Though it is written in verse by a noted poet and though it really is an epic poem, still this story is readable, interesting, and stimulating science fiction.
Chance Van Riebeck, having established a giant bioengineering multinational corporation in the twenty-first century, illegally begins transforming Mars into a living planet. Author Frederick Turner extrapolates from current technology to envision computer modeling of the evolutionary development of individual organisms. This technique allows the researcher to create and transform ecosystems quickly. By this means, a suitable planet can be made humanly habitable in short order.
Opposed to Chance is his estranged wife, Gaea. She changed her name from Rose when she left her husband, experienced a conversion, and became leader of the Ecotheist Church, which has come to dominate the United Nations, now a world government. Ecotheism sees humanity and nature as unalterably opposed and deifies nature, uncorrupted by man, as an expression of divine will. Ecotheism proves to be a religion of human passivity and stasis, while Chance’s works fit his name. He and his followers see humanity’s role to be an expression of nature by innovating.
The first four acts of the poem detail this struggle and the victory of Chance’s followers. The final act is the most poetic, presenting a new, revealed philosophy appropriate to the life humanity creates on Mars. In this view, the cosmos is a goddess branching like a tree or rose toward self-consciousness, slowly and grandly unfolding in time. Though there are many echoes of the great epic poems, this act most clearly points toward John Milton and Dante, notably in the image of the cosmos as a rose.
Turner’s first science-fiction epic poem was THE NEW WORLD. Both works offer a new dimension to science fiction, uniting beauty of language with imaginative extrapolation and exciting narrative.