascinated man's imagination. Probably because it is the most likely planet we will move next. Or is it because it could be our savior?
The series is lengthy and many people can find it boring which in some extent I could understand. Lets say if you dont like it after 200pages, you will probably not like it at all and struggle to finish the book. The books are relatively consistant in terms of rythm, style or content thus if few things anoy you, it is likely that you will suffer to read it.
For the rest of us who enjoy the Mars series, this is a monumental piece of work. i do not think the author is trying to show off his knowledge but rather wants us to open our eyes on the multi-science requirements for colonising a planet. Everything is in there: geology, climatology, sociology, ethics, revolutions and rebellions, racism, cold war legacy, politics, etc.
One of my favourite subject is the anti-ageing treatment that is commercialised few years after the initial landing. This creates havoc on earth. Imagine: Rich citizens only can access it while the remainder of the earth population is dying of hunger !
I never came across a book that asks so many questions regarding immortality: boredom, lost of memory, change of personality, polygamism, etc..
On the contrary, one of the criticism of the book is the way some characters are pictured. I tend to agree that author is trying to give them depth but it does not always work. For example, I became a bit irritated with the triple love relation between Chalmers, Maya and Boone.
On the other hand, characters such as Sax, Michel or Hiroko are a success from my point of view.
Red Mars is probably my favourite of the three. Probably mainly because it is more "ground breaking" than the others. The two others are more of a "we take the same people, the same problems and concepts and we write another book". Still, they are enjoyable but not as much as the first one.
One of the great question coming out from these books is: "by the time we would colonise Mars, would we have pacify our civiliation to not repeat the same mistakes or would we bring our problems to this new planet?"
the book becomes quite violent when the Mars revolution takes place. The repression by metanationals is quick and violent.
It seems that our civilisation, if successful in colonising other planets, would always be on the brink of disintegration or collapse and the jump and requirement for sending colons to reduce congestion on our already inhabited planets would be permanent. In other words, the inner pressure in our societies and poverty would continuously fuel a migration of colons to other better promising worlds.
on 27 February 2012
Red Mars is divided into 8 parts, each lived through a different primary character. We vicariously experience the colonization and expansion of Mars through Frank, Maya, Nadia, and mission commander John Boone, as well as Michel Duval, the psychiatrist and one member who didn't request this post, and Ann Clayborne, an irascible scientist who turns red-environmentalist. This forms within the reader an intense intimacy and understanding of each person's psychological makeup. When we discover the character of the pioneer killed in Part 1, we comprehend the profound loss to the group entire.
But Red Mars isn't tragedy... it's sheer reality. Robinson writes the best "science science-fiction" of any major author out there. Arthur C. Clarke himself wrote of Red Mars: "A staggering book... the best novel on the colonization of Mars that has ever been written... It should be required reading for the colonists of the next century." Robinson's scientific research is impeccable, as is his awesome understanding of world cultures. The reader becomes a citizen of the world by first becoming a citizen of Mars.
The men and women of Red Mars overcome much in this volume: the planet's forces, internal factions, the politics of city-building and immigration from Earth; and the joy is in the details. "It was a world of acts, and words had no more influence on acts than the sound of a waterfall has on the flow of the stream." This book spans decades of acts and actions, individual and collective. By the end of the book, Mars has undergone large-scale terraformation, introduction of biological agents, and mass emigration from Earth. The planet's potential has been noticed and exploited (in both positive and negative manner) by religious groups, transnational corporations, and Earth nation-states. The undercurrent of revolution is strong in this still colonial wilderness, and threatens to explode at any moment.The subconscious parallels made to America in this book are utterly fascinating.
on 25 January 1999
Red Mars gives an insightful view of true human nature, from different perspectives portrayed with the different characters in the book. The interaction between the characters is written superbly, with the prose giving use an idea of what people would go through if they were the only hundred people on a new planet. The interactions could be likend to the classic "Lord of the Flies", and perhaps the setting too. It gives an excellent account of what life would be like on Mars.
From the first paragraph of the book it draws you in developing the characters that you start to empathise with, seeing their points of view, feeling what they would in that situation. Robinson conveys the sense of 'being there'.
It's fantastic sci-fi too, with great attention to detail to create a beleiveable world for the first hundred to live in. From the account of the trip to Mars to the final chapters in the city, you get a very real sense of the near-future and what it contains.
When you finish it, you get the sense of having completed a great journey and, with the following Green and Blue Mars books, beginning something else. If you read it just for the sci-fi, you're missing the point.
"Red Mars" is so realistic that it almost reads like a work of narrative history documenting events that have taken place many years ago. Such is the wealth of geographical and technical detail contained in the novel, it is hard not to believe that the author hasn't already visited Mars or travelled back in time from the Red Planet to write this book. The plot is fairly straightforward in that it concerns the colonisation of Mars and its "terraforming" (artificially transforming its climate to make it like Earth) by a group of 100 men and women from Earth later this century. However the quality of the characterisation is excellent, the standard of writing high and the other-worldliness and melancholia of Mars is conveyed perfectly by the author. Mixed in with this is lots of social ,political and philosophical commentary as Man plays God in trying to set up a new Eden on Mars, but finds that a change of environment doesnt necessarily change the human condition. "Red Mars" is an intelligent and thought-provoking novel and I look forward to reading the next two novels in the trilogy.
