For May’s entry into Emlyn Chand’s “Books that made me Love Reading” Challenge, I reread Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.
Like many children, I grew up exposed to a healthy dose of Star Trek – my mom was a fan of The Next Generation, then Deep Space Nine, and yes, I watched more than enough Voyager too. While their science may have been less than accurate, what always threw me was how happy all the humans were. Attack by Romulans? The Federation bands together to stop them. Ferengi backstabbing and power-grabbing? Humans are above that!
Until Enterprise, humans all got along. They’d fight with aliens, but not each other. And that is complete crap.
So when I found a copy of Green Mars (book 2) in high school, I devoured it. And the other two books in the series, and the short stories in The Martians.
The trilogy is about Earth’s colonization of Mars. Red Mars starts in 2026 when 100 scientists (the First Hundred, as they come to be known) and a stowaway travel to Mars to start a colony. The trip gives us a taste of what’s to come – political posturing and fighting, diametrically opposed reasons for joining the expedition (political gain and power vs pure science), and tons of well-researched hardcore science. The book culminates with Earth wresting away control of Mars from the colonists 35 years later, and who’s left of the First Hundred fleeing to hidden sanctuaries.
This book held up surprisingly well for something written in 1992. While I don’t see Earthlings on Mars by 2026 (there were decades of planning that led up to this in the novel), it’s definitely feasible. The technology mentioned is described accurately, and it isn’t that far-fetched (unlike magical “it works because we say it works” stuff in Star Trek). And the politics are spot on. In the novel companies have been increasing in power (Citizens United, anyone?) to the point where they’re outright buying and running governments, called “flags of convenience.” Things get messy on Mars in reaction to things on Earth, and revolution is thwarted. It’s very reminiscent (premoniscient?) of last year’s Arab Spring and the ongoing tensions in Syria, and to a smaller extent with the Occupy movement in the States.
The second book, Green Mars, doesn’t hold up quite as well science-wise – possibly because it’s further into the future and that stuff is hard to predict? It’s still a fascinating read on politics and human nature, but the science becomes more and more advanced and not as plausible as the first book. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen, but there’s more speculation, which I’m not huge on. And I found it very funny that people in 2125 were sending faxes and using phone cords.
Book Two is about terraforming and the argument about what effect we should have on the environment. As such, there’s an overload of geological terms and descriptions of the scenery. I’m not a big description person so I tended to gloss over these paragraphs looking for plot.
The third book, Blue Mars, gets even funkier with the science. It’s about taking control of our destiny and shaping our political and economic worlds so that everyone’s needs are met. Taken from a sociological standpoint, the book has a lot of merit and relevancy.
Overall, then, despite being 20 years old Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy has stood the test of time, especially for sci-fi. The science remains accurate and plausible (a huge plus for me), and the characters’ interactions and motivations are messily spot-on. Although not a quick read, these are something I intend to come back to again.