This being my second Kim Stanley Robinson novel, the first being the fantastic Aurora, I was super excited to be diving into this Mars Trilogy with Red Mars. The book opens up with a scene in the future after the colonists are already established on Mars, and immediately I was disappointed because I wanted to start the story in space. Come to find out, it was only the first chapter, and Robinson puts this first chapter as a sneak peak of things to come, a way to tell the reader that this Mars world is far from utopian. With the second chapter, we get introduced to our space voyaging team of 100 people, mostly scientists in their respective fields, traveling to Mars, and this is when the sciencey goodness starts and I know I’m going to enjoy this hard sci-fi book.
The book is split into 8 different parts and we get about 6 different points of view characters. The first thing I realize is that all of these characters are extremely different from each other, in fact, we later find out that the characters kind of represent types of the four temperaments that Hippocrates developed. This makes reading Red Mars a very different experience depending on the view of the world you are getting from which temperament. For example, from the point of view of Nadia, my favorite character, we get a very mellow engineering viewpoint on her job to keep things running, Maya, on the other hand, is an outgoing woman with drama to spare, Frank is a man that will do anything to succeed, and John is a natural born leader. Combining these different personalities with the fact the colonists are half American and half Russian creates a very interesting cultural dynamic.
When the focus of the book is about the science of life on Mars, how we can terraform it vs. what we should leave intact, it is amazing. I could read the science aspects non-stop and not be bored. The question of conservation vs. changing Mars is a huge part of the story. Characters argue that Mars has been virtually untouched for billions of years and to change it would wipe out possible answers to many questions that the universe contains. Eventually, terraforming begins, and the people back at Earth become covetous of the natural resources that the Mars people have.
Another large focus of the book, moving into the second half is if Mars is an extension of Earth, or it’s own entity? Because of overpopulation and a lot of civil unrest on Earth, the people of Earth see Mars as a goldmine, a way to solve all their problems. Large companies get involved in the process of developing Mars so they can get a piece of the Mars pie. Robinson treats Mars as an Earth colony and just like imperialism stripped the world of resources and hurt the indigenous population, so did they do the same thing on Mars.
I really liked this book. It caused me to think of situations that I haven’t thought about before with space exploration. I naturally just assumed that Mars and Earth would be separate entities if Mars was ever colonized but this book rightfully points out that Earth countries would really take advantage of the possibility that Mars allows. The scientists in this book wanted to create a scientific utopia, all with their own ideas of governance, but breaking the shackles of Earth was harder than they realized.
At times the book became frustratingly slow for me, especially during the political discussions, and traveling to visit the many different Mar’s sects. The payoff for these slow parts is an exciting and monumental last 100 pages that really hit me hard. If you enjoy hard science fiction, I think you can’t go wrong with Red Mars. Give yourself plenty of time to read and really think about the different avenues of discourse that Robinson brings up in this book. If you haven’t read a Robinson book, I would recommend Aurora over this one slightly for your first book by this prolific hard sci-fi writer.
20/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
4 – Characters
5 – World Building
4 – Writing Style
4 – Heart & Mind Aspect