‘Mars’ trilogy review
By Duncan Fingarson, Contributor
With the recent evidence of water being discovered on Mars, it seemed like a good time to turn my attention to the red planet. I picked up Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy at a used-book sale because it looked interesting, and because of my minor fascination with space travel. I was not disappointed.
The Mars books are hard sci-fi, meaning a great deal of research and effort went into making them sound plausible. A lot of the science is speculative, but there’s nothing wholly unbelievable as far as I can tell. The story was similarly well-thought-out, following humanity’s efforts to colonize, study, and ultimately tame the planet.
Book one, Red Mars, focuses on the First Hundred, a select team of 100 people chosen to lead the first expedition to Mars, the majority of whom are Americans or Russians. A good deal of time is spent on the ship developing the relationships between the characters and introducing the themes that will carry throughout the series. As is often the case, human nature gets in the way of noble goals, and the First Hundred find themselves fracturing into ideological groups with very different ideas about how best to proceed with life on Mars. There are the Reds, who believe the planet should be preserved in its original state as much as possible, and the Greens, who believe that the best course of action ends with the Martian surface supporting human life on its own. There are groups that want to split from Earth to form a self-sufficient and completely Martian society, and groups concerned with how to exploit the resources of Mars for the benefits of Earth. The machinations of the various groups drive the story, and set things up moving into book two.
Green Mars picks up a little after the end of Red Mars, and spends the first few chapters introducing a handful of new characters, including some of the first children to be born, and grow up, on Mars itself. The book develops the motivations of a number of characters who got very little screen time in the first book, and deals with the fallout of previous events. Mars has become industrialized to some extent, with corporations controlling much of the cities. The disconnect between sides has grown, and the terraforming moves forward, seeding the surface with increasing amounts of plant life, and thickening the atmosphere. Themes of life and death are explored as a particular medical treatment developed on Mars to slow the process of aging has resulted in Earth’s population exploding, and an expanding gap between the class divisions of society. The book ends with a natural disaster of a grand scale on Earth, coupled with political revolution on Mars.
The fallout of the terraforming efforts, the revolution, and the natural disaster are the subject of the third book, Blue Mars. The trials of forming a new society are explored at length, and over a much broader range of time than was featured in either of the previous two books. Blue Mars is about consequences, for better or worse, as human civilization spreads further out into the solar system, and steps are made to take it beyond. The final few chapters are unfortunately a little difficult to follow, but overall the series wraps up on a hopeful tone, and all the characters get proper closure to their personal stories.
For fans of hard sci-fi, the Mars trilogy delivers. These are very intelligent books, and the characters and ideas presented within are well developed. I have no trouble at all believing that things could play out as they do in the story, once humanity does start to colonize space. This is a subject that needs to be treated with respect and carefully considered, potentially by some of the current generation. If you have any interest in space, read these books. I’m glad I did.