Mike's Reviews > Red Mars

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
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Sep 04, 07

Recommended for: Sci-fi fans
Read in May, 2007

This book is the first in a trilogy about the colonization and terraforming of Mars, told (mostly) from the perspectives of the first hundred colonists. It is grand in its scientific scope, but it is also a very human story. There is always something a little bit inspirational about exploring stories, about people who risk it all to learn something new, and this book is really the ultimate.

It starts a mere 30 years in the future, and given that the book is 15 years old, it's more like 15 years now. One hundred colonists, mostly scientists, are off on the first colonization mission to Mars. They will live there and try their best to make it a home. However, they all have different plans for their life there. Some want to terraform, some want to leave it in its natural state. Some want to create a new utopian society free from the restrictions imposed by Earth's cultural memory, and some want to use their new freedom as a way to practice the old ways unimposed. So on the one hand, it's a science fiction story, a prediction about the technology of the future and how it will shape our lives. On the other hand, it's a story about politics, a vision of the kind of world we could create without Earth holding us back. It's also about love, life, death and all the other things that really make a book good.

This first book focuses mostly on the science, with a little bit of politics. It is the story of the first years of colonization, building physical and societal infrastructure out of the void of an unihabited, lifeless planet. The way the story is told, which is by turns awesome and infuriating, is to have several long chapters, each 30-100 pages long, all told from the perspective of a single character. By creating characters of all different temperaments and persuasions, you see everything in all possible shades of gray (or red, as it were).

For example, one chapter is told from Maya's perspective, of her long losing battle to keep people friendly towards each other on the 6-month voyage to Mars. She fights with some people, forms alliances with others, all the while lamenting how it's not working.

The next chapter is told as another character, who looks back on the voyage and complains of Maya's constant controlling instinct, her annoying desire to keep everyone under her thumb and her mood swings.

The storytelling structure creates lots of things like this, chances to see identical events from other perspectives, and also to be able to see what people have in common, even when they can't see it themselves.

This book is amazing. It tells a story of building, of creating, of people having an open mind and doing great thing. Of course, in any human story, there's conflict and destruction amidst all this, but the overall march of progress is always present. I highly recommend it. The only bad part is that it's very long, and the sequels are not as good, but necessary reads to get the full "Mars" experience.
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