Monday, March 28, 2011

Red Mars (Book)

I confess that I was one of those little girls who dreamed about going to other planets. So I was awestruck by the opening chapters of Red Mars, the 1993 Nebula Award and 1992 British Science Fiction Association Award winning novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. I wanted to digitize myself and live in those pages. Alas, like the Old West, in the book Mars quickly becomes dominated by politics and corporations, but the story continued to be enjoyable.

The first chapters of Red Mars describe how the first 100 colonists travel to Mars and begin to create a life for themselves. As in any group, there are power struggles and alliances. But, there is also a sense of destiny, like anything is possible. As the story progresses, the original colonists’ success gives the government on earth the confidence to send more colonists. Within decades, Mars is no longer just a place to explore, but another place to exploit for resources and another unpleasant place to work. Transnational corporations have more power than the original United Nations groups. In the last chapters of the novel, there is a revolution and it literally changes the face of Mars. The chapters are written from the perspective of the original colonists. A life extension drug discovered early in the book makes it possible for the colonists to remain vital despite the passing of decades.

As they ate they looked up at the surface of Mars, swirled like a gas giant. Suddenly, it looked to John like a great orange cell, or embryo, or egg. Chromosomes whipping about under a mottled orange shell. A new creature waiting to be born, genetically engineered for sure; and they were engineers, still working on what kind of creature it would be. They were all trying to clip the genes they wanted (their own) into plasmids and insert them into the plant’s DNA spirals, to get the expressions they wanted from the new chimerical beast.
From the very beginning, even within the first 100 colonists, there is a difference of opinion on what Mars should be. For some, Mars is a great scientific discovery to be explored. For others, it is a world that should be terraformed for human use. For some it is a place to set up new forms of government, religion, and social structure. For others, it is a place for their culture to evolve.—In one scene dervishes in space suits whirl in the middle of a sand storm—As the story evolves, we see those that think of Mars only as a source of raw minerals or a place to dump excess population.

For me, the descriptions of the landscape and geology were the most fascinating parts of the book. In the beginning, Robinson goes into detail as he describes the virgin Mars and the effects of the first 100 setting up a livable colony. Similarly, near the end of the story, he goes into detail describing the havoc that is played on the environment by the rebels and by those who want to stop the rebels.

Red Mars is the first book in the Mars trilogy. The next books, Green Mars and Blue Mars, won Hugo awards.

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