Study Guide

Red Mars

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Mars Analysis

Red Mars (Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Kim Stanley Robinson begins his projected trilogy about Marswith a fascinating account of the first thirty years of Martiancolonization, beginning in about 2026.

The main themes of personal and policy conflicts tend to focuson nine characters from among the original one hundred colonists. Most of these characters become leaders of factions that representconflicting views about human nature, about whether Mars should bemainly an object of study or be terraformed to support human life,about whether the colonists should start a new society orreestablish old institutions.

Those favoring terraforming carry the day as expandingpopulation, resource depletion, and the increasing power oftransnational corporations come to dominate government policies. Mars is seen as a new America, a site of colonization andexploitation by the old world. While advancing technology makesterraforming possible in a relatively short time, political andsocial conflicts, influenced to some extent by personal conflicts,lead to social and ecological catastrophe that leave the colonialcities devastated and at war.

The novel is epic in proportions, offering a cosmic overview ofplanetary colonization based on extensive reading about Mars andplausible speculation about technological developments in the nearfuture. However, it lacks the sort of epic storytelling ofanalogues such as James Fenimore Cooper’s THE PIONEERS or FrankHerbert’s DUNE. The characters and their struggles are lessinteresting finally than the general human encounter with Mars. This book is not a “page-turner,” but Robinson’s picture of Marsand his view of Earth’s future have much to offer a patientreader.

Sources for Further Study

Analog. CXIII, July, 1993, p.248.

Fantasy and Science Fiction. LXXXV, July, 1993, p.35.

Locus. XXX, October, 1992, p.19.

New Scientist. CXXXVII, January, 1993, p.50.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, January 31, 1993, p.25.

Science Fiction Chronicle. XIV, February, 1993, p.32.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 2, 1992, p.20.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, February 28, 1993, p.6.

Red Mars (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Red Mars is the first novel in Kim Stanley Robinson’s projected trilogy, which will include Green Mars and Blue Mars. The book’s main strength is its detailed depiction of Mars, based on Robinson’s study of materials gathered from Viking and Mariner flights. Robinson vividly captures the wonder and the challenge to the human imagination of coming to know and learning how to live in an alien landscape. The picture of Mars he presents is technically detailed and extensive, so that often the novel becomes a kind of travelogue with expert commentary on geology, climatology, engineering of various kinds, and genetics, among other sciences. This material is woven into a narrative that operates on two main levels: the epic story of the first thirty years of Martian colonization and a group of sometimes less interesting narratives of adventure and personal relationships.

Robinson begins in the middle, with the assassination of John Boone, about twenty-five years after the first hundred colonists land on Mars. Frank Chalmers arranges the murder and effectively hides his own involvement. His main motive is to eliminate a rival for leadership. Frank sees himself as a political realist, believing that people are motivated mainly by selfishness. He seems to want a just society, but he assumes that this can be achieved only by the ruthless exercise of political power, balancing destructive forces of government and business against each other in order to preserve room for individual freedom and security. John, on the other hand, is a Martian version of an Emersonian American dreamer who believes that human nature is not fixed but changeable. Mars offers humanity a chance to escape past errors and make itself anew. Frank eventually finds that he needs John’s idealism; in the end, Frank fails to balance the opposing forces and must see all he has worked for destroyed.

After narrating John’s assassination from Frank’s point of view Robinson returns to the beginning of the colony, telling its history from the selection of the colonists through the rebellion that draws most of the remaining original colonists together into resistance against Earth powers. Robinson shifts point-of-view characters in each of the remaining seven parts, offering a variety of perspectives on the history of colonization.

Part 2, told from Maya Tuitovna’s point of view, describes the long trip from Earth to Mars in the Ares. Here begin the personal relationships that will influence some later events, but the main themes concern styles of leadership, the incomplete unification of the group, and especially the fictions that remain when they arrive. Most of the colonists want to model their society on what they see as the democratic character of their scientific community. Frank and some other members are more inclined to be authoritarian and militaristic and so to follow orders from Earth. At the extreme of the democrats is Arkady Bogdanov, who advocates breaking away from Earth command altogether and immediately in order to design their own society. Influenced by his memories of Soviet idealism and authoritarianism, he sees their being together, virtually self- sufficient and so much of one mind, as the golden opportunity to begin anew. Another main theme is how to deal with the planet when they arrive. Here the group divides between those who agree with Sax Russell that the planet should be terraformed-made habitable for humans-and those who agree with Ann Clayborne that Mars is a treasure chest of information about the history of the universe and should be preserved and studied rather than plundered.

Maya, as coleader with Frank, finds herself sympathetic to both sides on each of these issues. She tries to help them hold together, while Frank concentrates on manipulating people so as to move himself into undisputed leadership. Maya sees John Boone as a source of unity in the group, while Frank sees him as a rival to his power. Like Maya, John is sympathetic to both ideas, and his de facto leadership produces the general course the group adopts, giving each faction some play while the colony as a whole behaves more or less consistently with the directives coming from Earth.

In part 3, Nadia Cherneshevsky is the point-of-view character. This part deals mainly with the technical and physical problems of setting up the colony. Nadia is happiest when solving technical...

(The entire section is 1811 words.)