Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nebula Winner: 1993 Red Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson
Completed 11/25/2013, reviewed 11/25/2013
4 stars

Imagine James Michener writing hard SF.  That’s “Red Mars.”  Robinson blends vivid descriptions of the Martian landscape and detailed science, sociology, and economics to bring to life an epic depiction of the colonization of Mars and the personal and cultural strife that ensues.  Like Michener, Robinson’s detail left me in awe, but when all was said and done, the book left me exhausted and questioning my decision to read all three books of the Martian trilogy in a row. 

The book begins with a short chapter which drops the reader amidst the chaos of the Martian colony, creating an immediate tension and a burning desire to understand how things collapsed so badly.  The second chapter then whisks you back to the beginning, describing the colonization, from the selection of the “first hundred,” to the journey to Mars, and to the workings of making Mars a scientific utopia.  Of course, it never is utopia, and as more colonists arrive, it quickly devolves into mayhem.

The story is told in third person, but from the perspective of several of the first hundred.  Each chapter (and sometimes two) is told from the point of view a few of the main characters.  Through them, we learn of the hardship of this mission.  I particularly liked the chapter where Maya was the focus.  She seemed the most fully realized.  The other characters were less emotional, in general.  I ascribed this to the fact that almost all the members of the first hundred are scientists, and thus have scientists’ demeanors, probably testing ISTJ on the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator.  The side effect is that as the story progresses through the others characters, Maya seems less like a fully realized character and more like an annoying bipolar victim.  I found this unfortunate, because I really liked Maya and found everyone else to be a little too much like the Martian landscape, primarily sterile. 

Nonetheless, the characterization in general is very detailed, giving you very different accounts of the progress of the colony.  I just would have liked to have had the characters show more feelings.

The details of the science, the politics, and all other aspects of a society are amazing.  There were times I could follow it, other times when my eyes just glazed over.  Its clear Robinson is very smart and did a lot of research, but I felt the detail, particularly to the landscape, was too long.  Halfway through the book, I found myself skimming over descriptions of the landscape.  Maybe that was intentional, reinforcing the sterile majesty of Mars.  But I kept feeling like a good editor could have made it tighter and less rambling.

This is a 4 star book.  It is excellent, despite my problems with the length and lack of emotionality.  The development of the society on Mars is amazing, and feels very realistic.  It is not candy-coated in the least.  Just because we leave the earth doesn’t mean we leave all our problems as well.  We’re human, and we bring our chaos and conflict with us wherever we go.  I look forward to the rest of the books in the trilogy.  The next book covers the terraforming of Mars.  I’m just hoping the emotional state of the characters warm up as much as the planet does. 


  1. Your quibbles with the book echo some others that I've read about them which has made me reluctant to give them a try. I have yet to read KSR though I know many who are very passionate about the work.

    1. Red Mars was tough, but I highly recommended. I'd consider it required reading, despite my issues with it. Unfortunately, my experience with "Red" has made it a little tough to jump right into "Green". When I sit down to read it, I keep finding other things to do like clean the bathroom...

    2. Yes, I just think life is too short and the reading pile too high to force myself to read. But I also think sometimes it is all about picking up the right book at the right time. I've went away from certain books in the past only to come back to them when the mood struck to find that I really enjoyed them, even if they had issues.