Speculative science fiction, when done well, can feel like a yet to be fulfilled prophecy. Kim Stanley Robinson writes good speculative science fiction that achieves this feeling in his novel Green Mars. Green Mars is the second installment of Robinson's epic opus, The Mars Trilogy. Evidence of the book's popularity among scientific crowds is the fact that Green Mars was included in the payload of the 2008 Phoenix expedition to the planet Mars. It is among the first books in the Interplanetary Library.
An initial warning: Red Mars, the first book of Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy, should be read prior to reading Green Mars. The trilogy is not a series of stand alone story arcs that can be coherently read out of order. Red Mars and Green Mars were published a scant 13 months apart in 1993 and 1994. This quick publishing turn around time and the fact that the books are over half a thousand pages each leads one to believe that both books were finished at the same time. While this is just speculation (although I'm sure Kim Stanley Robinson has addressed this matter in interviews in the past 20 years), one can continue to speculate as to why the story was published slightly over a year apart in two different books. Perhaps the author wanted to double his entries in the Hugo and Nebula sweepstakes (Red Mars won the Nebula in 1993, Green Mars won the Hugo 1994). Perhaps the editor thought the tome would be too ponderous for a single book. Perhaps the publisher (Spectra/Bantam Dell/Random House) wanted the profits from two books instead of just one. Whatever the reason, just make sure, even though you are presently reading a review of Green Mars, that you read Red Mars first.
Green Mars is set in the near future and is centered around the populating and terraforming of Mars by immigrants from Earth and native born Martians. Green Mars weaves into its plot many other speculative science fiction devices in addition to terraforming. Medical advancements that double or triple the human lifespan play heavily into the story's plot. Other major plot conflicts include environmental disasters and protection (both on Earth and Mars), political dominance by multinational corporations, population growth, and battles over and with advanced technologies such as space elevators, orbiting solar mirrors, and the medicinal treatments for prolonging life. The story is extremely multifaceted and epic in scope. The trilogy spans about 150 years. Green Mars is not particularly light reading, but the story and the science in the story will not soon leave a reader's hippocampus.
Kim Stanley Robinson employs a narrative style common to fictional mega-epics with a large cast of characters. The story is told from a third person perspective that is limited to a single character's point of view per chapter. The point of view character alternates every chapter so that the reader can get an idea of everything going on all around Mars. The author creates a linear fluidity to the story this way.
This narrative method also allows Kim Stanley Robinson to show off his multiple disciplinary, scientific interests. Depending on the point of view character, the author will use that character's specialty to wax informatively on various fields of science such as geology, environmental science, physics, solar system astronomy, biology, botany, sociology, psychology, philosophy, humanities, economics, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, social engineering, military science, political science, and even a dash of religion. Often the story is secondary and/or dependent on the description of the sciences (and speculative sciences). Attention and focus is required to follow the story through these interesting, college-level, intellectual interruptions. It is impossible to read Green Mars and not learn something.
This will turn off some readers who are only interested in a Mars themed, thrill ride adventure story. If that is what you want, try Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land or Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars. Green Mars is written for a “hard science fiction” fan base that is interested in intellectualism as much as literary entertainment.
The characters, especially the point of view characters, in Green Mars are primarily archetypes of different kinds of scientists, various kinds of revolutionary fighters and politicians, and religious leaders. Their personalities are largely shaped by their professions and/or scientific disciplines. However all the characters are well written and through their actions, thoughts, and expressed values the reader sees multiple dimensions of their passions, flaws, and personalities.
The characters and the story are easy to fall in love with but challenging to read. The liberal arts academic who dreaded science class might want to approach this book with caution. However, if you pick up Green Mars and the Mars Trilogy, no matter what you scientific inclination is, you will probably be entertained and definitely be educated.
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