Red Mars (Mars #1)
by Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)
A fascinating (if overlong), realistic imagining of the colonization of Mars. I loved the science and the politics but cared little for the extensive setting descriptions or weak characters.
All but three of the characters (Nadia, Ann and John Boone) are exceedingly thin and the two women of those three only have about a tenth of the book devoted to them. I found myself wishing by the end that Robinson had swapped genders between Arkady and Nadia, just to have one of the major political actors be a woman. As it was most of the women were either weak (Maya), ignorant (Phyllis) or willfully apolitical (Nadia, Ann). The lone exception was Hiroko who existed more as an archetype than as a character. Also, the more we got to know John and Frank throughout the book, the less comprehensible was Frank’s action in the first chapter.
But all in all: come for the sci-fi and stay for the science and the politics. His writing’s not great, but it’s serviceable and Robinson has an impressive grasp not only of the science necessary to bring such a mission to fruition but also of the socio-political ramifications of such a colonization: e.g., neocolonialism by transnational corporations, the total capitulation to private interests by sovereign governments, the brutal repression/coercion of colonists, the struggle for autonomy, etc. The occasionally-cited parallels between Mars and 18th century North America are compellingly pertinent. Robinson does tend to use his characters as little more than political sermonizers, but it’s not as distracting as it could have been simply because the ideas themselves are co captivating.
Perhaps the most relevant datum is that I will be reading the next in the series, Green Mars. I’ll plan on skipping the extensive place descriptions and unless the characters become more compelling I wouldn’t be surprised if I bow out before reading the last of the trilogy. Regardless of my literary preferences, however, I would highly recommend this to fans of hard sci-fi. It may be the most competent of any I’ve read in that particular subgenre.