Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review: Red Mars

I have probably read Red Mars five or six times. It is enjoyable on so many levels, that it takes that many readings to pick them all up. First of all, it is a story of an alien world--standard fare for science fiction readers. The research and extrapolation Kim Stanley Robinson put into his work boggles the mind. You really feel you've "seen" the Martian North Pole, Noctis Labyrinthus, or Olympus Mons.

Next, Robinson creates a story of terraforming--the potential methods, motives, and pitfalls of trying to turn the planet Mars into something human beings could live on comfortably. It is easy to see this story becoming a potential blueprint for the next century's explorers.

Into this milieu, Robinson creates some terrific characters--John Boone, Frank Chalmers, Maya Toitovna, Nadia Cherneshevsky, and the rest--all of them described in a third-person-limited voice that gives the reader excellent insight into these people and how they perceive and are perceived by others.

And lastly, there is a political story. KSR's characters split into two camps. There is the "Red Mars" group, which seeks to keep Mars in its natural state, with human beings living in domed habitats and leaving the surface "as is." Appropriately enough, this movement is led by a geologist, Ann Clayborne. The "Green Mars" group, centered around the biologist Hiroko Ai, believes in terraforming and bringing life to Mars, but life that does not rely on heavy industry. These seem like two reasonable oppositions, and it takes a careful reading to realize KSR has fooled you. There is no "conservative" voice in this tale, save Phyllis Boyle, whom KSR portrays (through the eyes of his characters) as alternately stupid, evil, craven, or relentlessly, shamelessly greedy. He also sneers at her Christianity, which he sees as part of her stupidity or incorrect world view. In any case, given the rapacious greed and industrial evil of the "conservative" Earth, the reader is left to choose between one form of matriarchal environmentalism or the other. It is his view, and I just disagree with it. That said, the political interaction between Earth and Mars is believeable as KSR describes it.

Anyone interested in reading science fiction must read this book. It is too good not to read and enjoy.

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