Kim Stanley Robinson's epic Mars Trilogy chronicles humanity's colonisation of Mars, beginning in the early 21st Century and extending over a period of some two centuries. The first book, which covers a period of some forty years, sees the initial settling of Mars by the First Hundred, the welcome arrival of additional waves of colonists intent on scientific research and then the more challenging problems of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of economic migrants, refugees and outcasts on a world that is not ready for them, and the resulting tensions between the newcomers and old-timers, and between the authorities on Mars and Earth.
The success of the trilogy as a whole is debatable, but this first volume, at least, is a masterpiece. Robinson's story rotates through a number of POV characters amongst the initial settlers, the First Hundred, and it rapidly becomes clear that most of them are somewhat unreliable narrators. Maya's complaints in her own POV of her 'important problems' being ignored by the base psychiatrist are given another perspective in her friend Nadia's POV, which reveals Maya is more interested in a trivial love triangle between herself and two Americans rather than in the colonisation of Mars, whilst the psychiatrist Michel's POV reveals that he is giving Maya colossal amounts of time and attention (to the detriment of his own mental health) which is unappreciated. Character is thus built up in layers, from both internal viewpoints and external sources, making these central characters very well-realised (although characters outside the central coterie can be a little on the thin side).
However, it is Mars itself which is the central figure of the book. Robinson brings a dead planet to vivid life, emphasising the differences in terrain and character between the frozen northern polar icecap and the water-cut channels in the depths of the Valles Marineris, with the massive mountains of Tharsis towering high into the atmosphere and colonists eagerly staking claims to future beachfront properties in Hellas, the lowest point on Mars and the first place to see the benefits of terraforming. The ideas of Mars as it is now as a pristine, beautiful but harsh landscape and the habitable world it could be are sharply contrasted, and the rights and wrongs of terraforming form a core argument of the novel. I get the impression that Robinson sides with the view that the planet should be left untouched, but he is realistic enough to know this will not happen if Mars can be settled and exploited. Mars in this work becomes a success of SF worldbuilding to compete with Helliconia and Arrakis, losing only a few points for actually existing.
On the downside, Robinson hits a few bad notes. Some of these are unavoidable consequences of the book being nearly twenty years old. Even in 1992 the notion that the Chinese would not play a major role in the financing and undertaking of a Mars colonisation mission only forty years hence was somewhat fanciful, but today it is almost unthinkable. More notably, the global recession has made the possibility of a manned mission to Mars, let alone a full-scale colonisation effort, by the 2020s somewhat dubious. Of course, these are issues Robinson could not hope to predict in the early 1990s.
Other problems are more notable. Robinson goes to some lengths to make the pro-terraforming and anti-terraforming sides of the debate both understandable and intelligent, but his political sympathies are much more one-sided. The pro-Martian independence brigade have charismatic leaders and a grass-roots movement of plucky, honest-men-against-the-machine supporters to their name, whilst the pro-Earth-control movement is led by a fundamentalist conservative Christian and resorts to weapons and mass-slaughter extremely easily. Robinson, to his credit, recognises this problem in later books and tries to repair the damage somewhat (Phyllis, presented extremely negatively in Red Mars, is shown in a more sympathetic light in later volumes), but there remains a feeling of political bias in this first volume. In addition, it sometimes feels that Robinson really wants the reader to know about the years of research he put into the book, with tangents and divergences which make the book feel like half a novel and half a factual science volume on how the possible colonisation of Mars might happen. For those fascinated by the real-life plans to terraform Mars (like me) this isn't an issue, but for some it may be. It is also, by far, the biggest problem the sequels face.
Nevertheless, the sheer, massive scope and complexity of Red Mars makes up for this. There is an overwhelming feeling running through this novel unlike almost any other hard SF novel ever published, that this might actually happen. Maybe not as soon as 2027, maybe not with such a determined push towards colonisation and terraforming right from the off, but one day, barring the collapse of our civilisation, we will go to Mars, and many of the challenges and problems faced by the First Hundred in this book are issues that will need to be overcome to make that possibility a reality.
Plus, and this cannot be undervalued, the dry and more sedentary tone of the earlier parts of the book are made up for by the final 100 pages or so, which contains one sequence which ranks amongst the most memorable and stunning moments of SF imagery achieved in the history of the genre to date. Robinson may have the image of being a bit of a laidback Californian optimist, but he sets to blowing stuff up at the end of the book with a relish that makes even Greg Bear look unambitious.
Red Mars (****½) is an awe-inspiring feat of SF worldbuilding and a vital novel on the colonisation of our neighbouring world, let down by a few moments of naivete and simplistic straw-manning of political points of view not to Robinson's liking. Overcoming this, the central characters are fascinating, the sheer scope of the book is stunning and the climatic revolution sequence is dramatic and spectacular.
on 20 July 2001
This book is heavy going, often switching character focus leading to many storylines running simultaneously. However this also leads to well developed characters and you gain a good understanding of the way the relationships develop between them. True, at times I did struggle and had to flick back a few times to remind myself what was going on but it builds up to a very thrilling end and I will definitely be buying the following two books in the trilogy (Green Mars & Blue Mars) to see how things turn out.
on 31 May 2003
This is one of the best and most realistic sci-fi stories ever written, from the technical data on terraforming mars to animal evolution. This book has it all, from the first man to step foot on the red planet, to life, death, murder, revolution. The humanity of this book is simply astounding. The end of this book will have you buying Green Mars and then Blue Mars. Simply put this book is an Epic, a must read for any sci-fi lover.