After reading Red Rising By Pierce Brown (Book 1), I wanted to read more about Mars and I found there was a book written about 25 years ago about the first colonisation of Mars. With the SpaceX mission in mind and the talks from the previous years about water on Mars and other algae found, I wanted to see what the great mind of Kim Stanley Robinson came up with.
I know now why it won the Nebula award. This book is filled with snippets of knowledge from mathematical formulas required to break through a planet’s gravitational pull to the effects of space isolation through a long journey.
It’s sometimes tedious but if you’re a hard sci-fi fan, you will enjoy every nano-second.
The entire book starts after everyone is already on route to Mars and then uses the long months of travel to explore the characters, the first 100 scientists and main characters that you will see through the book. You have Russians, Americans, Arabs (which surprisingly play quite an important part in the plot), and an array of personalities.
I loved how they explained the Harvard theory used to pick the people on the ship: if everyone that joins is brilliant, a straight-A student, when they fail, they won’t be able to deal with failure in the same way a student that gets B-s and C-s, so what Harvard did to prevent the increase of suicides on Campus, they accepted students that didn’t have a spotless educational record but that showed promise in other fields – like leadership or sports. These students could show others how to deal with stress, failure and normalize the psyche of the collective.
On board, they created green spaces and mini forests with rooms for everyone to get some privacy. Living in close quarters was like living in a village and people are gossipy by nature. Every relationship was known about and there were some secret ones done in ways of gathering influence and power.
I loved their talks on the ship – from the future of how Mars should be, about Terraforming and whether it’s ethical to change a planet’s lanscape and makeup to be able to hold human life and possibly destroying some un-identified alien habitat, to subjects of religion and faith. I was surprised to see that these scientists had a pretty strong belief that Jesus was a fictional character, designed by the people of that time who were mostly shepherds, to match their belief system. Jesus was a Shepard too, a good one. Very interesting.
The book continues to describe the landing on Mars, the struggle to construct new edifices, the political rise to power of the extroverts and the choleric (there’s an entire section dedicated to explaining the 4 personality types that were known when this book was written (there are 16 approved ones now)). They talk about bio-domes, about splitting the tasks up, about the loneliness that comes from working in space.
They detail the need of a therapist and the fact that they didn’t have enough on board so that the therapist can go and unload somewhere too. They talk about exploration missions and drilling the ice at the poles and then melting it to be able to do the first Martian Rain. They talk about creating an atmosphere and as they are talking, you understand how special Earth is and how hard it will be for the first pioneers to build anything on a remote planet.
“Each of us have a gift, you see, given us freely by the universe. And each of us with every breath gives something back”
This book was written in 1992 and since so many things that he writes about have been identified and are no longer sci-fi territory. Like the robots used to explore the land like the Rovers. Like the space suits and battery packs. Like the signal boosters. Like water.
Liquid water may still flow on Mars, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to spot. The search for water on the Red Planet has taken more than 15 years to turn up definitive signs that liquid flows on the surface today. In the past, however, rivers and oceans may have covered the land. Water on Mars: Exploration & Evidence
“We were outside the world, we didn’t even own things — some clothes. . . . This arrangement resembles the prehistoric way to live, and it therefore feels right to us, because our brains recognize it from 3 millions of years practicing it. In essence our brains grew to their current configuration in response to the realities of that life. So as a result people grow powerfully attached to that kind of life, when they get the chance to live it. It allows you to concentrate your attention on the real work, which means everything that is done to stay alive, to make things, or satisfy one’s curiosity, or play. That is utopia.”
“I know.” She sighed. “We’ll all say that. We’ll all go on and make the place safe. Roads, cities. New sky, new soil. Until it’s all some kind of Siberia or Northwest Territories, and Mars will be gone and we’ll be here, and we’ll wonder why we feel so empty. Why when we look at the land we can never see anything but our own faces.”
The novel goes over a hundred year of history. It details life on Mars on a day-by-day basis and explains the relationship to Earth. It explains Martian time, Martian calendars, Martian Seasons and why they don’t match on the Northern Hemisphere compared to the Southern one. It explains the political struggles and the desire to rule. The rebel formations that destroy a ship and create an Equator line from a huge cable that fell out of space. It goes through the seeking and elimination of the original 100 scientists (out of which only a handful remain alive).
It’s a very good book and definitely a recommended read.
When obsessives are given their object of desire, what do they feel? It was hard to say, really. In a sense their lives were ending; yet something else, some other life, had finally, finally begun…. Filled with so many emotions at once, it was impossible not to be confused; it was an interference pattern, some feelings cancelled, others reinforced.”
The knowledge that went into building this universe and the accuracy of the possibilities (which may be true for the Space X people)
The characters are unlikable. I couldn’t find one I liked and the zero-gravity sex scenes and threesomes are boring. The plot isn’t always fast and I felt myself skipping over some meaningless descriptions and stuffing.
Despite my best efforts I never completely shook my original, teenager impression that this book is just too slow and too serious. Opening the book with the flash-forward to Boone’s death puts a cloud over the rest of the tale, dampening the mood throughout. There’s no joy taken in the telling and very little in the way of a playful spirit among the cast. Some of the more interesting plot threads (mostly revolving around Hiroko) – the stowaway, the secret settlement, the details of the Mars/viridatis worship, etc – are all covered from a distance by Robinson, as if shying away to leave an air of mystery is somehow more powerful than fully embracing their complexities.