Green Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson
Green Mars Cover

Green Mars -- Hard SF with a good story

Tar Daddoo

[Green Mars is a sequel to Red Mars, which I reviewed here. Definitely read Red Mars first.]

What is the Science Fiction Premise?

Green Mars continues the story begun in Red Mars about the colonization of Mars. Although it takes place in the future, it is within the next 100 years or so and the portrayal is more realistic than mythic. Like the earlier book, Green Mars touches on many different sciences and technologies: geology (areology, in the book), genetics, medicine, climatology, etc. In other words all the sciences and technologies that would come into play when humans occupy and modify another planet to suit their needs. That said, relative to Red Mars there is a bit of a shift in Green Mars towards the biological sciences.

Like Red Mars, Green Mars also offers the notion that a treatment has been developed that allows people to live indefinitely. This is not immortality; accidents, murders, and illness can still occur. In a sense, genetic aging has been arrested, so that people's bodies no longer inevitably weaken with age.

Is the science of the premise explored?

Green Mars continues the impressive display of scientific detail begun in the earlier book. I am not sufficiently well-versed in ecology and biological sciences to speak to the accuracy of the details, but they seem legitimate. There is discussion of the types of plants that might survive on Mars under varying degrees of terraforming. There is discussion of how to genetically adapt plants for survival on Mars. There is discussion of the CO2, air pressure, and temperature requirements for growth and how those can be achieved on a planet-wide scale.

In contrast to almost all other scientific assumptions, the anti-aging treatments are not covered as thoroughly. Since they were introduced in Red Mars, I suppose there is less need to explain them here. It seems likely, however, that the anti-aging treatments exist more as a literary device to allow characters from each book to survive into the next even though the action must necessarily take more than a century.

Is the impact of the premise on an individual explored?

By the time of the novel there are those who first colonized Mars, those who have emigrated to Mars, and those who were born and grew up on Mars. These groups are psychologically and physiologically different, which the story reveals and discusses. Also, the inhabitants of Mars live in many different habitats and circumstances, which is also explored. There is not much discussion of tourists. Presumably, the distance, cost, and physiological impact of lengthy vacations from Earth's gravity make extensive tourism unlikely.

The author does not completely ignore the anti-aging premise, though it is a minor aspect of the story. There are some discussions of ways in which the treatment may be ineffective. Also, we get some sense of the weariness that living for so long is engendering among some.

Is the impact of the premise on society explored?

Interleaved with the scientific detail of terraforming Mars is a story of the evolving politics/culture taking root on the planet. We learn about the role of Mars to the Earth, the aspirations of many different groups of "Martians", and how these interact with each other. Especially striking is the manner in which technological choices are central to the politics.

We are also offered a glimpse of how life on Earth has changed over the century or more of the two novels. Chief among the changes is the ever-growing role of corporations. We are also asked to consider the political challenges of making anti-aging treatments available to everyone on Earth, while also coping with over population.

How well written is the story?

I found the book easy to read, but occasionally rather dry. The author is intent on conveying the scientific detail and it is a challenge to do that and keep the story moving at the same time. It is all the more difficult because one reader's scientific detail is another reader's measure of the book's realism.

Balanced against this scientific realism is a really good story. For my part, I enjoyed the story in Green Mars more than that of Red Mars. The conflict driving the story seems important and realistic. The actions of the participants seem sensible. And, the resolution is satisfying while still leaving room for a sequel. While the scientific detail might occasionally slow things down, it is often just as likely to be the education you need to appreciate the action when it occurs later in the book.

One final note is that Green Mars continues the narrative style of Red Mars, i.e., from one chapter to the next the person being followed shifts among the lead characters. This technique is used quite effectively to give one a sense of how the perspectives and motivations of the characters differ from one another. Since the character being followed reveals his or her thinking, we are able to learn both how the characters perceive themselves as well as how others perceive them.

Can I recommend the book?

Green Mars is a great work of Science Fiction and I readily recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre. In fact, its focus on realistic scientific extrapolation might be a pleasant surprise for those who consider Science Fiction fanciful. As for those dry spots in the narrative, just bluff your way through. Lurking beneath the blueprint for Mars colonization is a pretty interesting story of personalities and politics.

Tar Daddoo