Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review of Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson Mars trilogy is one of the grandest thought experiments in literature, let alone science fiction.  Red Mars setting mankind’s inhabitation of the red planet into motion, Green Mars delving into terraforming and the social and political aspects of the inhabitation, it remains for Blue Mars to make the final statement regarding man’s potential on Mars. Working ever deeper into the concepts outlaid thus far, the book continues evolving the series’ main ideas, bringing our own society into sharper focus by comparison.  Fully contextualizing life on Earth, Blue Mars expands to solar system size, and is thus a grand finale in more than just story. 

Wasting no time, Blue Mars picks up events precisely where Green Mars concluded.  After the successful revolution against the United Nations Transition Authority, those still alive are trying to clean up the remnants of a planet torn by war.  But with the divide between the Reds and the Greens growing ever wider over the existence of heavily politicized items, e.g. the space elevator and sun mirror, it may only be a matter of time before the remnants are smashed even smaller.  With the fragile Martian society threatening to collapse inwardly, evolving the Dorsia Brevia agreement into a planet-wide constitution may be more than Mars and its people can handle.  Complicating matters further is the fallout of the ecological catastrophe which occurred on Earth at the end of Green Mars.  Millions and millions homeless, Mars seems the obvious point of emigration.  But can the planet’s precocious infrastructure handle the influx?  Peaceful coexistence in the solar system is anything but a foregone conclusion.

Adhering to the structural pattern established in the first two novels, Robinson continues presenting the text in sections.  Each devoted to a particular viewpoint, several familiar faces return.  Ann, still believing it is the Martian environment’s right  to evolve naturally without the influence of man, involuntarily finds herself in the middle of the infighting between Reds and Greens.  Sax, ever the believer in scientific advances, continues to push his terraforming agenda, that is, until forced to rein back his aggressive policies after receiving a tap on the shoulder from nature one day.  Art, once again working the role of mediator, spreads himself amongst the various political factions, trying to find common ground on which to form the basic political principles of life on Mars.  Nirgal, one of Mars’ first born sons, is sent on a diplomatic mission to Earth to represent Martian autonomy, but his time there, while spiritually fulfilling, tests his physical well-being in ways he’d hoped it wouldn’t.  Michel, on the same mission to Earth, revisits his native Provence.  Along with being inundated by flood water, not everything is the same in the city of his “youth”, a Proustian conflict of memory resulting in the process.  Other characters receive air time—including an important new one—as Robinson continues using viewpoint to build story, a touching conclusion to the Mars trilogy the result.  

Numerous are the reviews I have read describing Blue Mars as a “bloated” and “puffed up” discussion on politics, science, memory, etc.  What I can’t figure out is: how did these readers make it to the third book without noticing this facet of the series?  Suffice to say, Blue Mars contains the same digressive theorizing, lengthy descriptions of terraforming, and in-depth scientific and political discussions of the previous two novels.  It’s true there is slightly less “action” compared to Red Mars, but Robinson has all along made it obvious that the trilogy is not about whizz-bang theatrics and gripping suspense, rather humanity and humanitarian interests: specifically how society interacts and to what uses it puts the environment and regards nature.  

Regardless whether the setting is Mars or Mercury or Venus or Titan, by examining the manner in which this interaction takes place, Robinson holds a mirror to reality.  He asks the reader to question and examine the paradigms that are in place, and most importantly, those which could or should be in place.  This becomes especially obvious when looking at the manner and problems associated with how our Earth has come to be populated.  The novel, and trilogy, is thus a literary and scientific experiment regarding the possibilities for technology and humanity in the future.  For those who have enjoyed the manner in which Robinson has developed the people, politics, culture, etc. of Mars thus far, Blue Mars will not disappoint and will more than likely be a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.  For those along for the ride only because of the scale of entertainment, be warned Blue Mars, like Green Mars, is heavy on discussion and light on action.  It is the finale of a nerd’s dream, not the hero’s—despite the parallels to the American revolution.

In the end, Blue Mars is a superb conclusion to the Mars trilogy.  Borrowing numerous tropes from the idea-masters of the Silver Age (Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, etc.), Robinson continues evolving the Mars colonization in sparkling form.  Imaginative tech like sun mirrors, gas lanterns, hyper-propulsion, brain plasticizers, genetic engineering, memory enhancers, asteroid miners, and other ideas are either unique or pay homage to one of the genre’s masters of old (the space elevators, for example, both bear Clarke’s name).  Maintaining focus on human evolution (or devolution, depending on perspective), the book continues to examine societal development through the lenses of hard and soft sciences.  The writing perhaps the best of the three books, readers should expect a well written (but not stylish) conclusion to the series that plays with the heart strings as we say goodbye to characters that have been there since the beginning.  There continues to be a fair amount of hand waving with regards to technical advances and the speed of ecological evolution, but these were never the main focus.  Human interest at the forefront, Blue Mars, and the Mars trilogy, is important science fiction for the 21 st century.

No comments:

Post a Comment