Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

A slow, analog alternative to the internet

Moderators: SecondTalon, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
Jorpho
Posts: 6291
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:31 am UTC
Location: Canada

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Jorpho » Sun Jul 29, 2012 6:13 am UTC

Today I add another item to my list of supposedly-classic sci-fi novels that I'm amazed ever got published.

Red Mars was no Cyteen; it is generally quite readable and coherent, at least. It just doesn't seem like there was much of a story present at all. Great swaths of the book consist of characters wandering around being lonely and accomplishing nothing, though it hardly feels like there's much character development to speak of. I guess the descriptions might be interesting if one is particularly keen on geology, but I certainly am not. Little intriguing story bits are sprinkled in here and there that tantalizingly suggest there might be something going somewhere, but they all fizzle pretty quickly.

The book I can most easily compare Red Mars to is Brin and Benford's Heart of the Comet, about the colonization of Haley's Comet, which covers some of the same territory; while it starts off quite slowly, the action picks up nicely. There is a genuine sense of danger and excitement and suspense, and I actually found myself caring about the characters and what would happen to them. I will admit that while Robinson's characters are at least in a sense realistic – they just don't really do anything. (It reminds me a little of that part of The Left Hand of Darkness with the long journey over the glacier, but that wasn't quite so prolonged.)

And what astounds me most is that this one is supposedly the best of the series. I do have a copy of Blue Mars on hand; does it pick up at all? Or is it more hundreds of pages of dialog-free ramblings about the Martian landscape?

User avatar
Jahoclave
sourmilk's moderator
Posts: 4790
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 8:34 pm UTC
Contact:

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Jahoclave » Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:21 pm UTC

There's definitely a lot more character driven plot in Blue Mars. You do get more about landscape, mainly because it's been changing in the few hundred to few more hundred years that the book covers.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:24 pm UTC

I couldn't disagree with you more. I loved this entire series. I found it well crafted, the characters to be interesting and real, the scope of the projects feasible within the bounds of human endeavor, and the extrapolation to be pretty reasonable. This series is one of my favorites, and only partially because it involves the colonization of Mars. As far as Sci-fi goes, KSR did his research and wrote people who were incredibly rich and nuanced. It takes a rare kind of book that can toss out a principal or a philosophy, attribute it to a character and actually have us understand how/why that character reached that conclusion (In reference, particularly, to Sax Russel v. Ann Clayborn (I think that was her lastname?) about whether or not humans should terraform Mars).
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
Jorpho
Posts: 6291
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:31 am UTC
Location: Canada

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Jorpho » Tue Jul 31, 2012 12:46 am UTC

That's another thing I really didn't understand: there's this decades-long project, hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of dollars getting flung around, and then they wait until after they arrive on Mars to have some big, nasty row about terraforming? Surely this would be an issue that would have been hammered out well in advance of anyone leaving orbit?

"Everyone lied horribly during their psych examinations because they wanted to get there so badly!" is the obvious response, but that just doesn't fly very far with me.

It also seems to me that there were many problems that could have been resolved through the use of a GPS (APS?), but I'll give Mr. Robinson just a little credit for not seeing that one coming.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jul 31, 2012 2:30 am UTC

Jorpho wrote:That's another thing I really didn't understand: there's this decades-long project, hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of dollars getting flung around, and then they wait until after they arrive on Mars to have some big, nasty row about terraforming? Surely this would be an issue that would have been hammered out well in advance of anyone leaving orbit?

As you mention, it was settled that they were effectively on their own, launched with the intent of building habitable space for humans on Mars. It's been years since I read the books, but the argument was whether or not they would do this by terraforming the planet, or by simply adapting to the planets needs. This seems a perfectly reasonable thing to disagree on, and to have not really been settled ahead of time. Most of the actual work changing the planet doesn't take place for another 50 years or so.

Jorpho wrote:It also seems to me that there were many problems that could have been resolved through the use of a GPS (APS?), but I'll give Mr. Robinson just a little credit for not seeing that one coming.

APS are in the book. I distinctly remember a couple scenes in the series (maybe in the later books?) that describe satellite tracking things.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
ahammel
My Little Cabbage
Posts: 2135
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:46 am UTC
Location: Vancouver BC
Contact:

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby ahammel » Tue Jul 31, 2012 9:32 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:As you mention, it was settled that they were effectively on their own, launched with the intent of building habitable space for humans on Mars. It's been years since I read the books, but the argument was whether or not they would do this by terraforming the planet, or by simply adapting to the planets needs. This seems a perfectly reasonable thing to disagree on, and to have not really been settled ahead of time. Most of the actual work changing the planet doesn't take place for another 50 years or so.

