In his most ambitious project to date, award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson utilizes years of research & cutting-edge science in the 1st of a trilogy chronicling the colonization of Mars:
For eons, sandstorms have swept the desolate landscape. For centuries, Mars has beckoned humans to conquer its hostile climate. Now, in 2026, a group of 100 colonists is about to fulfill that destiny.
John Boone, Maya Toitavna, Frank Chalmers & Arkady Bogdanov lead a terraforming mission. For some, Mars will become a passion driving them to daring acts of courage & madness. For others it offers an opportunity to strip the planet of its riches. For the genetic alchemists, it presents a chance to create a biomedical miracle, a breakthrough that could change all we know about life & death. The colonists orbit giant satellite mirrors to reflect light to the surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth. Massive tunnels, kilometers deep, will be drilled into the mantle to create stupendous vents of hot gases. Against this backdrop of epic upheaval, rivalries, loves & friendships will form & fall to pieces--for there are those who will fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed.
Brilliantly imagined, breathtaking in scope & ingenuity, Red Mars is an epic scientific saga, chronicling the next step in evolution, creating a world in its entirety. It shows a future, with both glory & tarnish, that awes with complexity & inspires with vision.
Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer, probably best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy.
His work delves into ecological and sociological themes regularly, and many of his novels appear to be the direct result of his own scientific fascinations, such as the 15 years of research and lifelong fascination with Mars which culminated in his most famous work. He has, due to his fascination with Mars, become a member of the Mars Society.
Robinson's work has been labeled by reviewers as "literary science fiction".
I just finished reading this for the second or third time. I wish I could bump this up to 3.5 stars, which more reflects what I feel about it.
To begin with, I should come forward with my biases. This is a book you'll either love or you will hate. For my part, I love the planet Mars. Or at least, I love the idea of the planet Mars, because I've never been there. I'd love to go though. If someone from NASA told me that I could go to Mars, and there was only a 50/50 chance I'd survive, I'd be like, "That good, huh? I'm sold. Let's do it. When do we leave?" My wife might talk me out of it (she hates the cold), but if I didn't have obligations to family, I'd be there in a heartbeat. I've got this big wall poster of Mars, laid out in all its plucky glory - the Tharsis bulge, the big volcanoes, the massive flood erosion systems. I want to walk on its surface under the red sky and feel the thin cold wind, and this is a book for Mars geeks by a Mars geek. Like Nadia, I want to wildly dance for joy on the Martian dust. If you don't love or can't love the idea of Mars, then all the talk of its ferrous oxides, sulfur drifts, salt pans, and garnet sands is going to bore you to tears. If you do however love Mars, reading this is something like biting into a big decadent layered fair trade organic chocolate bar with 71% dark rich Costa Rican cocoa. So that's my bias, and I think it's a good one, but if you can't entertain thoughts like that be prepared to be bored by like half this novel.
So what is this novel about? Well, obviously, it's about Mars, but more than that it is about humans on Mars and how people establish an identity and a cultural identity in particular. It is a story about the tension between existing cultural identities and ways of looking at the world and adapting and adopting new identities. It's a story about conflicting mutually exclusive goals, and how we go about resolving - or more often than not - failing to resolve our differences. In that I think the book succeeds marvelously, because the resulting Martian culture with all its disparate influences seems in many ways believable to me and even in some ways compelling so that I'm sucked into it and want to proclaim my allegiance to the Red or Green tradition, and twitter stories about Big Man and where I was when Boone died around the nuclear-powered blog fire.
The best part of the story by far is that KSR doesn't attempt to tell a story as big as the colonization of Mars from the perspective a single person. Instead, the story sprawls across a huge cast of characters and expanse of time. Our viewpoint shifts from one major character to another, and people we thought we understood suddenly seem strange and different when seen from within or through someone else's eyes. Like many sci-fi authors, KSR can have his didactic moments, but unlike many his are softened by the fact that none of his characters are in and of themselves really the voice of the author. All of the characters even the most heroic turn out to have flaws of one sort or another, and so rather than being forced to read the dialogue as 'KSR believes this and is willing to hit you over the head with it', you can read the politics as 'John or Arkady (or Saxifrage or whoever) believes this, just as many real people do'. The politics of Mars as KSR envisions them turn out to be messy, very human, often petty, and with few simple answers and little in the way of clear answers and simple solutions. That's refreshing, even when KSR's biases are showing.
So why not more stars? Well, the book has big Martian sized problems to go along with its delights. For me, the chief of these is how easy the conquest of Mars is made to seem. It reads like the conquest of Mars as written by someone that has never even been camping, much less someone acquainted with the hardships of an outdoor life. Given the enormous challenges of living on a planet with a thin poisonous atmosphere, a surprisingly small portion of the book is devoted to the theme of 'Man vs. Nature' and most of the time when it is, the cause of the conflict is man's own efforts - as if Mars in its natural state isn't absolutely deadly to human life. I personally have a hard time imagining that something on the scale of the colonization of Mars would be safer, less arduous, and less fraught with danger and hardship than say the colonization of the New World. KSR just doesn't seem particularly interested in that part of the story, which to my mind is perhaps the most critical part of the story.
Instead, all the meticulous scientific research is undermined by hand waving all the hard problems away with a wave of the techno-magic wand. The colonization of Mars begins not on a comparative shoe string, but with an abundance of material massing at least one-hundred thousand times the mass of everything we've ever lifted into orbit. Energy sources are never scarce, and manufacturing capacity quickly soars to an unlimited degree. Technological challenges are quickly overcome by the liberal application of newfoundium and sometimes unobtainium. Almost everyone who dies dies through direct or indirect human agency. Accidents, especially serious ones, just don't seem to happen - Arkady's all to believable problem runs are confined to simulators. Thus, all the quite evident bloody striving of the author to create a believable story of planetary colonization is largely wasted and at times the story resembles just another escapist far future space opera.
