The Complete Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

About forty years ago, I used to read a lot of science fiction.  Recently, I’ve started reading (and occasionally rereading) science fiction again.  A friend recommended the Mars Trilogy, and I am grateful.  I enjoyed this novel, particularly the descriptions of the landscape.

The Complete Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

‘We have been sent here by our governments, and all of our governments are flawed, most of them disastrously.’

On 21 December 2026, one hundred of earth’s most skilled engineers and scientists begin a nine-month long journey to Mars.  It’s a joint American-Russian undertaking, aimed at establishing a permanent scientific outpost on Mars with a view to possible settlement and colonisation.  It’s one way to solve a number of serious overcrowding and other problems on the Earth.

In the first novel (‘Red Mars’), much of the debate/discussion is centred around the fate of Mars.  The physicist Saxifrage ‘Sax’ Russell advocates a ‘Green’ position: arguing for the immediate and rapid terraforming of Mars to make it more suitable for human occupation.  The geologist Ann Clayborne advocates a ‘Red’ position: arguing that Mars should be preserved in an undisturbed state.  I found their debates are fascinating, even though some of the technical discussion forced me out of the novel to seek clarification of some of the terms.  I loved the descriptions, the colours, the sheer size of the landscape.

And then, there are a series of disasters.

The second novel, (‘Green Mars’), picks up the story some fifty years later.  While many of the ‘First Hundred’ are now dead, there are now children and grandchildren as well as those who have survived.  The multinational/transnational control of Mars has sparked unrest.    Corporations on earth seek to exploit rich mineral deposits on Mars. There are underground factions as well: those on Mars seek control over their destiny.  Alongside the political machinations and the exploits and adventures of the characters, are beautiful descriptions of the Martian landscape.  This book ends with a major catastrophe on Earth which has a huge impact on the importance of Mars.

The third novel, (‘Blue Mars’) follows closely after the conclusion of the second novel.  Terraforming efforts, resulting in liquid water being present, help to enable Mars to become preeminent.  Events on Earth diminish the power of the corporations.  This novel covers a century, which allows the reader to follow both developments on Mars, and the fate of the remaining members of the ‘First Hundred’.  Sadly, politics and intrigue exist on Mars as they did on Earth, and despite the wonderful scientific achievements enabling Mars to be inhabited, it seems that existing problems have been imported.  Will we ever learn?

By the end of the trilogy, the longevity of characters (thanks to the development of a gerontological treatment) has potential to have a significant impact on population growth.  Believable or not, it enables us to follow the key characters for more than two hundred years.  Also, by the end of the trilogy, humanity has colonies across the solar system, and is looking beyond.

I enjoyed this trilogy, and I intend to reread it. Mr Robinson has created a detailed Martian world and while I sometimes became lost in the detail, I could appreciate the whole.  At times the behaviour of some of the characters frustrated me, but I can just imagine the mono-focus of individuals who believe that they are right and acting in the best interests of both planet and people.  Many of the characters are interesting, especially Arkady, Ann, Nadia and Sax.  While we have access to their internal viewpoints, we also see them through the eyes of others.  Some viewpoints may be more reliable than others.

I finished the last page thinking that the colonisation of Mars as written in this trilogy could well be possible, but probably not in my (normal mortal) lifetime.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith