Reviewed: January 28, 2009
By: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
761 pages, $11.99
Kim Stanley Robinson's massive trilogy about humanity's colonization of the
solar system concludes some 200 years after it began. In this rather optimistic
vision of the future, Mars has been terraformed into a habitable place, cool,
but with a breathable atmosphere pooling in the many rifts and valleys, and
trapped under enormous canopies in higher elevations so that protective gear
need be worn only outside these tent cities or on higher plateaus.
Similar technology has been used on the larger moons of the gas giants, while
a different solution has been found to allow some settlement on Mercury.
The focus in this book is on a short list of the First Hundred, the original
settlers, with the two exceptions being a couple if their children. In structure
the novel is more like a series of interlinked novellas and short stories, with
the fourteen chapters rotating through the viewpoints of several prominent characters.
These viewpoint characters don’t all have the same opinions or political
leanings, so we get a full range of opinions and reactions to the events in
the book and sometimes we see the same events from different perspectives.
While Earth unrealistically sees Mars as release valve for its burgeoning billions,
the Martians are divided on this as on many other topics. Martian scientists
have discovered a longevity treatment that effectively triples the normal human
life span. This development enables Robinson to follow some long story arcs
over what is, essentially, a 2200 page novel (beginning with Red Mars and Green
While most of the First Hundred enthusiastically embraced the notion of making
Mars more like Earth, some Martians, especially the second and third generations,
feel that the original Martian ecosystem deserves to be preserved in all its
austere majesty. Some of them follow the model of more radical eco-terrorists
on Earth: blowing up atmosphere generators, or trying to bring down the space
elevator that links the surface to the spaceship docking modules in orbit.
These so-called Red Martians are also in violent opposition to the waves of
immigrants arriving from the home planet, even though the official leaders of
Mars have agreed to a certain amount of settlement as part of a treaty with
I said this was an optimistic look at the future. That’s not really true
when it comes to Robinson’s take on life here. Mars is the frontier. Earth
is trapped in a mire of consequences stemming from centuries of bad decisions
and class greed. Climate change has flooded the former coastlines and redrawn
the political and economic maps of the world. Our Martian protagonists experience
some of this when they come to Earth to negotiate a treaty.
About the only good thing to come out of the crisis is the total breakdown of
the interlocking system of metanational corporations which had come to control
the planet. New systems are emerging in the 22nd century that actually seem
to work better for the people. Still, Mars and the other colonies are seen as
the equivalent of the New World, and the overcrowded billions of Earth cannot
understand why the fledgling habitats cannot absorb more of the teaming billions
yearning to be free.
On Mars the expansion of settlements and population have reached the point where
the simple rules of settlement governance have broken down, and it has come
time to create a planetary government. This means writing a constitution, creating
executive, legislative and judicial structures that balance each other. Somehow
this section of the book manages not to be boring.
Where Blue Mars is a challenge is in the sections were various members of the
cast head off exploring. They have some marvelous equipment in the future: Winnibago
sized land rovers powered by solar energy and controlled by AI computers that
allow for extensive exploration and travel over the landscape; ships that sail
the new Martian oceans; paragliding equipment that would turn my friends in
Dawson green with envy. All of this is a lot of fun to read, but it does bog
down in pages of geological description which cannot entirely be skimmed because
you never know when it isn’t going to turn out to be important to one
of the subplots later on.
Robinson must have developed binders full of technical data, diagrams, schematics,
maps, calendars (a year is 687 Earth days, or 669 slightly longer Martian days,
for instance) and other details. The descriptions do serve to remind us that
we are reading about people interacting within an alien environment, but it
sometimes makes for heavy sledding.
As an impressive example of “hard SF”, incorporating lots of technology
but also including the softer disciplines of history and sociology, it is no
wonder that Robinson’s trilogy won him a slew of awards when it first
appeared between 1992 and 1997. Red Mars won him the Nebula, and both Green
Mars and Blue Mars won the Hugo Awards for their years Nor is it a surprise
that the books have remained in print since.