by Kyt Dotson
Continuing the amazing sociopolitical science fiction Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson Green Mars starts up shortly after where Red Mars leaves off. Just like the previous in the trilogy, Green Mars follows the terraforming of Mars and the exploits of the remaining First Hundred—and now also their children and grandchildren. Here the story takes some odd swings away from the highly personal version of attempting to settle the hostile Martian landscape to the sociopolitical arguments surrounding terraforming the planet and adapting humanity’s political and social interests to after-Earth environmentalism.
The name of the book refers to the stage of terraforming which is designed to allow plants to grow on the Martian landscape through the warming of the planet and the thickening of the atmosphere (which at the time is nearly 1/100th of Earth atmospheric pressure.) Much of the novel surrounds the project to change this so that the landscape is at least livable to humans.
Be warned, this review will refer to events form Red Mars and some of them are spoilers.
Part of the biggest narrative of the novel is the introduction of a new viewpoint character, Saxifrage “Sax” Russell, a theoretical physicist and First Hundred member who becomes the father of terraforming technology. In fact, the book goes into great detail about the terraforming efforts of the planet and how Sax implements those technologies—he’s the ideological founder of the “Green” movement, a faction of Martian politics who agitate for a breathable atmosphere on Mars.
His character is massively metamorphic from his initial presentation to readers, which makes him a beautiful and remarkable person. Early on in the story, Sax suffers a horrible brain injury that leaves him with intermittent word-disassociation and aphasia. This trauma leads him to looking at the world as more than just an environment with people in it; but a world of an environment of people. This develops the strong ideological bright lines revolving around environmentalism, terraforming a new world, and the social and political ethos of colonizing the entire world.
During the novel, the increasing divide between Marian natives and controlling interests from Earth begin to stretch thin. There is an Earth-Mars government attempting to control the direction that colonization and this is at odds with the now Martian natives who have formed their own underground (along with some of the First Hundred, their children, and grandchildren) in a resistance attempt to discover their own destiny.
The real drama arises from the fact that some of the First Hundred remain with the Earth-Mars government, such as Phyllis Boyle who becomes something of an antagonist for the Martian native resistance and character such as Sax.
The introduction of each new character, their drama with one another, provides a whole new way of viewing not just the plot of the book but the emergence of an entirely new society. The entire Mars Trilogy reads like living history, speaking to a very intricate and personal growth of an entire world and that’s what makes it such a compelling read. Even the parts of the story that speak long and hard about political and social science can be easily digested through the point-of-view of various people living in it and they’re interspersed with softened hard science fiction about the environmental efforts themselves.
The fallout from the destruction of asteroid Clarke and the space elevator—a gigantic cable running from the surface of Mars into space and an amazing yet unlikely technology—caused a year-long dust storm along with the thicker atmosphere that has now just settled. Leaving behind reasons to pick up the pieces and recycle the old cable from the space elevator.
Even through the eyes of characters such as Anne Clayborne—the absentee ideological mother of the Red movement—the book lays out the inexorable march of progress and how a person can watch what they care for most draw away from them. Ann is well-known for arguing against the terraforming of Mars and is therefore a political nemesis of Sax. However, as the title might suggest, Green Mars is not about how Mars is kept in its pristine wonder.
This is a very long book; all of the Mars Trilogy books are long and involved. I really loved the characters and cared about them as I followed their lives. This book may not always be a massive page-turner, but it kept me awake night after night and although some of the social and political science feels a bit stretched, it’s still a story about a multitude of people all acting towards different and sometimes conflicting goals.
These books present what feels like a very human experience.