Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Red Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Red Mars

Title: Red Mars
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993
Length: 572 pages
Availability: Red Mars - US
Red Mars - UK
Red Mars - Canada
La Trilogie martienne - France
Roter Mars - Deutschland
  • The first volume in The Mars Trilogy
  • See also the other volumes in The Mars Trilogy: Green Mars and Blue Mars
  • Winner of the Nebula Award for best novel, 1993

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : vivid, engaging

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Scientist . 30/1/1993 David Barrett
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/1/1993 Gerald Jonas
TLS A 2/10/1992 Roz Kaveney

  From the Reviews:
  • "A little too science-based, perhaps; Robinson goes on at length about the geological structure of Mars, and you begin to wish he would get back to the plot. (...) But what disturbed me is the degree to which nationalism rears its ugly head. (...) Robinson's book is far more ambitious and is, perhaps, the greater achievement. But Bova's book [Mars] is a better read." - David Barrett, New Scientist

  • "In the debate over terraforming and its consequences, Mr. Robinson has all the makings of a philosophical novel of suspense. The stakes are high, the sides are shrewdly drawn, the players on both sides range from politically naive idealists to ambitious manipulators without discernible scruples. The author's mastery of information never fails to impress. (...) In the end, however, not even Mr. Robinson's talents can overcome the obstacles he has set himself." - Gerald Jonas, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This is a novel in which all the viewpoint characters -- male and female, American and Russian -- are secret sharers in each other's conflicting enterprises, both personal and political, and tragedy is born from calling different things by the same names. (...) This is one of the finest works of American SF because it is one of the few that aspire to the dignity of the genuinely tragic." - Roz Kaveney, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Red Mars chronicles the colonialization of Mars, the novel focussed on the first group of a hundred (or so) to set out in 2026 for the red planet, and their work there. After a brief section looking ahead, the novel begins with the lengthy voyage out and it's an entertaining ride: the spaceship is large but travelling for months in the confined space is still a challenge -- and there are hazards such as radiation to deal with, as well as trying to maintain a semblance of gravity.
       Robinson chooses from the beginning to make the colonization of Mars a national-pride project: despite UN oversight (through UNOMA, the UN Office for Martian Affairs), the first mission is dominated by spacepowers Russia and the US, who each contribute 35 members to the inaugural mission. This national orientation is something that holds for the entire trilogy, and while it helps make for some of the tension and conflict that drives the plots it also feels out-of-date, a holdover from the Soviet-American space-race (and spacelab collaborations).
       Starting fresh is seen as a grand opportunity:

     "We have been sent here by our governments, and all of our governments are flawed, most of them disastrously. It's why history is such a bloody mess. Now we are on our own, and I for one have no intention of repeating all of Earth's mistakes just because of conventional thinking. We are the first Martian colonists ! We are scientists ! It is our job to think things new, to make them new !"
       Nevertheless, it proves difficult to leave everything earthly behind -- including some (old) ways of thinking. Much has already been shot over to Mars, from machines and robots to prefab living and workspace, but even on the flight over there are already differing opinions as to what the priorities are and how they should go about making Mars habitable. Soon enough, there will be a growing split between those that want to radically transform Mars and make it Earth-like (with breathable atmosphere, etc.) and those who want to leave the larger picture of the planet untouched. From early on, Ann Clayborne is representative for the forces who want to leave Mars unspoilt:
I look at this land and, and I love it. I want to be out on it traveling over it always, to study it and live on it and learn it. But when I do that, I change it -- I destroy what it is, what I love in it. This road we made, it hurts me to see it !
       Needless to say, the forces of 'progress' dominate early on -- but Ann and her attitude can't be written off entirely .....
       Robinson does a nice job of describing those first efforts on Mars. There's fairly good adventure, as well as a variety of interesting scientific issues and problems to be dealt with (as well as a bit of the personal -- conflicts and relationships). One difficulty, however, is that it's a very long-term project -- and to deal with this Robinson makes his most questionable and radical choice: he posits the convenient discovery of "a kind of plasmid repair of the gene sequence" -- in essence, gene therapy that counteracts ageing. Occasional treatment, and life-expectancy is readily extended ... possibly indefinitely:
       The tall scientist shook his head. "This changes everything, you know."
       No kidding. Robinson seems to have decided to include such a discovery in order to be able to keep his characters alive for the many decades necessary to see real change on Mars, but it comes with many consequences. Several of these can be used to good dramatic effect -- the issue of who gets access to the treatment, at first, for example, and then the over-population danger that arises on Earth when too many are rendered more or less immortal. Still, it remains an annoying contrivance, turning many of the 'First Hundred' into essentially god-like creatures that linger on and on. (In fact, it seems likely that the mortality rate of the first planet-colonizers would be far higher than on Earth, but the huge and constant turnover presumably wouldn't allow for the personal sagas that Robinson seems so attached to.)
       Robinson also suggests a move (on Earth) towards the rise of 'transnational' super-corporations that wield great power:
Armscor is one of the smallest of the transnationals, that is why we picked it. But it still has a bigger economy than any but the largest twenty countries. As the old multinationals coalesce into transnationals, you see, they really gather quite a bit of power. When we give one a concession, some twenty or thirty countries profit by it, and get their opening on Mars.
       Economics and economic systems are a major issue throughout the trilogy. Earth (or at least most of the governments and transnationals who have a say) is presented as ruthlessly capitalist and exploitative, solely interested in the resources available on Mars -- treating it as, for example, Africa once was --, while many on Mars look towards other economic systems. Not all of this is fully or realistically developed (start-up costs and on-going financing wouldn't seem to permit all that much idealism of the sort Robinson suggests), but it makes for an interesting contrast.
       The book covers several decades, culminating in a revolution, as enough elements on Mars refuse to allow their future to be dictated to them from Earth and try to (re)claim the planet. Among the most spectacular projects built on Mars was a cable-elevator tethered to the planet but extending up and out into the atmosphere, a more efficient way of transporting people and goods to and from the surface than having space-ships actually land. This umbilical cord is cut (wrapping itself around the planet as it collapses) -- not enough to separate the Martians entirely from earthly control, but making things a whole lot harder once again for those coming from Earth.
       The entire trilogy is a history, and the difficulty of covering such huge periods and major changes, while also focussing on personal stories is one that Robinson struggles with in al three volumes. Red Mars is more successful than the two volumes that follow because, in its novelty, the action (and the deeds) are the most compelling. The portrayals of the major characters are a bit simplistic, but there's enough variety to keep things fairly interesting and even as they're approaching a hundred years come the revolution their longevity isn't yet the irritant it becomes as they linger on and on in the next two.
       Creative, well-imagined, with enough thrills as well as food for thought, Red Mars is a solid science fiction novel, and certainly a good read.

- Return to top of the page -


Red Mars: Reviews: Kim Stanley Robinson: Other books by Kim Stanley Robinson under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       American author Kim Stanley Robinson has written several highly acclaimed works of science fiction.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2007-2024 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links