book-reviews

The Mars Trilogy

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Rating: ★★★★

This trilogy of Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars is a properly epic piece of science-fiction, starting out from the charting of the initial settlement of Mars and stretching to include a great mass of subsequent societal changes. The titular focus of the book is on the rapid (at least, in geological timescales) terraforming of Mars during the extended lifespans of the main characters, but Robinson does not allow this process to play out in isolation. Science is, after all, a politically influenced and influential force. The very first efforts at seeding the dead planet are a radical unilateral move, divisive once discovered. As the work progresses the impact of opening up a whole new planet, right next to an overcrowded Earth, is explored in detail.

Robinson has a rare gift for a science-fiction writer: he makes his characters incredibly human, complex and interconnected in unpredictable ways. The majority of the cast are scientists, psychologically and socially aberrant types willing to commit to radical change, both technologically and politically. But within them there is still great division. This is exemplified most by the split between the brilliant man who started the process of making Mars a green land, and the hard geographical woman who resolutely speaks out against the terraforming process in favour of studying the great unknown depths of the planet.

It is not just hard science. In the far future, there is still a magic to the world. Aboard a highly controlled launch vessel in the depths of space, there are rumours of an impossible stowaway who becomes a coyote of the frigid Martian desert. A man struggling with the barren conditions of the new colony finds himself abducted by a strange cult, whose children are the first true Martians. The first man on Mars becomes, over time, a folk hero whose exploits explain the geography of the planet. A woman becomes a goddess, her name everywhere but always out of sight, a figure appearing only in the depths of a perilous storm. The new people run wild in the fresh forests and glide from the great cliffs.

This is a masterful trilogy, ambitious in its depth and rigorous with its science. At its worst, it becomes somewhat drawn out over certain personal conflicts, and encourages a sort of new-age mysticism. But at its best it is an aspirational and poetic vision of the future, which grapples honestly with the problems of life extension, terraforming and early interplanetary politics whilst never dismissing the human element to the story.