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No other book has affected my life as much as Kim Stanley Robinson’s meticulously detailed science opera, Red Mars. If you want to walk side by side across the surface of an alien planet, with characters whose flaws and humanity, their neuroses and genius make you feel like you are standing right there, then take a trip aboard the Ares into a epic, century’s long story of the taming of Mars.
The book’s prologue introduces us to our characters, decades after the first colonists have landed, a time of celebration for the ribbon cutting of the first free standing city on Mars. You are immediately put into the mind of one of the main characters, and with each act of the book you will be shown the changing face of Mars through a different person’s eyes, a unique prospective. In the first ten minutes you are exposed to horrific tragedy, the death of friend, immersing yourself in the thick of a complex and life-like world, full of political intrigue and interpersonal relationships. There is no need to feel overwhelmed, though, as the author intends to show you how it all began.
In the first full chapter, time rewinds back to the launch of the ‘First Hundred’, a multinational group of colonists who have been selected to set up base camp on the red planet. Here Kim has really done his research, from the descriptions of the psychological profiling process the participants go through, to the excited inventorying of the tools the colonists will use for building a new world. Each character’s specialty, from geology to therapy, physics to agriculture, widens the concept of this book, and shows us that when an entire planet’s worth of knowledge is distilled into just one hundred individuals, worlds can be conquered.
You will see glimpses of the other stories going on in the background, stories like whispers or rumors among the colonists. Then suddenly, another character will take the stage, showing a different side of the burgeoning community, and those rumors will blossom into their own. As counties start sending more people to Mars, the small time politics of a tiny outpost breaks out into global factions, the intrigue of mysterious disappearing colonists, and the enigmatic maneuvering of multinational corporations. The story scales up at a exciting pace, as a small scientific effort spawns the possibility, or maybe inevitability, of interplanetary conflict.
Finally, while Kim understands human character growth, he also understands one of the most interesting characters is Mars itself. We get a window into a whole new culture, trying to be free and distinct from is parent earth, while knowing it will never quite escape the baggage of thousands of years of human history and nature. You will care for this cast of characters, their causes and their passions, the tragedies and triumphs. In the end, reading this book will make you itch for the frontier, the unclaimed wild land of the red planet. It will make you want to reach for that small red light in the sky, and I think that is the most beautiful result of this great novel.
You can pick up a copy of Red Mars on Amazon for as low as 1 cent used! Most bookstores keep a copy of the trilogy, and for the first ten people, if you contact me I will be thrilled to send you a free copy of my favorite book.
- Kim Stanley Robinson Discusses Utopia, The Singularity and Transhumanism (33rdsquare.com)
- UK team designs human mission to Mars (indiavision.com)
- 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (couchtomoon.wordpress.com)
Now her group sat or stood wandering the room, chilling down in the grey light. The matted reindeer hair of the sleeping bags looked woefully inadequate. Val went back around the corner and sat on Wilson’s cot. She stared at Scott’s empty bed. She had misjudged these men; she had taken other people’s casual superior judgments and accepted them. As if the people who had lived before them in time were somehow smaller because they had lived earlier. Looking through the wrong end of a telescope and saying But they’re all so small. Following their footsteps and then thinking that what they had done was a pointless as following in people’s foot steps. As if they had not been as inteligent and cultured as any living human, and in many ways far more capable. Walk sixteen hundred miles in Antarctica and then judge them, she thought drowsily, head resting against the wooden wall. She heard the voices of her group as the conversation of those odd Brits, those straitlaced young men, strong animals, complex simplicities, running away from Edwardian reality to create their own. Say it was an escape, say it was Peter Pan; why not? Why conform to Edwardian reality, why march into the trenches to die without a whimper? In this little room they had made their world. The first Antarctic chapter of the Why Be Normal Club. Happy at the return of some distant party which had been out of touch for weeks or months, out there on one crazed journey after another, pointless and absurd – the pure existentialism of Antarctica, where they made reality, or at least its very meaning. The pathetic fallacy of the Edwardians or the pathetic accuracy of the postmoderns; nothing much to choose between them; certainly no priority, either of heroic precedence or omniscient subsequence. Just people down here, doing things. Flinging themselves out into the spaces they breathed, to live, to really live, in this their one brief life in the world. They had been in no one’s footsteps.
The book from which the above text is from and of which I am currently reading, is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica. Written in 1998 directly after his much acclaimed Mars trilogy and really connecting those books to his next trilogy, in spirit at least, the Science in the Capital series; 40 Signs of Rain, 50 Degrees Below, and 60 Days and Counting. Geology majors will love this book. Its descriptions of the white continent are so vivid I sometimes found myself shivering from imagined hypothermia.
Between it’s covers you will find a story told from the perspective of a trio of main characters. Wade is Aid to Senator Case, a eccentric politician who sends his employee down to Antarctica to investigate rumors of strange goings on in the midst of renegotiation of the Antarctic Treaty. Val and X are former lovers, she being a tough yet feminine cold weather guide, and he being a disillusioned General Field Assistant. Their stories will all intertwine around a plot to decide the future of the last great wilderness.
Check it out here on Amazon for as cheap as $0.01 plus $3 shipping.