Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Published : Bantam Spectra (1996), HarperCollins/Voyager(1996)
Series : Book 3 of the Mars Trilogy
Awards Won : Hugo and Locus SF Awards
Awards Nominated : Clarke, Campbell,  and BSFA Awards

The Book :

”The red planet is red no longer, as Mars has become a perfectly inhabitable world. But while Mars flourishes, Earth is threatened by overpopulation and ecological disaster. Soon people look to Mars as a refuge, initiating a possible interplanetary conflict, as well as political strife between the Reds, who wish to preserve the planet in its desert state, and the Green "terraformers". The ultimate fate of Earth, as well as the possibility of new explorations into the solar system, stand in the balance.”

This is the third and final book of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, so there will be spoilers of the series ahead!

That is a fairly vague introduction for such a massive book, but I think that most people who have read Red Mars and Green Mars know the kind of book they’re getting into with Blue Mars.  I do have to say that I would strongly recommend against reading this novel without having read the first two books in the series.  Altogether, I expect this trilogy to remain a classic in stories of Mars for a long time to come.

My Thoughts:

I’ve spaced my reading of the Mars Trilogy over the past three years, so now I can look back on the earlier events of the series with a feeling of nostalgia.  This series started with the journey to and colonization of Mars, and then moved on to terraforming, creating a new society, and navigating the social, economic, and political ties to Earth.  These characters have been through several revolutions, and have lived through many human-driven—but still chaotic—changes of geology, atmosphere, environment, government and culture that have fundamentally changed the face of Mars and its people.  Blue Mars is a fitting conclusion to this story.

Though many of the First Hundred have died at this point, many familiar characters are still alive as part of the “superelderly” (living 200+ years as a result of gerontological treatments) generation.  The story focuses even more than Green Mars on the psychological effects of such a long life. While I felt like the longevity treatment was not especially well integrated in Red Mars, it seems much more incorporated here.  This may be in part because it has grown to play such a large role in both the story and structure of these future societies. Seeing the major characters from Red Mars reaching the (possible) end of their massive life span, and watching them reflect on all that came before gave the story a feeling of natural completeness.

After so many pages, I have come to appreciate the personalities of most of the viewpoint characters. I enjoyed seeing more of Nadia, even though she was not especially central to the novel this time.  Nirgal, as well, feels much less like a wonderkid, and much more like a well-rounded character.  His successes here feel balanced by his failures, and I especially enjoyed reading about his slow process of building his ex-revolutionary life.  Another young native Martian is added to cast, showing more of the new wave of culture.  Her sections were markedly different from any of the other characters, which was refreshing.  I think her chapters were just short enough to keep me from becoming bored with her one-track hedonistic mind.   

Back to the old guard, I was especially happy to see more of Maya and Michel, the unstable pair (or choleric and melancholic pair, Michel might say).  Michel is still dealing with his homesickness for a place that no longer exists, while Maya’s mental problems steadily worsen as her mind is pushed beyond its natural lifetime. Through Maya we see the difficulty of continually trying to renew yourself, and to keep up with the events of a world that is always threatening to leave you behind. Lastly, Ann and Sax seemed to be a central focus of this last novel. They represent the two sides of the old debate, Red vs. Green, though the whole debate is becoming obsolete in the terraformed society of Mars.  Ann must deal with her grief for Mars, and see if she can find a way to adapt to the present. Sax is eager to help, but knows no way to adequately communicate to her the wonder and beauty that he sees in this new man-altered Mars.

Blue Mars seemed to be a quieter book than the first two, with more description and contemplation than tension. It also widened the lens to show colonization elsewhere in the solar system, as well as the “hyper-Malthusian” situation on Earth. All of this served to paint a satisfying picture of where humanity was, how far it had come, and what hopes remained for the future.  While this did round out the series in a satisfying way, the novel did not have as much of a focus or narrative drive as either of the first two novels. Despite this, Blue Mars works quite wonderfully to give a sense of resolution to the personal journeys of many characters, as well as to the fate of humanity and their many worlds.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Blue Mars is a successful conclusion for the impressive work of imagination and research that is the Mars Trilogy.  Though some artistic liberties were taken with science, Robinson has brought Mars to life in a way that feels plausible, and seems to have the complexity of reality.  Slowly, interspersed with many tours of painstakingly described Martin landscape, the handful of First Hundred who head the story have grown into characters that will linger in my mind indefinitely. The story of Blue Mars is both quieter and less focused than in the first two novels, but it still gives a satisfying and hopeful conclusion for the lives of these fascinating characters and the world they inhabit.

P.S.  For an overall series rating, I would give Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy a 5/5.  


  1. Heh, Blue Mars was the first book I've read by Robinson. I still wonder how I managed to make sense of it at the time but it made a lasting impression. I've read everything by Robinson I could get my hands on since.

    1. I remember seeing that in your review :). I don't know how I would have reacted to this one if I hadn't read the first two! My first KSR book was "Years of Rice and Salt", and there are still a number of his books that I have yet to read.

    2. Looks like I was not logged in properly, but that comment was from me.

    3. The Years of Rice and Salt is a pretty though one to begin with too. It's been a few years since I read it but I remember it as quite dense.

  2. I'm happy you enjoyed the this one too. I agree, it was a bit of a plodding story, but I also thought it was a fitting ending. I was worried, because it seemed like it would be so difficult to writing an ending to the series that I'd like (mainly because I didn't want it to end at all) but I was happy with Blue Mars. The Ann and Sax dynamic throughout all three books was great. One of my favorite relationships ever.

    1. I am with you on the not wanting it to end. I kept thinking, "this is the last time I'll ever read about this character." I suppose I can always re-read, but that's not the same! I really enjoyed the conclusion of Sax and Ann's story, too. It's hard to pick my favorite characters at this point, but Ann and Sax were definitely great.