Red Mars

“Mars was empty before we came. That’s not to say that nothing had ever happened….”

Can it be? Bureau42 has never reviewed the SF novel of the 1990s?

If you haven’t read Red Mars, the first of Kim Stanley Robinson’s celebrated Mars trilogy, go out and buy it now. Because it begins in years most of us should live to see, it will become dated in our lifetime. Right now, especially right now, we can believe it will happen.

General Information

Title: Red Mars.

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Original Publication Date: February 1993

ISBN: 0-553-56073-5

Buy from: Amazon.com
or Amazon.ca

Cover Price $6.99 U.S. $8.99 Canadian

Premise:

A murder on the terraformed, colonized Mars, later in this century, becomes the grounds to recall the planet’s settlement by one hundred (and more) colonists. We see the effects of science, politics, population growth, and the wild card of humanity on future history.

High Points:

Where do I start? Robinson juggles believable characters, plausible science, and credible politics along with the need to tell an interesting story. Remember when you were a kid, and Sf adventures seemed like they could be our future? This book recaptured that sense for me. Yes, I know aspects of the book seem far-fetched. In particular, Coyote and Hiroko Ai’s plottings contain a strong element of the swashbuckler. So what? This extraordinary book kept me reading, and made me want to believe in its characters and story.

I also applaud Robinson for referencing the entire past lore surrounding the Red Planet. We even get a “green person” of sorts.

Low Points:

I’m not certain there would ever be a “pro-red” faction (colonists who want Mars to remain basically unchanged), but I’ll let that go.

The sequels aren’t quite as good as the first; they get bogged down a bit in ideological discussion. They’re still worth reading.

The Scores

Originality: 5/6

Story: 6/6

Characterization: 6/6 I’ve met a few of the sort of people Robinson describes, the sort of people who would colonize Mars. I’m not one of them, but Robinson gets them right, and more importantly, gives his principals depth.

Imagery: 6/6 I’ve never been to Mars, but I’m left with the impression that Robinson has.

Emotional Response: 6/6

Editing: 6/6.

Overall Score: 6/6.

In total, Red Mars receives 41/42

Additional Comments:

Red Mars won the 1993 Nebula for best novel. It was nominated for the Hugo, but that went instead to Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang.

11 replies on “Red Mars”

  1. VarmintCong says:

    Low Point

    POSSIBLE SPOILERS

    I personally think that the Low Point you site is actually one of the most brilliant parts of the trilogy.

    We are already starting to see the debate about this take place in today’s society. It makes perfect sense that the first “Red” would be the leader of the science team who’s task was to study Mars geology, and that the actions of the Reds would become more extreme as they became more marginalized on both Mars and Earth. The way the differences between the natives and the immigrants is handled is also brilliant IMO.

    I instead would consider the whole Coyote stowaway thing to be the Low Point, although it is in keeping with the character who does it. I can’t imagine how that sort of thing would ever happen while pretty much everything else seems to be very plausible.

    Unfortunately I can’t get my head around the entire “gift economy” thing. I’m currently rereading the entire trilogy, and while I get the gist of it (kinda) I get lost in the actual practice of it (when Coyote is accused of potlatching or whatever…that entire scene flies over my head.)

    • quantaman says:

      Re: Low Point

      POSSIBLE SPOILERS

      I personally think that the Low Point you site is actually one of the most brilliant parts of the trilogy.

      We are already starting to see the debate about this take place in today’s society. It makes perfect sense that the first “Red” would be the leader of the science team who’s task was to study Mars geology, and that the actions of the Reds would become more extreme as they became more marginalized on both Mars and Earth. The way the differences between the natives and the immigrants is handled is also brilliant IMO.

      I instead would consider the whole Coyote stowaway thing to be the Low Point, although it is in keeping with the character who does it. I can’t imagine how that sort of thing would ever happen while pretty much everything else seems to be very plausible.

      Unfortunately I can’t get my head around the entire “gift economy” thing. I’m currently rereading the entire trilogy, and while I get the gist of it (kinda) I get lost in the actual practice of it (when Coyote is accused of potlatching or whatever…that entire scene flies over my head.)

      Agreed the Reds are one of the truly great parts of the trilogy. It’s not far fetched at all observing how resistant many people are to change that a threatened native population would seek to preserve their environment. The thing with Coyote does sound a little farfetched but I felt it really helped form the basis of the mythology about mars that developed. The mars trilogy is one of the few books I’ve read where the culture that develops really seems consistent and real (as opposed to star trek when I can’t help but cringe when ever they start talking about some made up cultural icon).

