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Philosophical affinities & divergances demarcate 22nd c Mars
on March 19, 2002
Kim Stanley Robinson's epic Mars trilogy proceeds with new characters and familiar ones. Robinson is now comfortable in his role as planetary surveyor and scribe; his scientific capacity and artistic bravery are equal to his first volume, Red Mars. New readers are introduced to those remaining from the original 100 settlers to Mars, and are given the opportunity to explore the red planet from pole to pole. Those familiar with the exploits of Maya, Sax, Ann, Nadia, and Coyote will be delighted to see the evolving planet through their friends' eyes for a few thousand more miles of adventure and another generation of time.
Mars has experienced its first revolution and its people are now recovering and reorganizing. Several political factions exist: the Reds, those committed to the maintenance of Mars in its primal state, even if that means the expulsion of humans (the Reds were responsible for one wave of the revolution); then there are the Greens, those dedicated to terraformation and viriditas, life's natural pattern of growth and complexity... this group was driven south and underground, and here we find most of the original 100 settlers; next are the Transnationals, the Terran corporations that have spread to Mars (who unleashed a majority of the destruction during the revolution); finally, there are waves of Emigrants who simply have no room left on Earth, or wish to start a new life and family on Mars. Robinson's grasp of the political climate is impressive, as he juggles so many realistic and human motivations. With patience, you will discover the leaders and beliefs of all major groups (a welcome shift from sci-fi's traditional cardboard political cutouts).
But it's still a small world, the population split into only a handful of communities, and the potential as great as ever. "Every human was a great power, every human on Mars an alchemist."
Green Mars is essentially a collection of self-contained short stories, in the mode of Isaac Asimov's original Foundation series; Green Mars weaves fine threads through seven characters and 40 earth-years. In addition, each section is prefaced with a few pages written by other characters, major and minor... these introductories' relation to their following story isn't always clear, but it's often a nice, short respite from the just concluded 50-100 page tale.
First, we travel to the south pole, into caves dug in the frozen ice-mass. Here, we find the Greens continuing both the education of their children and their social engineering; most of the children are test-tube creations, combinations of the strongest members of the community. "Hiroko, who seemed an alien consciousness, with entirely different meanings for all the words in the language" is the group's silent godmother and planner... their future lies in her enigmatic hands. All south-pole Greens travel about in camouflaged vehicles, but not for much longer... their preparations for re-assumption of Mars leadership proceed.
The second story shoots us across 50 million miles, back to Earth. Art Randolph is a technical manager for the transnational corporation, Praxis. He has been summoned to a private seminar on a lush ocean island by Praxis' owner, William Fort. At this seminar, he and a dozen other employees study new and classical theories of economics, and consider how Mars now fits into the picture.
Art must learn quickly, for his next assignment is a space shuttle to the glowing red neighbor in the night sky. His first task will be to become a member of the Greens' underground community.
Robinson explores so many diverse topics over the course of this book that you ponder whether multiple authors took part in its construction. But Robinson's method is consistent throughout: most characters are rational scientists or engineers, who often sound identical but are differentiated by their personal beliefs.
For instance, stories three and four explore the exploits of Ann Clayborne and Sax Russell, respectively. Ann is the first Red, the founder of the movement... in her eyes, no further terraformation or settlement can be permitted, no matter the scientific gain. Sax, in contrast, is the joyous (and possibly mad) scientist, who thrills to new discovery, even if it leads to mass change on Mars. Yet, as scientists, who should have so much in common, Sax can't understand Ann's total hostility towards him.
"Scientists who used different paradigms existed in literally different worlds, epistemology being such an integral component of reality. Scientists debating the relative merits of competing paradigms simply talked right through each other, using the same words to discuss different realities. It had been a frustration to both of them, and when Ann had cried out that he had never seen Mars, a statement that was obviously false on some levels, she had perhaps meant only to say that he hadn't seen her Mars, the Mars created by her paradigm."
Sax eventually leaves Ann behind and proceeds to explore the evolving Ares. Some readers will lap up Robinson's rich detail and etch the new map of Mars on their memory, others will simply page through quickly to the next story. For there are many stories and events remaining. Most significantly, scientists on Earth discover a longevity treatment that more than doubles an average human's life span. Robinson manages the complexity with a measured and humane hand, devising many interesting side-stories. Later on, the larger underground communities band together to hammer out a rough draft of Mars' first constitution, even as a second revolution is approaching. All philosophical differences must be resolved here.
The highlights of this book are the stories starring Sax Russell (most likely Robinson's alter-ego) and the almost overwhelming chronicle of Maya Toitovna, who has entered a grave clinical depression... Robinson's grasp of the human condition is profoundly acute. This is what places his Mars Trilogy at the forefront of all science fiction, as one of the most relevant and prescient accounts of humanity's future.