But most of the rest of the novel's problems are also its strengths. Its sprawling scale is suited to the story, but makes it easy to get lost. It's changing points of view and flawed heroes means on the other hand that the book lacks a consistently sympathetic protagonist to get behind and root for. It doesn't help the matter that many of the most likable characters end up dead.
It's not a book for everyone, but since humanity seems unlikely to grow up and start thinking about leaving the nest in my lifetime, this is probably as close to Mars as you or I will come. And, though it is a flawed story, it's still an extremely powerful and often moving one that I have little doubt will be read with interest and appreciation by anyone that actually does take up the struggle to live on and with Earth's redder sibling.
What a vision, what a detailed description of both the hard science and humanities escalating towards misuse by politics, economics, ideology, and faith.
The cognitive dissonance between high tech and naked ape primitivity As always, by the way, there seems to be close to no sci-fi author who doesn´t include some kind of dystopic nightmare in contrast to the tech utopia, always with the soft, wet, biological components, us, lacking the competence to control primitive instincts, dominant alpha behavior, and war. It´s so ironic, because advanced future machines would make cornucopia style post scarcity UBI unicorn rainbow fun possible, but these stupid robots didn´t reckon with simian madness.
Know your taste This is one of the cases where it´s very important to know your genre preferences, because reading this, or Neal Stephenson, Alastair Reynolds, or hard sci fi and extremely info dumpy hard sci fi and space opera in general, without an interest in the genre and its science, would be a torture for readers used to conventional storytelling, explaining some of the bad ratings. That´s also why I am doing genre checks before I am leaving my comfort zone, for instance to especially and definitively avoiding genres I won´t enjoy, let´s say YA romantic werewolf wizard ghoul fantasy MM series. See? Reading isn´t as easy as one thinks, one should consider this before getting frustrated, which can easily be avoided and, if it´s still happening and one´s own fault, shouldn´t be compensated by ranting about the authors and flaming and trolling the poor übernerds.
Not as good as the titans Robinson isn´t as great at characterization, plotting, or action as other genre behemoths, but he´s very good at making science, theories, and the whole process of colonizing, terraforming, and expanding the sphere of human influence vivid, the technical aspect and philosophical theorizing fills huge spaces of the work.
Next, ultra absolute zero, cold war in space I am wondering if not just his technical, but also his political forever quarrel ideas and visions will come true, but I consider the second part very improbable in the near space colonialization and asteroid mining future. Why? Because the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine worked pretty well on earth and will, with an eye on the power balance on good old blue origin be the same in space too and, more importantly, because big money, companies, and conglomerates will share the market, not interested in destroying each other's infrastructure with nonprofitable wars, telling the governments to stay peaceful. The same is the only reason for peace on earth. It doesn´t really matter if it´s the government owning the companies in dictatorships, or conversely the European and US model of governments owned by companies as long as we get our beautiful eggs out of one basket as soon as possible.
Long term perspective In a few hundred or thousand years, when these first explorers will have become the new superpowers, the situation might change drastically, because this sweet little asteroid belt right next to Mars with gassy Jupiter as a neighbor could be interesting to mine and develop space mining alone after centuries of peaceful coexistence, building and producing infrastructure of immense scale without competition, because anything could be produced in a dimension unthinkable of on earth, when one can´t just pick the resources needed out of the sky to mass produce in zero gravity.
I subjectively deem mobile Mongol style, Go Genghis!, with huge mining and war fleets one of the best options, because nobody could beat an enemy who invested everything in a fleet and has no home bases to attack.
An extremely detailed and ridiculously well researched novel on the colonization of Mars, this book is absolutely maddening. The characters veer from believable three dimensional humans to weird caricatures and plot devices within a few pages. And the author's exploration of the political implications of a newly habitable planet filled with resources for civilization is at first fascinating and then just boring. At least five or six times someone would yell out "This isn't like the discovery of the New World on Earth! This is Mars!" And occasional flashes of drama are intercut with some of the most boring passages I have ever read; I swear to god at least a fifth of this book was just descriptions of people driving endless distances around Mars and writing about the landscape in flat prose. With a harsh editing job this could have been a great book. As is it's a lumbering Frankenstein monster with all the seams showing.
When primitive man looked up at the heavens wondering what that red light was during the cold nights trying to keep warm in the long dark, they told stories around the camp fires about the mysterious object, the best liars and fables were remembered and from generation to generation these tales were believed, until modern times. Even at the start of the twentieth century, some astronomers saw canals on the red planet. But progress continues to roll relentlessly, and science catches up and dull reality discovered . People of Earth will have to make that distant, hostile world livable and forever change the beautiful rock, so the greedy and the adventurous can live there. Finally technology arrives and spaceships are sent by the blue planet. John Boone leads that first expedition in the year 2020? and steps down alone becoming an icon, the man on Mars famous everywhere back home, however radiation from the Sun causes major damage to his body the deadly rays will always harm humanoids, unless the 4th planet is altered. John immense prestige at the highest levels on Earth, sends a second visit to Mars vastly more advanced than the previous one, with a huge sophisticated spaceship and 100 passengers inside, biologists , geologists, physicians, astronauts, physicists and builders. The colonists will need shelter, little atmosphere breathable in fact deadly gases there. Ares (Greek god of War) the rocketship, blasts off on December 21st, 2026 from Earth orbit, much easier than from below saving a lot of precious fuel but still takes an endless , boring nine months to get to their destination, by a slow rotation of that vessel a gravity one -fourth of terrestrial is made yet the leery Russians and Americans live separate existences on ship, they comprise 70 of the crews members of equal numbers. The other 30 are split from different nations. After many tests, along with everyone else John Boone, gets on board also, so does his rival and jealous friend Frank Chalmers, a fellow astronaut still more a politician with hate. Maya Toitovna, leader of the Russians falls in love with Frank and then John, a sticky situation causing much friction, she can't make up her mind . Landing at last the crew scatters, to every part of the weird planet seeking a place to live. The pink sky the desolate surface more orange than red, full of craters, temperatures often - 100 F, brilliant stars in the evening, the short horizons and the small dot above they say is Terra, it will take a while to get used to it. The building begins and very slowly the huge land starts to be modified, a little. Nadia Russian master builder from frozen Siberia makes homes for the people underground, Arkady, Russian engineer, anarchist and independence seeker for his new world, goes up to one of the two moons Phobos, (Deimos, is the other) it looks like a potato ... to help in communications with his former planet, has his own ideas. Sax Russell, American physicist who wants to transform Mars and make like Earth. Anne an American geologist, she likes this sphere as it is and will fight for that. Hiriko Ai, Japanese biologist and a person who can grow anything on the surface of this unfriendly place in greenhouses, they need her, the crops save all from starvation. These colonists will have cult followers soon. The United Nations and big corporations who paid the bills want the benefits returned, billions of dollars and conflicts begin immediately between the two worlds...you may change the planets, but humans never do ...
