Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Review by Andrea Johnson
This is Robinson's first novel in his Mars series about the colonization and terra-forming of Mars into a new Earth. The novel takes place over the course of about 50 years.
Red Mars begins not far in the future, with the first manned colony ship to Mars. Our story mainly follows Frank and John, American astronauts, and Maya and Nadia, Russian cosmonauts, for the first Mars colony is an American-Russian venture, with an international crew. This group lives together for months training in Antarctica, lives for nine months on the cramped ship Ares, and then must survive the harsh environment of the red planet, without going nuts, and without killing each other.
Robinson has certainly done his research. He provides us with a topographical map of Mars, he has researched how the change in gravity will effect human activity, he knows the geography of Mars like the back of his hand, and gives good landmarks as his characters traverse its surface. Reading his descriptions of the Red Planet, it's as if he grew up there, he seems to know it so well.
As I mentioned, our characters have to manage not to go nuts, and not to kill each other. With any tight bound group of a hundre people, there will be conflicts. Most of the conflict in the book is regarding how much the planet should be terra-formed, if at all. Should it be left alone with humans living in bubbles? Or, since they do have the technology to terra-form it, why shouldn't they do it? As more humans come to Mars, the colony ceases to be a scientific expedition. With more people come more investments, come more companies to fund projects, instead of government funded science.
Robinson doesn't let you read this book without thinking. If a project is government funded research, are you still free to research what you want, with no promise of return on investment? Is government funded research really just the same as company funded projects? When you have the ability to play God on a planet and change it to your whims, how much change is too much? How much change is enough? Just because we can do something, does that mean we should do something?
I'm talking more about what doesn't happen in the story than what does. Our characters age over the course of forty or fifty years, welcome new colonists, handle the challenges of housing those who are escaping an overcrowding earth and try to make their colony venture profitable. They get romantic with each other, have children, modify their gene codes, discover new technologies and do everything in their power to survive. Robinson never mentions any character missing a family on Earth though, and that surprised me.
This is a book with action, it is not an action adventure story. It is the story of the first Mars colonists, their successes and failures, everything they must go through to survive. It reminded me of the first European colonists in the New World. Alone, away from home, not sure of their new terrain. Robinson has his signature story telling pattern, a little slow at times, some simple eastern philosophy thrown in, and a belief that a dead red planet covered in dust might just be alive.
As well as this book is written, as much as I respect the author for the research he's put into it, I just wish there had been more action than description. I realize this is not an action novel, but I guess I was hoping for more action, less dissertation.
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.