The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Red Mars is a sweeping saga of humanity’s colonization of Mars. It is told primarily from the viewpoint of the First Hundred, the initial Martian colonists. The novel begins with the death of John Boone, the first man to set foot on Mars and one of the leaders of the colony. Boone’s death was plotted by his best friend, Frank Chalmers, his rival in politics and romance. The story then flashes back to the flight to Mars, as the colonists endure alternating bouts of boredom and intense preparation for their landing. The creation of the colony and a manned base on the moon Phoebus goes smoothly, marred only by a debate over the pace and methods of terraforming Mars. The Reds, led by geologist Ann Clayborne, want to retain Mars in its natural state for study. The Greens, led by Saxifrage Russell, believe in adapting the Martian environment through biological and industrial processes so that people may one day walk the Martian surface without need of artificial breathing devices.

As the First Hundred develop Mars, additional colonists arrive. Development on Mars is nominally under the control of the United Nations, but the growth of transnational corporations on Earth leads to a growing corporate presence on Mars. As conditions on Earth decline, immigration to Mars and access to its resources increasingly are seen as rights on Earth, even as the Martian colonists begin to develop a sense of independence. Chalmers, the leader of the American delegation, deals with Earth officials and Martian factions to maintain a fragile balance of power. This balance begins to break down as an asteroid is maneuvered into orbit to be used as raw material and the base for a space elevator, a cable connecting the asteroid and Mars to provide low-cost transportation from Mars’s gravity well.

Martian medical personnel discover a way to slow the aging process dramatically. This precipitates a crisis on Earth, as differences widen between the haves and the have-nots. This pressure spills over to Mars, as increased immigration and worsening living conditions lead colonists to disappear into the wild. Hiroko Ao, head of the first farm colony on Mars, leads her team and psychologist Michel Duval into the southern hemisphere, and other colonists join them.

In 2061, a violent revolution...

(The entire section is 942 words.)