Update: I found my copies on eBay! Now, let’s hope they get here!
Son of a damn it!!! I was surprised I loved the hell outta this book and of course I can’t find my paperback copy! I listened to this on the library’s audio and I swear it better not have ended up in the trade in box!! I want the other two books in the old cover like this one I’m supposed to own. I went to order them and they changed the damn covers. I mean the new covers are pretty. FINE! But I want the the covers like the one I had/have. Looked on one online used store and they have the hardbacks in good condition, which means shit condition. Besides, I want the mass markets! I can only hope my used bookstore has them when I can ever get over there.
Anyway, that was an impromptu rant!! So, I loved it!! I want all three in the covers I want. The end!
“History was like some vast thing that was always over the tight horizon, invisible except in its effects. It was what happened when you weren't looking -- an unknowable infinity of events, which although out of control, controlled everything.”
Red Mars is a fantastic beginning to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy. The book is part science, part character study and a lot of adventure as mankind colonizes (and begins to change) the red planet. But it's not just Mars that is changed. Those who colonize Mars are profoundly impacted by the new environment as are the next generation (the real Martians who might be part of mankind's future?). Red Mars is not always an easy read, but it has a big payoff for those who stick with it! And the next two books are great!
It's by no means a bad book, it just wasn't a book that I was enjoying reading. I came to the conclusion that life is short and I would, instead, read a book that wouldn't let me stop turning the pages.
This is a very dry, hard science book. I was a research scientist for 20 years so it's not a question of understanding, just interest. There was half a page where a new PoV character just listed all her tools. Later there were two pages and a diagram regarding the Martian year, time-keeping etc. I said to myself 'I don't want to read this', so I skipped the pages, but then I thought that skipping isn't fair to the author - read the book or don't. Don't read some random approximation to the book. It just wasn't for me - I like strong characters and strong emotion.
But for those looking for a hard-science sci-fi in the mode of the Arthur C. Clarke this may well tick all your boxes. It's clearly popular and highly rated for a reason, and the fact I bounced off it is entirely a matter of personal taste.
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.
On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.
While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).
Strictly speaking, Red Mars wasn’t part of my reading list as it didn’t win the Locus Sci-Fi award (Bujold’s Barrayar beat it to the 1992 award). But it’s the first book in Robinson's Mars Trilogy, and as the second (Green) and third (Blue) books both were on the list for winning the award, I felt I needed to read Red Mars to properly appreciate its sequels.
If I’m being completely honest, that should say ‘re-read’ because I had read Red Mars once before, back in my early teens. First time around I didn’t really get it. I remembered it being too slow, too dry and too serious to enjoy. As such, when I began my Locus mission I was apprehensive about coming back to pick-up the series.
Aside from the Mars trilogy, Robinson had one other book on my list – The Years of Rice and Salt. I plumped for that one first as it had less negative associations and took it on my honeymoon as holiday reading. I loved it! (and have given it a 5 star review). Rice and Salt convinced me to disregard my teenage impressions and approach the Mars Trilogy from a blank slate, with an open mind.
The cover boldly declares Red Mars to be ‘the ultimate in future history’. It’s a phrase I found myself returning to repeatedly when describing the book to friends.
Let me start by stating that this book is good. It’s very good. It covers a broad spectrum of sci-fi themes in a carefully considered, extremely believable way. The science, politics, sociology and philosophy all mesh together in a troubled terraforming tale of the first hundred scientists to settle on Mars.
The characters aren’t always likeable, but they are always utterly convincing. The plot isn’t quite a page-turner, but I frequently found myself pondering it whenever I put the book down. I wasn’t exactly amazed by the author’s vivid imagination, but I was truly and deeply impressed with the depth of knowledge and scientific understanding that underpin every sentence.
The phrase ‘future history’ seems so apt, because Red Mars has the same devoutly researched feel of a historical novel. We go through the story with a handful of characters, feeling the twists and turns from their perspective, but there’s always an objective distance, as if describing respected historical events. There’s very little levity or humour to be found – it’s inarguably a very dry book.
Two of the characters introduced in this book, Nadia Chernyshevski and Sax Russell have secured their own little corner of my heart. I feel as if I know them well, like a dependable Aunt and eccentric Uncle. Likewise, I feel that if I climbed one of the salt pyramids outside Underhill and looked out over the Alchemists’ Quarter I’d feel a wash of nostalgia for a much-loved old stomping ground.
It’s a world you can get lost in, if you let yourself, with people who will stay with you for a long time. I definitely “really liked it”, so I had to give it at least 4 stars. But I found myself reluctant to go the whole hog and give it 5 stars.
