Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review of Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars was a big, bold thought experiment on the environmental, political, and social aspects of colonizing Mars.  Perhaps the most in-depth look at the topic (a sci-fi one if there ever was) to date, the novel was only the beginning of the story.  Terraforming and social evolution examined in even greater depth, the story of the First Hundred and those who survived the revolution of 2061 continues in Robinson’s Green Mars (1994).  

Green Mars begins with the introduction of two new main characters.  The Underground still a hunted entity by the Transnationals, the first is one of Hiroko’s many love children, Nirgal, who lives in hiding with the other rebels under the polar ice cap.  The second is a businessman named Art Randolph, who begins the story on Earth,.  Working for the most moderate and progressive of the Transnationals, a business entity called Praxis, Randolph is called upon by the company to go to Mars and act as an ambassador/negotiator with the Underground on Praxis’ behalf. The company’s leader, William Fort, seeks to create an alliance of eco-capitalist proportions.  Many familiar characters also return.  After undergoing cosmetic surgery, Sax finds employment with one of the largest Transnationals, working undercover as part of their plant biology program, making the air of Mars thick enough to breathe.  Maya, while still an emotional rollercoaster, continues to occupy a respected leadership position in the underground community, as does Nadia and her skills as an engineer.  And Ann, still practicing geology in the most morose of fashions, wanders the Martian landscape, mapping and monitoring the ever-quickening pace of changes, more and more defiant of the planet’s development.

This aspect of Red Mars continues in Green Mars: characters roaming the surface, voices for Robinson to describe the human-influenced planetary evolution taking place.  From lichen to algae, melting glaciers to atmospheric composition, science remains at the forefront of the book—at least for the first half.  In the second half, social, cultural, and political concerns rise to the top as the Transnationals pressure the Underground ever harder, forcing the disparate group into an equivocal autonomy of uncertain proportions.  Turbulent events simultaneously occurring on Earth, humanity’s fate inside the environment they are trying make viable is no more certain than the day the colonists first landed.

Though not as numerous as Red Mars, there are several new technical ideas in Green Mars.  From massive solar mirrors to a revision of the toppled space elevator, the usage of thermonuclear weaponry for engineering purposes to ingenious modes of living in less-than-habitable circumstances, Robinson continues producing true sci-fi ideas.  Backed by research, the author’s time frames may be a little ambitious, but nobody can doubt the amount of effort and time he spent digging into the science backing the planet’s environmental morphology.  

Rather than the never ending buffet of ideas that sometimes Red Mars feels like, Green Mars is more like a meal served in courses.  For those bothered by the scientific and political exposition of the first novel, be warned, Robinson eschews quantity for quality in the second, digging deeper into the scientific and social elements.  For me, the extended detail shaded the story in tones more subtle than the first book, in turn giving the work more integrity.  But I am naturally interested in science regarding the environment, while others may not be, so be warned.

In the end, Green Mars is a contiguous continuation of Red Mars.  The latter shaping the setting, characters, and possibilities on the red planet, the former digs even deeper into the environment, society, and politics in pertinent fashion.  Not just a nerd’s dream, the book is also indirect commentary on the attitudes and behavior we take toward the planet we call home and a thought experiment on humanity’s future.  When delving into these themes again, Robinson goes into greater, more satisfying detail, all the while living up to the novel’s name; the terraforming of Mars is taken to the next phase.  While I would like to create the comparison that Red Mars is a Hugo-esque novel (i.e. more story/entertainment oriented) and that Green Mars is a Nebula-esque novel (i.e. more thought provoking or grounded in human concerns), reality proves me wrong: each novel won the opposite award.  Regardless, they are fully deserving of greater recognition and readership.  Drugs for hard science fiction fans, Green Mars is a must for anyone interested in climatology, geology, and plant biology.

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