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Low Point

      Coyote, as I say in my review, is far-fetched, but he is also a compelling character.

      I had to search to find a low point in this book, so it’s really very minor. I found it odd that so many colonists would want to preserve an ecosystem which could not support life (including theirs) without tampering. This is a very different situation than exits for environmental movements on earth. So while I was slightly put off by the fact of the movement and its size, I think Robinson handles it(and a good many other cultural conflicts) very well.

  2. y42 says:

    Ah, yes
    I’ve been looking at it at the bookstore, wondering if I should buy it…

    • VarmintCong says:

      Re: Ah, yes

      I’ve been looking at it at the bookstore, wondering if I should buy it…

      By all means do so.

      It is definitely epic, kinda like Lawrence of Arabia epic. The main complaints that I have heard about it are that it moves too slow, so if you are more into Star Wars EU book style writing than LOTR/Silmarillion type writing you might think of passing it up.

      Just to let you know, it does get somewhat heavy on the science side at times, which is why some people think it is sort of slow. (I personally liked it when he did, because it was pretty much based in real science as opposed to doing technobabblish science…all of the stuff that I bothered to actually check out was pretty much on the money in regards to real life.)

      One of my friends made the comment that he felt like it was a textbook in some places. He didn’t get the reasons why it was like that at those places of the trilogy, just as he didn’t get that there was a reason for everything in the books. (Like for instance, the names of the characters are not haphazardly chosen and serve several purposes in the novels. Saxifrage is a perfect example of this, Clayborne is another.)

      If a hard-sci SF book is up your alley, then run NOW and get the books. If a book that is a very plausible road map of where we are going is up your alley, then get it. If you like sci-fi that is applicable to today’s society, then get it. If you want some light reading or escapism, then this might not be for you, but I would go get it anyway.

  3. UncleJam says:

    Excellent timing!

    I had just decided to reread this series when I finish my current book.

    Red Mars is definitely the best of them. I had a professor once
    who liked to ask people which book was their favorite and then try to figure
    out other stuff about their personalities, politics, etc. His favorite was Blue
    Mars
    , for what it’s worth.

    I would agree with the above poster who thinks Coyote stowing away is a
    bit hard to swallow, but he’s such a great character I’ll let it slide.

    I still have The Martians sitting here unread. I’ll have to get it
    this time around.

  4. TwistyHat says:

    ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz
    Bought it a long time ago, started, fell asleep because it was so mindnumbling boring. Never finshed. Don’t plan to open it again. Prevents a table from wobbling – good job.

    • y42 says:

      Re: ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz

      Bought it a long time ago, started, fell asleep because it was so
      mindnumbling boring. Never finshed. Don’t plan to open it again. Prevents a
      table from wobbling – good job.

      Good grief man, the thing is a good 2 inch thick! You need a new table.

    • quantaman says:

      Re: ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz

      Bought it a long time ago, started, fell asleep because it was so mindnumbling boring. Never finshed. Don’t plan to open it again. Prevents a table from wobbling – good job.

      How long ago?

      I originally read it back when I was in grade 10 and really enjoyed red mars but found green and blue a little hard to get through. Then last year I gave the trilogy a re-read, likely being a stronger reader now I found I still really liked red but green and blue were now much more enjoyable (moreso than red). Could be they’re just not your style but you might just find that you enjoy them now a few years down the road.

      btw. I agree with the other poster on the serious deficiencies of your table!

  5. crow says:

    Skip the start
    I found that I was very turned off by the start of the book, which is set after the events of the rest of the book. It is a serious spoiler for the remainder of the story, and it gets in the way of exploring the character development over time, as you already know how various people turn out.

    • tri says:

      Re: Skip the start

      I found that I was very turned off by the start of the book, which is set after the events of the rest of the book. It is a serious spoiler for the remainder of the story, and it gets in the way of exploring the character development over time, as you already know how various people turn out.

      Whoa! No way you should skip the beginning. Yes, there is a “spoiler” in the first few dozen pages. But the reason the author put it right up front is both subtle and fundamental. I’ll give it away right here:

      John’s assasination is a rite of passage for this new people, the Martians. As large as he looms in history (think Christopher Columbus plus Thomas Jefferson), he becomes a ghost in the minds of his people before they believe they are ready for it. And in death, the ideas and desires of these “great men of history” become more powerful than most could possibly imagine.

      Later, as we get to know John as a regular flawed guy traversing Mars, then as his absence and memory affect his friends and followers, the contrast is palpable.

      The patterns and layers in this trilogy are vital, and if you resist immersing your imagination within it, you’ll be cheating yourself out of one of the most rewarding secondary worlds ever created.

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