Despite my best efforts I never completely shook my original, teenager impression that this book is just too slow and too serious. Opening the book with the flash-forward to Boone’s death puts a cloud over the rest of the tale, dampening the mood throughout. There’s no joy taken in the telling and very little in the way of a playful spirit among the cast. Some of the more interesting plot threads (mostly revolving around Hiroko) – the stowaway, the secret settlement, the details of the Mars/viridatis worship, etc – are all covered from a distance by Robinson, as if shying away to leave an air of mystery is somehow more powerful than fully embracing their complexities.
I just couldn’t bring myself to like Frank Chalmers or Michel Duval very much, and although Maya Toitovna grew on me in the finale of the trilogy, her constant melodrama grated in this first instalment. John Boone is loveable, but it’s hard to get particularly attached when you know he’s due to be axed.
For all these reasons, I liked Red Mars very, very much – but I couldn’t bring myself to love it. I am, however, very glad that I’ve read the whole series.
PS. This is the first review I ever wrote for GR! :-)
Hard SF novel about the colonization of Mars. An initial group of 100 colonists, men and women, is shipped off from Earth to Mars to try to terraform the planet and make it a better fit for human life. Kim Stanley Robinson explores all of the science involved in doing that, as well as the political collusions and maneuvering involved, and the relationships and psyches of several of the colonists.
This is a well-known and respected SF novel: thoughtful, scientifically-minded and very detailed, if a little dry at times. There are two sequels; I bogged down in the second one and never got to the third, but this one is still downstairs in my collection of SF novels. I should probably reread it sometime; I'd probably do better with it now than I did back in the 90s when this came out. :)
As an avid reader of Science Fiction, this book bored me to tears with its utterly one dimensional characters and utterly predictable plot (once one figured out, in the first 50 pages or so, that the characters were entirely linear and incapable of deviation from their preassigned courses). The "climax" is like a tiny pimple of added dimension, which Robinson apparently thinks is somehow highlighted and made more dramatic by the 500 previous pages that scream "Look, I really am this flat!". For suspense, he substitutes hundreds of pages of not stating the obvious. When climactic moments finally arrive, one does not read them with surprise, appreciation or release, but only with the relief that that particular tedious episode is finally finished. As forgettable as this book is, I desperately wish I could forget more!
As a scientist, I'm bewildered by everyone's adulation of the "research" and "accuracy" that went into the book. Robinson doesn't even get the simple details right (like the color of the Martian sky), and just makes other stuff up (like suit seals that can miraculously contain a a breathing atmosphere but are somehow permeable to particles 1000s of times as large as the molecules of the gasses they do not leak, and DNA-repair anti-aging miracles which more surprisingly than their success, have no impact on any of the obvious effects of DNA damage in aging). I suspect it's because he pulls hoity-toity popular/media-press-science catchphrases out of his butt and glues them together as though they explain the effects or developments he is describing (on the biology, physics, and chemistry, let me assure you that they do not. I can't comment on the geology).
The one-dimensional characters are also bewilderingly incompetent, even along their portrayed expertises - perhaps best highlighted by the overly detailed, pages long account of the "plucky engineer" risking life and limb in a desperate move to add supplemental solar panels to add even a whisper of additional power for her electric dirigible in a wind storm -- a dirigible which is carrying a cargo of ...wait for it... windmill-powered electric generators.
I signed up for goodreads, just so that I could rate this craptacular piece of tripe. If I could give this book a negative rating, I would.
Re-read for my book club. It's an interesting book to read a second time because I was able to think about why we get so many POV characters here—none of whom we get THAT close to. If I had a single character, I might be more easily seduced into thinking Mars should be transformed this way or that way. Instead, having characters who actively disagree with each other made find my own position about what should happen in and to Mars. KSR does a good job of introducing constant new surprising element that ask questions about science and society again, so I had to change my position over and over. It's a good book to think with.
I also see before that I called it hard sf because of all the science, but it's closer to soft sf, focusing on politics of science and sociology, even as it engages with different implications for scientific endeavors.
I will say that the prologue stinks and hasn't aged well. I think it'd be a better book if we just started with the voyage to Mars and let things build from there.
For hard sf, there's a solid and relentless focus on politics here, which is cool. The book never quite loses track of the people doing the science.
There's a lot of drama, many long descriptions of scientific-sounding things, and some great landscape imaginaries of Mars.
I'm not always a lover of what's known as "hard" sf -- sf that's filled with lots of hard science, in this case science regarding ecology, geology, and all sorts of other brain-straining disciplines. But what's remarkable to me about this book is how complex and human Kim Stanley Robinson makes his band of scientists, and how well he demonstrates over and over again how intertwined all of us are, on a truly huge scale. This book asks a very familiar question: what would happen if we were able to go to Mars? And it provides a sprawling, fascinating, at times horrifying answer that has a lot to do with science, and even more to do with the human beings who study and implement that science. At times, the book seems to have a very grim opinion on the failure rate of human societies to work well for everyone, but there is also in this book a profound regard for our ability to survive just about anything and anywhere.
Edited on 9/25/2019 after reread to add:
I was impressed by this novel the first time I read it, but in this second reading of it, I was ultimately blown away by its scope, its depth, its depiction of the weight of history on a vividly-depicted group of brilliant, difficult, driven human beings.
This passage gives a sense of how beautifully Robinson is able to distill the individual human experience in the midst of global catastrophe:
“Late in this quiet meal Ann looked around curiously at her companions, suddenly awed by the spectacle of human adaptability. Here they were eating their dinner, talking over the low boom from the north, in a perfect illusion of dining-room conviviality; it might have been anywhere anytime, and their tired faces bright with some collective success, or merely with the pleasure of eating together—while just outside their chamber the broken world roared, and rockfall could annihilate them at any instant. And it came to her that the pleasure and stability of dining rooms had always occurred against such a backdrop, against the catastrophic background of universal chaos; such moments of calm were things as fragile and transitory as soap bubbles, destined to burst almost as soon as they blew into existence. Groups of friends, rooms, streets, years, none of them would last. The illusion of stability was created by a concerted effort to ignore the chaos they were imbedded in. And so they ate, and talked, and enjoyed each other’s company; this was the way it had been in the caves, on the savannah, in the tenements and the trenches and the cities huddling under bombardment.”
