Friday, January 3, 2014

Hugo Winner Review: 1996 Blue Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson
Competed 1/1/2013, Reviewed 1/1/2013
4 stars

Finally, I’m done with the Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.  It was a very long journey.  After being rather nonplussed with Green Mars, I wasn’t expecting much from Blue Mars.  It’s longer than the first two installments, and still full of extremely long landscape, technical, and political ramblings, or rather, prose.  And besides, what else can you say about Mars now that it’s terraformed, a government is established, and people are living to be over two hundred years old?  As it turns out, not that much.  But you can finally really rely on slices of life of your characters to create something like a collection of inter-related short stories to convey the experience of living on Mars.

I don’t know if it’s because I finally gave into the trilogy’s form, or Robinson’s style just grew on me over the course of the trilogy, or if in the starting of this book I was feeling sentimental, like I was visiting old friends, but I felt that Blue Mars was a better character driven novel than the first two.  There is still a lot of prose during which I again found myself losing focus, but I found myself more in touch with the characters than I had in any of the other stories.  They really seemed to have depth.  They no longer existed simply to convey the author’s knowledge of the landscape, neuroscience, global eco-politics, and math.  The author’s knowledge existed to bring you fully developed characters. 

Again, each chapter represents the voice of one character.  There isn’t as much of a plot this time.  So each chapter feels more like a short story in the same universe, rather that a single part of one novel.  And instead of being sad at the end of each chapter, I was looking forward to the being in the next character’s shoes.  Each character finally got to just experience their lives and figure out what to do with themselves now that most of the crises were over, and each one was interesting, and often downright intriguing.  My favorite characters, Maya and Sax, are featured and I found myself finally warming up to Nadia, Nirgal, and Ann.

One of the sections I really enjoyed was where a few of the Martians go to Earth to work on a treaty.  Nirgal, a native born Martian, has to adjust to Earth’s gravity for the first time and becomes the toast of Earth.  Michel, one of the first hundred, struggles with his homesickness for Provence, France.  I also really enjoyed the chapter describing colonization on other planets and moons. 

The most profound part for me, though, was the remaining first hundred finally dealing with the possibility of death.  Having found a formula for extending life and postponing the problems with aging, the group is now over 200 years old, and people are beginning to die and there’s no explanation.  Maybe it’s because I’m a person of a certain age and often think about my mortality, but these chapters really moved me.  It was here that I confirmed my sense that I really had come to love these characters.

My only criticism is the same old one.  The descriptions go into so much detail, that it becomes overwhelming.  My eyes often glazed over during the long descriptions where a paragraph was two or three pages long, with only two or three sentences per page.  During my glazing, I often imagined Robinson at his computer pounding away at the keys in a trance, forgetting to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom, or on his phone threatening his editor with torture and mutilation if one word of his text was deleted. 

I give this book 4 stars, even though I’d rather the editor was much more aggressive.  It’s an incredibly long, painstaking effort to get through this trilogy, but depth of the characters in this final installment made the payoff worthwhile.

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