Some books are long for a reason. This isn't one of them. You could remove two thirds of the words from Red Mars without losing anything. The background of hard science is excellent and fascinating but Robinson can't write his way out of a paper bag. He can't create characters, can't do dialog, can't plot and writes love scenes like a 14-year-old. If it could be completely reworked by someone who can write this could be an excellent book.
After reading several series focusing on sci fi war, it's nice to listen of a more mellow book heavy on science. There are only 3 issues with the series: (1) Richard Ferrone's performance is completely w/out emotion or conviction, it's like listening to someone reading the phone book; (2) the books show their age in outdated science; and (3) the Mars colony is founded in 2026, we won't land on Mars before 2050 at the rate we're going, and that really depresses me. Robinson never clearly never foresaw the bush years.
Although there are some interesting descriptions in this book, they are WAY too long and get in the way of the story. I found the book so tedious, I simply didn't finish it, which is very rare for me.
Red Mars (and The Mars Trilogy in general) asks big questions: How can we start over and recreate society, taking out the bad stuff and saving the good stuff? Can we escape history and remake ourselves into something that overcomes oppression of women, slavery, racism, greed, militarism, environmental destructiveness? Can we turn our society into a means for giving every member of that society a chance to achieve his or her own potential? These are big questions; they can't be answered with bumper sticker slogans. It takes a lot of detail and careful, thoughtful discussion to address them. So while a lot happens in this series, it isn't Star Trek. Problems aren't easily resolved. Situations are never black and white. The characters change, grow, and even forget how they got to the present.
For readers who like a lot of meat to chew over, these books are probably among the greatest written in the 20th century - obsessively researched, thickly layered with meaning and analysis; the whole series is something that you can listen to time and again, and hear something different every time. The characters are archetypes; even their names express who they are - but they are also real people, with real emotions, amazingly and skillfully brought to life. The issues discussed are both a comment on the present (and history) and, in the best tradition of science fiction, an analysis of future possibilities. I can't recommend the entire series more highly for the reader who enjoys this sort of thing. But be forewarned - there are bad reviews here, and I'm guessing they are from people who were looking for something different - lots of plot and action, perhaps a little less analysis. I enjoy those books too, so I'm not saying that as a criticism of those who didn't find this to their liking. I'm just saying that there are plenty of other books that fill this role. The Mars Trilogy is something else entirely.
I love this genre. Loved Ben Bova's story of Mars. Bought this because it was a Nebula Award winner. Must be good, right? This story went nowhere. It was a longwinded description of people living on Mars. Nothing much happened, except for a little anti-terraforming plot that was anti-climactic. There wasn't even much in the way of character development in all those hours of nothing.
Would give this zero stars if allowed. I lasted about 6 hours, and couldn't take it anymore. It starts off with the protagonist setting up and observing the killing of his "friend" and de facto leader of the colony. Then reverts back to before they left for Mars and drags you through hours and hours of tedium (and adolescent sex drives) while on the flight out. The protagonist (Frank) is a self-centered, unlikeable sort. The dead guy is actually quite a good fellow. So, where do you go with this? The author goes nowhere. Finally, I started skipping forward hour by hour to see if things pick up, but it just crawls on with more of the same. It would appear the only thing going on of any note are the various political struggles. The author seems incapable of making you give a red rat's rear about any of it. Save yourself (and a credit) while you can.
I have read the book before and enjoyed listening to it as an Audiobook.
There are a number of sci fi books that cover similar territory, such as Mars, Moving Mars, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
I would look for other narrators before listening to another book read by Richard Ferrone. This book, with a large international cast of characters, calls for someone who could do at least basic accents to differentiate the characters. Ferrone doesn't attempt this. Even if you forgive that, he often puts emphasis in strange places that obfuscate the meaning of the words. He also clearly does not have a background in the sciences and much of his technical vocabulary is mispronounced. For a book with as much technical vocabulary as this, that gets really annoying.
It has one (Green Mars). It also as a prequel (Antarctica), which is unfortunately not available as an audio book.
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is well-regarded by SF fans, but it didn't really live up to the hype for me, though it's an excellent entry in the hard SF genre. Robinson's prose is not as lyrical as Ray Bradbury's, but it's not as dry as Ben Bova's either. Red Mars seems to synthesize elements from all of Robinson's predecessors — it's a Heinleinesque adventure at times, with hard SF infodumps, but actual characters, and shout-outs to every author who's ever touched Mars, including Burroughs.
Red Mars is the tale of the first Martian colony, and covers a couple of generations of history. The "First Hundred" who established the original settlement become larger-than-life, almost mythical figures to those who follow after them, but as Mars begins to be taken over by political and economic factions bringing old issues of exploitation and oppression (followed by resistance and terrorism) from Earth, the Hundred are just as conflicted and prone to squabbling and working at cross-purposes as all the other settlers.
Early on, there is a huge debate over terraforming Mars, eventually becoming a conflict between the "Reds" and the "Greens." Eventually other cultures arrive on Mars and have their own ideas of what it means to be a Martian settler. Muslims make up a substantial segment of the population, as do Russians and other nationalities, all wanting to have an equal stake in Martian society.
The ending shows the surviving members of the Hundred witnessing what happens after decades of emigration and development on Mars, with much of what has been built up brought down by an uprising among the children of Mars.
If you are a space exploration geek, and especially if you are one of those who still dreams of a Mars expedition in our lifetime, then Red Mars may fire you up with a realistic view of what emigration to Mars might actually look like. It is almost certainly not an accurate picture of what will actually happen, should we ever get that far, but it's a realistic picture of what could happen.
I give this book 4 stars for being one of the best Mars books out there, but not 5 stars, because the story and the characters just did not grab me enough to wonder, "What happens next?"