In the Mars trilogy, Robinson proposes to have us imagine a Mars that is terraformed initially by the First Hundred - 50 woman and 50 men chosen after extensive training in Antarctica. The story is told via third person narratives which each chapter focusing on a particular character in more or less sequential order (with the exception of the first chapter about the events in Nicosia leading to the disaster of 2061). The author does an excellent job of making the story and the characters are real as possible and using science to make it all geeky and interesting. I really enjoyed many of the juxtapositions of the various characters. If I did not give this first book of the trilogy a 5-star rating, it is because there were certain plot devices (no specifics given to avoid spoilers but feel free to ask me in the comments or via PM here on GR) that I disagreed with and felt were unnecessary. Overall, the book is highly engaging and truly makes the reader impatient to read the sequel, Green Mars.
I originally read this way back in the mid-90's and was struck by how brilliant and entertaining it was, of how wide a sweep of characters could bring Mars alive, from inception to travel to the first habitats all the way to the first revolution 30 years down the line.
What I remembered with the most love, however, wasn't the characters. It was the science and the various aspects of making Mars habitable. That, and I just geeked out. I went on to read all the slew of Mars colonization novels that came out at the same time in response to how popular this one was and had to admit that none of them did quite the same job on the topic. KSR Wins! Woo Woo!
But now? My re-read isn't so much critical of the way the novel felt bloated with people-stuff as it was only wishing that we could do away with all the people altogether.
I was almost cheering with every death during the revolution. Is that wrong of me? *sigh*
Don't get me wrong! I still love the novel but I'm knocking off a star. The science is fantastic and all the well-researched ways to change Mars still makes me geek out. It's STILL one of the very best Mars books, INCLUDING The Martian.
Instead of re-hashing my own old review (did one at Amazon already yanno), let me offer up this BRILLIANT routine about Jaws 4: The Revenge by the late (and lamentedly so!) Mr. Richard Jeni:
"Have you ever seen a movie where they don't even try to have it make sense, they just slap you in the face with how shitty it is? You're sitting there, and you're going, "Maybe this movie isn't so bad and maybe I'm not wasting my life," and the movie slaps you in the face and goes:
Yes you are.
and you say "Are you sure?" and the movie continuously slaps you and says:
"Well how do you know?"
Well, look at you *slap* sitting there at 4 in the morning *slap*, with one sweat sock *slap* and a bag of shitty popcorn *slap* watching a movie about a shark *slap* that only kills one family out of an ocean full of perfectly *slap* edible *slap* people *slap* for no reason that we ever bothered to explain *slap* and we can't pry you off the bed with a spatula because you think it's bound *slap* to *slap* get *slap* better *slap* if you keep watching.
Because that's why you're watching it. You're going, "It can't be this bad! It must get better!"
There. Mr. Jeni said it FAR, FAR more eloquently than I could.
I read all *slap* three *slap* of these books *slap* for JUST THAT REASON. But you know... like Jaws 4... they DIDN'T.
A long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close to the material, so desperate to relive the nostalgia of the original trilogy, so deeply invested, that when we left the theatre and I expressed not just my frustration but my rage at what I'd seen, he took it as a personal insult. A slag of his taste (or what he thought I must have been declaring was his lack thereof). A debate raged between us for days. I pointed to inconsistencies with the original trilogy, terrible acting, poor direction, silly errors of Sci-Fi thought (such as describing direction in space as North, South, East and West), etc., etc. He mostly denied the existence of these problems, and when he couldn't deny their existence he tried to rationalize them. What he didn't do, however, was simply embrace the fact that he loved the story because he WANTED to love the story.
I said, "Well you can love the stories all you want, just don't pretend they are good." I think that hurt him even more.
Since those days I have kept a weather eye open for cases when my own love of a movie or TV series or book could become an inadvertent source for personal pain and imagined insult. I’ve come across a couple of minor examples, both giving me an opportunity to re-evaluate, and in once case change, my opinion of the works in question. And because I was vigilant, I was quickly able to escape the negative feelings that came along with the disagreement.
A third instance appeared this month when I reread Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. I have long held off rereading this book, worried that it would diminish my love, but the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club was reading it for August, and I was sucked into being the discussion leader. My worries were unfounded. I loved it even more this time through. But it felt like I was the only one, and I endured a month of irrational frustration and hurt at the unwitting hands of my group friends.
In my head, I knew I shouldn’t be taking things personally, but I couldn’t help feeling angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed and insulted by the opinions of others. Hell, I was even hurt by the relative silence of people whose opinions I rate highly. I figured their silence must be tacit dislike of the book. Why else were they staying quiet? See. Irrational.
Everything was conspiring against me in that discussion, but through it all I tried to stay neutral and lead the discussion with as little interference or personal opinion as possible.
Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to Red Mars. My personal issues turned out to be a good thing in this case. I was reading criticism of one of my favourite books while I was rereading it, and that criticism made me open my mind to the possibility that my feelings about the book were entirely emotional rather than intellectual. I genuinely opened myself up to that possibility, and I can honestly say that my feelings come from both places. I love this book for personal reasons, but I also love this book because it is Sc-Fi of the highest order.
KSR does so many things right in Red Mars. His vision of the near future was and is believable (he even manages to look into post-Soviet Russian culture with a measure of accuracy). His science is excellent (albeit occasionally compressed or fudged to further the story). His new novella narrative is wonderfully effective, allowing us to look deeply into six of his main characters -- Frank Chalmers, MayaToitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne – as we follow the colonization of Mars from their perspectives. But this also allows us to dig more deeply into other important characters, like Arkady, Phyllis, Saxifrage, Coyote, Hiroko and Mars itself, giving us multiple perspectives on these important people from the very different perspectives of the people they love or hate. His descriptions of Mars are beautiful. His political and philosophical thought is engaging. And his vision for the potential colonization of Mars, and what that might mean for Earth, is totally plausible.
