Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Published : 1993, HarperCollinsUK/Bantam Spectra
Series : Book 2 of the Mars Trilogy
Awards  Won : Hugo Award, Locus Science Fiction Award
Awards Nominated : Nebula and British Science Fiction Association Awards

Spoiler Warning:  This review contains some details of the plot of the first novel of the trilogy, Red Mars

The Book :

“Mars: the Green Planet. Man's dream of a new world is underway but corrupted. Red Mars is gone, ripped apart by the violent and failed revolution of 2061. The First Hundred have scattered or died, and for the moment their dreams with them. The rebels are underground, dreaming of their utopia. The transnational corporations have a dream, too. Mars can be plundered -- for the benefit of a ravaged Earth. It can be terraformed to suit Man's need -- frozen lakes form, lichen grows, the atmosphere slowly becomes breathable.

But most importantly, Mars can be owned. On Earth, countries are bought and sold by the transnationals. Why not Mars too? Man's dream is underway, but so is his greatest test. The survivors of the First Hundred -- Hiroko, Nadia, Maya and Simon among them -- know that technology alone is not enough. Trust and co-operation are need to create a new world -- but these qualities are as thin on the ground as the air they breathe.”

At long last, I’ve read the second novel of the Mars Trilogy! I’ve always intended to finish KSR’s story of Martian colonization, and I’m looking forward to reading the concluding novel, Blue Mars  (though with my current rate, I’m guessing I will read it in early 2013).

My Thoughts:

Green Mars involves some dramatic events, but it is a very, very slow-paced novel.  It is a continuation of the story that began in Red Mars, so I would definitely recommend reading that novel first.  The First Hundred are still around, thanks to their anti-aging treatment, and they face many of the same problems.  They still need to find a way to establish a non-dependant and non-submissive relationship with the troubled Earth, which is increasingly controlled by powerful corporations.  The debates about terraforming—to what extent and by what means it should be done—still rage.  However, no matter what decisions are made, Mars is slowly and inevitably changing.  The physical environment is being permanently altered, and new generations of Martian-born people are coming of age, people who know Mars as their only home.

Much of Green Mars is dedicated to explorations of the landscape, and to debate about the major political, sociological, economic, and environmental problems that face those who want to form an independent Martian society.  Some very interesting segments featured scientific or political conferences.  I enjoyed how relatively fairly Robsinson portrayed many different points of view.  The issue wasn’t for the ‘right’ people to be triumphant, but for many groups of people with varying cultural backgrounds and beliefs to find a way to work together.  I think the conferences themselves were very realistically portrayed, as was the difficulty in coming to any kind of consensus.

Like Red Mars, Green Mars is separated into long sections, told from the third-person point of view of various characters.  Given the high amount of dry ideological debate and geographical detail in the novel, feeling a connection with the characters was absolutely essential for me to feel engaged by the story.  There were some parts, more notably early in the novel, where the point-of-view was not as strong as I would have liked, leaving me feeling a little detached from events.  As the book progressed, though, I felt more involved, particularly as it built up to the final, breathtaking conclusion.

A few new characters were added to the cast for Green Mars: the young Martian Nirgal, and the Earthman Art Randolph.  I can see how these characters were useful additions as viewpoint characters.  Nirgal provided insight into the state of mind of the new generation of Martians.  I didn’t strongly dislike Nirgal’s personality, but I felt that he was portrayed as a little too perfect and special, especially initially.  He’s wise, charismatic, attractive, and has strange powers of metabolic control.  His metabolic powers are never really explained, and I felt like the novel could really have done without them.  Art Randolph provides an interesting look into the state of the deteriorating Earth, and his sense of wonder for Mars is a pleasant addition.  Overall, I felt that these were valuable viewpoints to add to the story, though Art, in particular, seemed little underutilized.

Of course, many of the characters from Red Mars also made another appearance as viewpoint characters.  The First Hundred, now down to less than half their number, still wielded considerable influence. I really enjoyed Nadia’s segments, but I think that Sax and Maya were the most notably developed throughout the story of Green Mars. Sax, who was mostly a lab worker in Red Mars, began to take a much more active role in the problems that faced Mars.  I was not much of a fan of Maya in Red Mars, but she became much more aware of her own weaknesses and mental issues.  Maya’s sections most clearly showed the psychological toll that the longevity treatment was taking on the First Hundred. Overall, this is a cast of characters that I will gladly follow into Blue Mars. 

My Rating: 4/5

Green Mars is an incredibly dense, thorough, and slow-paced continuation from the Mars colonization story that began in Red Mars.  Green Mars features the development of a Martian ecology and society, and it is filled with many debates between disparate groups about how each of these things should develop.  Many familiar faces show up as viewpoint characters, such as Nadia, Maya, and Sax, as well as a few new characters, such as the Martian Nirgal and the Earthman Art.  For me, the story picked up interest significantly in the second half of the novel, and it came together in the end to a very satisfying conclusion.  I don’t think I enjoyed this quite as much as Red Mars, but I still think it was an impressive work of science fiction.  


  1. I've enjoyed "Red Mars" tremendously and both "Green" and "Blue" is sitting on my bookshelf. It's two of the few remaining Hugo winners I still need to read. Your review has just wet my appetite to get stuck into them - I've read "Red" quite some time ago, but still remember it very well and am sure I won't struggle too much getting back into the saga. After "Spin" I'll head to Mars proper :-)

  2. "Green" is very similar in style to "Red", so I bet you'll like it! It was about a year ago that I read "Red Mars", and it didn't seem too hard to get back into the story. :)

  3. Hmm, maybe it's a fact of life that people need long breathers in between installments of Robinson's Mars Trilogy. Great review, Ally. I really agreed with your evaluation of Nirgal: he's this all-too perfect child of Mars who came across to me as more of an archetype than a character. I recently read someone describe this series as something like a crisis or conflict of utopias, which makes all the political discussion seem more interesting as its all about people disagreeing about what perfect utopia to turn Mars into. I look forward to seeing what you have to say about Blue Mars but, you know, no rush!

  4. Thanks for your comment! That's an interesting description. I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of a world these conflicting factions end up shaping Mars into.

  5. Great writer!
    2312 is coming out this week! It promises to be amazing! May SF/F new releases

    1. I appear to have missed responding, but belated thanks for your comment! I bought my copy of 2312 when it first came out, though I haven't had a chance to read it yet :). My fiancé is reading it now, and he seems to be pretty impressed!

  6. I don't know if you can believe it, but I might have enjoyed Green Mars as much, if not just a hair more than Red Mars! Sax's transformation following the section "Scientist as Hero" (the title alone wins major points for me:)) was literally one of the best things of my life.

    I didn't like Art much on Earth but when he went to Mars I liked him a lot more. I liked watching him fall in love with Mars and devoting himself to the people...

    1. I think I may have mostly enjoyed "Red Mars" more because I was just so awed by the colonization, early development, and revolution of Mars. Sax's transformation was certainly a high point of "Green Mars" for me, too!

    2. Honestly I didn't think I liked Green Mars as much as Red at first, but it's just grown on me over time. Really though, Red Mars occupies a kind of mystical/religious devotion part of my brain :-).