Third read from David Mitchell and still not disappointed. A different spin on his signature "stories within stories" motif, and less tightly construc...moreThird read from David Mitchell and still not disappointed. A different spin on his signature "stories within stories" motif, and less tightly constructed than Jacob De Zoet or Cloud Atlas, but very satisfying. If I were new to Mitchell I don't know that I'd start with this one, but I'd definitely recommend adding it to the queue.(less)
20-plus years old but nonetheless a timeless and somewhat prophetic treatise on human interface design. The treatment is a little meandering but alway...more20-plus years old but nonetheless a timeless and somewhat prophetic treatise on human interface design. The treatment is a little meandering but always worthwhile, and never plodding. Well worth a read.(less)
Try as I might like, I just can't give this third volume any more than a 3 ("OK" in my book). Readers of Red and Green Mars will want to round out the...moreTry as I might like, I just can't give this third volume any more than a 3 ("OK" in my book). Readers of Red and Green Mars will want to round out the trilogy, and it ends up being satisfying, but as with RM and GM I found this book more impressive than enjoyable (to a greater extent than the first two; GM seemed to be the peak).
The last quarter or so is the best, but it takes a long and sometimes painfully meandering road to get there. I found myself often wishing someone had rolled up a newspaper and bopped KSR on the nose and said "NO!" at one of the many indulgent detours into the details of soil physics, particle physics, yachting, running, or whatever other minutiae on Mars he wanted to write about that chapter. A little on the harsh side, but there are times when BM felt like reading The Gulag Archipelago - painfully documentary rather than enjoyably narrative. This extended beyond the topical deep dives, as way too much of the first half is spent exploring the angst and displacement of key POV characters trying to figure out who they are and what to do, post-revolution - but never ending up anywhere. This is also true of a somewhat dull and narratively pointless excursion back to Earth.
The book picks up towards the end, and there are some very interesting and as always thought provoking chapters on other colonized solar system bodies, a little bit of broader colonized solar system politics, and deeper development of his really well-thought out theme of the effects of hyper-aging and senescence. One POV character's personal journey and transformation is closed out at the end, and it is satisfying, but as above, far too many others (whose 'displacement stories' readers had invested a lot of time and patience into this volume) are left hanging, leaving the impression of several long morality tales without a point.
This was a surprisingly good recommend (thanks Bill!). It definitely puts the science back in science fiction, so be prepared for an opus that doesn't...moreThis was a surprisingly good recommend (thanks Bill!). It definitely puts the science back in science fiction, so be prepared for an opus that doesn't move quickly and digs deeply into some fairly esoteric topics.
It's been a long time since I've read 'proper' science fiction, having been distracted for a decade or two by (job-related) actual science, and I was hoping I'd find something worthy of standing next to the 'classics' I grew up with in re-entering the genre. Red Mars mostly delivered. It absolutely tickled the brain, earning it four stars from me. Less so on developing engaging characters to connect with; the characters here (even with multiple POVs) were mostly tools to convey the story - this is what kept it one star shy of five.
As far as technical critique, the book is surprisingly realistic in developing a plausible Mars colonization strategy, borrowing heavily (and mostly appropriately) from technologies which should be familiar to space/aerospace insiders. It's historically interesting to see where a book written in 1992/1993 ends up, in what it gets 'right' and 'wrong'. Obviously it misses the internecine and nearly religious space policy warfare of the last two 'lost' decades and thus puts boots on Mars off by about 20 years (relative to current best guesses - ah Mars, always "30 years out"). Another reviewer correctly points out that the novel might have been improved by spending a little more time discussing how the world actually gets over the critical threshold of undertaking the effort (incongruous given how much of the book is spent on human politics).
Also interesting in how these lost decades commingle with differences in technology extrapolations, in ways that would have big impacts on the way an actual Mars colonization (or the story's narrative) plays out ... here, "big engineering" precedes "deep biology", whereas today's technology forecasts might put that the other way around. Since the latter (without giving too much away) has a major impact on the story's plot, it leads to all sorts of interesting questions about the way Mars colonization might actually pan out (or not).
A couple of minor quibbles:
- The book focuses deeply on the human dimension; at times, this stretches credulity a little. Strains of dissidence appear very early in the narrative, which rings as implausible given the hundreds of billions of dollars that would have been spent to send the "first hundred" to Mars. In short, the story moves too a little too quickly from astronaut to pioneer mentality, unfortunate, as ample decades are covered in later chapters in which this would have been a more natural fit.
- While great props should be given to the science and engineering "realism", there are some gaps. Geologists, biologists, and civil engineers rule the day (and the narrative). Avionics (and by extension, most complex systems engineering) occurs by magic. From a storytelling perspective, this is perhaps a good thing, but the result is that the colony's engineering seems just a little too jury-riggable, customizable, and malleable, at least early on. Problems are solved by hard-nosed, pioneer-style "mechanics" rather than by engineers. A fine line to balance, to be fair, but another ding in the credulity tally.
These gaps are minor, however, against the breadth and scope of the socio-political story that is told, which is both engaging and eerily plausible. I'm signing on to read the next two books in the trilogy to see where it goes.(less)
Oy! Not quite sure what to say about this, other than that I persevered. Decided to read Seven Pillars after a vacation to Jordan recently followed by...moreOy! Not quite sure what to say about this, other than that I persevered. Decided to read Seven Pillars after a vacation to Jordan recently followed by a re-watch of Lawrence of Arabia. The narrative is nothing if not complete; much more a personal diary (albeit with quite elaborate ... sometimes almost contorted) writing style, than an edited book. A small handful of chapters comprised LOA. The book was somewhat frustrating ... many nuggets of wit, reflection or insight hidden amongst a much longer and larger collection of documentary chapters of the Arab revolt's specific movements and actions. (less)