I can see how some – and maybe all – of these things could rub a reader the wrong way. I can see how someone could walk away not liking Red Mars. And I can accept that even if it hurts me (because I love all of those things), it is really not personal. But what I can’t accept is the assertion that KSR is a crappy author.
To my mind, this book proves his brilliance. I think I will stop now (can you tell that this review didn’t go at all the way I had planned?)
Red Mars looks at the first waves of emigration to Mars, through the eyes of certain members of the First Hundred, the original settlers. The world Kim Stanley Robinson paints is complex, filtered through the perceptions of different people, the politics intense and contentious, even the debate over terraforming itself is depicted with lively wrangling.
Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.
In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
5.0 to 5.5 stars. It has been said before but it bears repeating...this is the BEST NOVEL on the colonization of Mars that has ever been written. For all of the technical informaiton conveyed and the "hard science" employed, the book is amazingly readable and the characters are very well drawn.
Winner: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1994) Winner: British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel (1993) Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1993) Nominee: Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1993) Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1993)
Endless, pointless, exasperating, excruciating descriptions of Mars. Fissures, mesas, volcanoes, canyons, north of the Fossae, south of the Mons, left at the mohole, orange red yellow pink -- NO ONE CARES. Red Mars taught me, more effectively than any other book I can remember, that detailed description of a place your readers have never been does not serve to make it more real. It serves to bore the pants off of them. And Robinson, bless his heart, just goes on and on about it, repeatedly. He also geeks out at great length about certain (pseudo)scientific aspects of his story, actually including both equations and diagrams to help explain. All of this makes me wonder whether the job of "editor" exists anymore, and if so, what these people do. Because what they should be doing is reading the draft of this mess and diplomatically suggesting "I think you can effectively convey your particular vision of the planet -- without math, Geimas semantic rectangles, and this avalanche of description -- while still leaving your readers some room for their own imagination of what it's like."
So much time is spent on extraneous detail, that the story itself gets lost. I get there is a conflict between alternate visions for Martian society, where collectivists oppose... Well, what? Is it capitalism? Non-interventionism? Scientific advancement? Some bunch of mother goddess hippies procreating in the outback? All of these things? I don't get what Frank is FOR, although it's clear what he's against. I don't gather that Maya or Nadia or Simon or Phyllis are really FOR anything, while Ann and Sax, Arkady and John Boone are so one dimensional they're practically caricatures. Despite ideologies remaining hazy and ill-defined, we are supposed to believe that the strength of those convictions -- whatever they may be -- lead to war. And even then, with the conflict supposedly raging, what we read about, for another interminable stretch of pages, is the description of a flood as it affects the physical landscape through which our war refugees travel....
So wait, there's a war going on, and you're going to tell me about the color and configuration of the ice chunks spawned by a flood in the canyon? For real? I just... No. That's all I have to say to that: NO MORE.
And that, my friends, was the last straw. Or, more aptly, the untethered elevator cable that frees me from further reading of Robinson's verbose ramblings about Mars, be it Red, Blue or Green.
Some interesting plot events (the space elevator, its destruction, the interplay between Earth and its "colony", some of the practical concerns about living on Mars [but not bathrooms]) cannot paper over the enormity of this book's mediocrity. Consistently boring word choice, ideas that get argued but not connected, looong descriptions of landscape that add nothing to the story, regular use of the run-on sentence and a general use of 10 words when one will do (JK Rowlings's editor...?). Only the hope that all the characters die in some particularly Martian way kept me in it. And they don't. One of the key protagonists is plucked out of the story by a bit of bad geriatric driving. Disappointing. Sorry, Arthur C. I know Robinson named a town in this book after you, but I don't get the hype.
This was SO good! This is epic hard sci fi, where everything is large scale. It never lagged, I was always interested in each character and part of the story, and the final third was intense, exciting, and emotional. I can't wait for Green Mars!
Phew! That was a long, fascinating, unpleasant journey. Which is really quite thematic if you think about it. I learned a lot and had some great conversations, but I really bounced off most of the characters and was angry at several of the assertions the author seemed to be making.
CONTENT WARNING: (just a list of topics)
Things to love:
-The science. Some of it I don't think was true, but given what we knew in 1993, this was a marvelous exploration of possible futures and current technology.
-The prose. It was sparse and beautiful.
-A few moments. A few times the characters came alive for me in a way that was very welcome. I especially liked Anne and Arkady.
-Watching the dominoes. I'm not sure I agreed with all the dominoes, but I like that KSR didn't shy away from the conclusions of his own assumptions.
-The conversations this prompted. I'm not entirely sure I can credit the book for this, as it really requires a thoughtful and erudite audience, but whatever, it wouldn't be possible without the book. I've had really wonderful conversations about the premise and what makes things "real" with this book at catalyst. I think that great science fiction is in part defined by how much it gets you to think. And on that criterion, this book is a home run. It really expanded my perception of science, the art and my own predilections. I am grateful for this expansion.
Things that didn't work for me:
-Relying on stereotypes. They may have been somewhat more fleshed out than other books but gosh almighty there were so many things I found to be based at least on caricature. The assumptions of different personality types, nationalities and so on made it really difficult for me to trust the author and let go.
-What wasn't studied. Clearly KSR spent a f***ton of time on research for this book, which was phenomenal. Unfortunately, it made things that he did not research really stand out. There's so much we can glean about a person from their baseline assumptions and/or the things they think they know so well they don't need to research it whatsoever and I think that was his downfall here. Instead of it celebrating what he loved so much he dedicated hundreds of hours to learn, I felt a giant middle finger towards a lot of the things that I can't avoid about myself and the people I love.
-The misogyny. This deserves a specific call out. I am trying to pretend it's a product of its times and if I'd been my age in 1993, I would have considered it progressive. Alas. Alack. I am not my age now in 1993, and to the Allison of 2019 it is starkly relegating the majority of women. Basically, you can only be useful if you're a woman who doesn't see herself as pretty and who just tries not to rock any boats the men are sailing. If you know you're aesthetically pleasing and/or disagree with men, you are a whore with no other discernible skills or a bitch with no function other than tantrums. I know we did better than this in the 90s so I can't offer much wiggle room for "The Times."
-It is dated. Okay but like this is about "The Times." This is Gulf War America all the way through. It might have a few smart things to say outside of that time period but it is super hard to separate it from its environment, which was jingoist, racist, and rather conservative.
-I didn't relate to anyone. I don't have to like everyone, but forcing me to spend literal days with people who I would personally call the Feds on for possible mass murderer-like tendencies is not a great way to get me to agree with arguments? John, Maya, Frank, Anne, Saks, Arkady...holy shit! They're all dangers to society! Somebody kick more of them out any air lock! This isn't the normal, this is the height of antisocial tendencies that we're expected just to nod along with. Neither scientists nor humanity at large deserve to have them serves as their representatives.
It was long and frustrating, but also fascinating. I'm told if you buy in after Part 1 it's likely you'll be on board. If your hackles go up then, put it on 3x speed and just power through for the ideas and never look back. I will not be continuing the series, but may chance one of the author's later works as I think this one was just poorly informed in terms of psychology.
A “hard” science fiction book which takes the reader to Mars with the First Hundred settlers, tasked with making the planet livable for humans. There’s a lot of science in this one, folks, and not presented in Andy Weir’s humorous fashion as in The Martian. There were actually a couple of equations and diagrams, so if that kind of stuff gives you a rash, strike this book from your TBR.
Now, I’m generally a preferential fantasy reader, but I’m also a fan of science fiction, even occasionally this kind of technical science fiction, but I found the amount of detail about the building of things, the science of trying to change the atmosphere, the geology, etc., to be a bit excessive. If all the science-y stuff really turns your crank, you will love Red Mars.
This author could really have taken some lessons on describing landscapes from Zane Grey. Grey wrote romantic westerns in the early 20th century and is acknowledged for his beautiful descriptions of the settings of his tales. Mars in this book becomes rather like a wild west, also with some awesome (in the original sense of that word) landscape features, but they tend to be described in terms of physics, rather than the beauty that is inherent in them. Having seen the movie version of The Martian with its gorgeous planetary scenes, I feel there was room for a bit less utilitarian description of the features of Mars.
I’m glad that the author chose to have women in the First Hundred and that a couple of them achieve high standing among them. That said, there were some dynamics in the group that were awfully predictable. The two people who reach the highest are, of course, white American men. The author is a white American man, and its true that these positions have been disproportionately inhabited by that demographic, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if someone else rose to that level on Mars? There’s a lot of talk about building a new, fresh society, but things end up back in the old rut. (Perhaps that’s what the author intended, to be fair). There are also Russians on this mission, but they are stereotypically fixated on socialism and revolutionary plans. The two Russian women followed throughout the book are polar opposites—Maya is beautiful, emotional, flighty, and manipulative, while Nadia is plain, practical, solid, and steady. I loved Nadia, despite the fact that she was an engineer’s engineer, totally fixated on building and problem solving. But really, are those the only roles available to us? Beautiful prima donnas or practical Plain Janes?
I liked the book well enough that I will read the next one in the series, and not just because it is part of my reading project, but it will never be one of my favourites. And that’s okay, because it will be loved by the people who love this kind of book.
Book number 288 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is well-regarded by SF fans, but it didn't really live up to the hype for me, though it's an excellent entry in the hard SF genre. Robinson's prose is not as lyrical as Ray Bradbury's, but it's not as dry as Ben Bova's either. Red Mars seems to synthesize elements from all of Robinson's predecessors — it's a Heinleinesque adventure at times, with hard SF infodumps, but actual characters, and shout-outs to every author who's ever touched Mars, including Burroughs.
Red Mars is the tale of the first Martian colony, and covers a couple of generations of history. The "First Hundred" who established the original settlement become larger-than-life, almost mythical figures to those who follow after them, but as Mars begins to be taken over by political and economic factions bringing old issues of exploitation and oppression (followed by resistance and terrorism) from Earth, the Hundred are just as conflicted and prone to squabbling and working at cross-purposes as all the other settlers.
Early on, there is a huge debate over terraforming Mars, eventually becoming a conflict between the "Reds" and the "Greens." Eventually other cultures arrive on Mars and have their own ideas of what it means to be a Martian settler. Muslims make up a substantial segment of the population, as do Russians and other nationalities, all wanting to have an equal stake in Martian society.
The ending shows the surviving members of the Hundred witnessing what happens after decades of emigration and development on Mars, with much of what has been built up brought down by an uprising among the children of Mars.
If you are a space exploration geek, and especially if you are one of those who still dreams of a Mars expedition in our lifetime, then Red Mars may fire you up with a realistic view of what emigration to Mars might actually look like. It is almost certainly not an accurate picture of what will actually happen, should we ever get that far, but it's a realistic picture of what could happen.
I give this book 4 stars for being one of the best Mars books out there, but 3 stars for enjoyment, because the story and the characters just did not grab me enough to wonder, "What happens next?" So, a 3.5 star book.
An extremely fascinating, hard science fiction book about first settlers on Mars, with a writer who stays in the background and lets the characters tell the story through debate and experience. I felt it was fast paced, in constant forward motion, with ideas and arguments propelling the plot forward. Very impressive.
This is one of those scifi works that almost everybody has at least heard of, if not read. In my everlasting quest to read such "classics" and spurred by having read about Elon Musk and his plans for colonizing Mars, I couldn't help but pick this up.
The book starts in the future when cities have already been erected on Mars and people are emmigrating there. There's a murder plot underfoot, the motive of which gets explained afterwards by a jump back in time to how the first 100 engineers and scientists had been sent to Mars to enable colonization in the first place. After a bit more than half the book, the story picks up after the murder and we progress forward. You see, the problem is less getting to Mars and getting to work. It's all the consequences of conquering a new planet. Such as terraforming, moral implications and, most importantly, political / commercial problems arising. Which, of course, leads to revolution.
KSR has touched on many subjects in this book. Religious and social identity, the reality of living on a different planet (think of what happened between Great Britain and the settlers in America and now try to project that onto a planetary scale), human psychology (both on the small and large scale), corruption (financial and of one's moral compass), how we're treating Earth and where that will lead us if we continue to be so short-sighted, terraforming, ... In short: the book is dense. However, I liked the sccientific aspects and the fact that the author has spent so much time researching thoroughly. There were two things he either didn't get right or deliberately changed for the novel but other than that, the author's attention to detail was really cool.
The two details I'm talking about that were erroneous were his portrayal if Islam (not all Muslims are always united like a big happy family, not even when faced with a common enemy, history is proof of that and don't get me started on the Koran-based image of women) and the fact that except for a storm there was no problem for the first 100 to enter Mars' atmosphere when in reality that is VERY tricky and the reason we haven't tried sending humans to Mars yet.
The really big problem I had with this book, however, were the characters. Nadja was OK because she was the typical industrious all-rounder, constantly helping here and there, focusing on what they came to do. Sax Russell was OK as well because he was not only in favour of terraforming but also had good ideas about how to proceed and why. The rest (of 100, mind you!) were whining and bitching all the time or screwing around more than any prostitute, leading to love triangles (and murder!) as well as a host of other problems. And don't get me started on Hiroko, who might be a brilliant botanist, but who also and who started this weird-ass cult so as to be its center/deity. Honestly, almost all of them were completely out of their minds and you can't explain it all away by their sudden "freedom". Moreover, the selection process would have weeded out at least some of these idiots so that was very unrealistic and it also felt like the portrayal of people was not the author's strong suit. He just needed a conflict or wanted to explore a certain theme and that was the fastest way.
I wanted to read about science and exploration, political machinations and implications and as soon as all that got underway, it was really cool, but the whole human aspect was handled in a way that annoyed me severely, especially because it also made the book longer than it would have had to be. Still, I will continue with the trilogy because now that so many are dead (blood for the blood god!), we might focus on the progression of Mars' independence, scientific discoveries and the terraforming of Mars since it obviously works!
What an amazing, sprawling, realistic book. If we ever do populate Mars, I think this book will feel like a realistic blueprint of how it might go, complete with technology that is applied, inter personal dynamics, politics, and more. Earth is of course over-populated, pushing over 10M people, and so the space of Mars is appealing and we send a ship to start to populate it. By the end of the book, there are many, many people on Mars, all living in bubble cities. The book moves around in who the main character is, across probably half a dozen protagonists. At first I was annoyed by this, but it was well done and I think I liked it by the end.
Well, I haven't of course but it feels a little like that. I feel like I have been one of the pioneer colonists struggling to tame Mars for posterity. That is how immersive this book can be, though it is not actually quite so engrossing throughout every page but even to attain that level of engrossment at times is a significant achievement by the author.
I believe this is one of the most popular sf series ever, I have certainly seen it in many "best of" lists, each book in the series has awards up the wazoo. It is not Dune or Enders Game big but if those are XLs this series is definitely an L. Red Mars, the first volume of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, falls into the subgenre of hard science fiction. It is set in the near future (2026), the science is based on and extrapolated from known science, there are no extraterrestrials, time traveling or FTL travels here.This may not appeal to scifi fans who read books to have their mind blown by bizarre goings on, but for me variety is what keeps sf from becoming stale. Another advantage of hard sf is that it requires very little in the way of suspension of disbelief.
What surprises me about this novel though is the amount of character development in this book, not a common feature of scifi in general, even less so for hard scifi. This is both a strength and weakness of the book because while it is good to be invested in the main characters the emotional scenes can descend into melodrama or even soap operatic. Interestingly considering that Red Mars is very hard sf, KSR clearly has a lot of respect to the Mars themed scifi classics like Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom / Mars books. Considering how much of the book seems to involve battle of the sexes I am glad he does not include any reference to that awful "Mars" book "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus".
On the world building and technological side I find it all very plausible and often vivid. One of my favorite scifi technology is the space elevator, popularized by Arthur C. Clarke's award winning The Fountains of Paradise which is due for a reread very soon. The achievements of the scientists / colonists in this book make me think of the amazing height mankind can achieve if we put our minds to it, and the almost inevitable fall from grace through our usual infighting and folly. The process of colonization, terraformation and chaos is very convincingly portrayed here. The politics and the colonists' fight for independence also bring to mind Heinlein's classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
I am tempted to rate Red Mars at five stars but in all honesty there are some rather dull passages or chapters in this book. Looking at some of the less than enthusiastic reviews I came across quite a few comments along the line of "boring" and "like reading a text book". I don't really get the "text book" allegation as I don't think Robinson spends that much time explaining the techs, but I certainly find some of the arduous journey parts of this book almost interminable. If there is a major flaw in this book I believe it to be the pacing, occasionally it grinds to a halt or become rather turgid. This is not actually a deal breaker though, a lot of it is fascinating and very readable, you just have to be patient and not expect the story to be a pulse pounding page turner all the time. By the time I finished the book I realized the whole of it is greater than the sum of its parts, viewed as a whole in retrospect it is a very worthwhile read.
So I think a four stars rating is fair, and I look forward to reading the other two volumes.