Yeah, as I recall the first time the disagreement is brought up is onboard the Ares, and they're arguing about hypothetical terraforming projects in the far-ish future. The initial mission was just to set up a permanent settlement. Anyhow: it wouldn't have made much sense to have the terraforming debate before the mission started, because the technology to do so didn't exist until Sax invented it while they were on Mars. And even if the debate had occured beforehand, the First Hundred had more or less declared independence from the Earth by the time the arrived anyway (or at least Arkady had).

It's been a while since I read Red Mars, but I can't say as I remember it being slow-moving. It starts with an assasination and ends with
Spoiler:
Nadia crashing goddamned Phobos into the planet!
He/Him/His/Alex
God damn these electric sex pants!

User avatar
Jorpho
Posts: 6291
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:31 am UTC
Location: Canada

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Jorpho » Wed Aug 01, 2012 12:36 am UTC

ahammel wrote:Anyhow: it wouldn't have made much sense to have the terraforming debate before the mission started, because the technology to do so didn't exist until Sax invented it while they were on Mars. And even if the debate had occured beforehand, the First Hundred had more or less declared independence from the Earth by the time the arrived anyway (or at least Arkady had).
Surely I can't be the only one who sees this as something whose scale means it is most appropriately referred to as a Plot Mohole? Why plan the mission without firmly establishing at least some sort of general idea about what sort of terraforming might be done? How could the First Hundred have been chosen so badly as for such a declaration of independence to be unpredictable?

I can sort of see these things as possible to cover if you stretch far enough, but I find the writing is not up to the task – unless somehow this is all elaborated upon more carefully in the subsequent books. (Heart of the Comet kind of neatly got around the latter by making some of the colonists a group of genetically engineered elites that Earth was trying to get rid of.)

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Aug 01, 2012 3:43 am UTC

Again, I think the first 100 weren't sent to terraform. They were supposed to study Mars, and build habitats for future colonists. That some decided to start up these enormous planet changing projects was why the schism happened.

If you don't like the writing, I can't argue that, but I would call KSR one of the best sci-fi authors out there for the diversity of what he can write well. Characters, plots, descriptions, science. He did it all.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
ahammel
My Little Cabbage
Posts: 2135
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:46 am UTC
Location: Vancouver BC
Contact:

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby ahammel » Wed Aug 01, 2012 3:56 am UTC

Jorpho wrote:Surely I can't be the only one who sees this as something whose scale means it is most appropriately referred to as a Plot Mohole? Why plan the mission without firmly establishing at least some sort of general idea about what sort of terraforming might be done?
Because it wasn't a terraforming mission. Same reason we went to the moon without settling the issue of when and how and whether to establish a permanent settlement.

Jophro wrote:How could the First Hundred have been chosen so badly as for such a declaration of independence to be unpredictable?
It's one of the themes of the books (especially the first one) that any group of people who are willing to leave behind everybody and everything familiar to them to go hang out on a dead planet for the rest of their lives are going to be psychologically unwell in one way or another*. Including—no especially the psychologist they hired to make sure something like that didn't happen (poor Michel). In Green and Blue, KSR reinforces the point by way of contrast between the First Hundred and the native martians.

Johpro wrote:I can sort of see these things as possible to cover if you stretch far enough, but I find the writing is not up to the task...
YMMV, I guess. I think KSR is a fantastic prose writer. Better than Brin, even (and Brin is really really good).

Jophro wrote:(Heart of the Comet kind of neatly got around the latter by making some of the colonists a group of genetically engineered elites that Earth was trying to get rid of.)
To be honest, gen-eng übermenschen sounds like a way worse dodge than "people who want to leave the Earth permanently are probably pretty messed up", but then, I haven't read Heart of a Comet. I've bumped it to the top of the queue on the strength of your recommendation.

Edit: ninja'd. That's what I get for hitting "preview" and going to dinner.

* with the exception of extreme anti-authortarians like Coyote and Arkady
He/Him/His/Alex
God damn these electric sex pants!

User avatar
ElWanderer
Posts: 293
Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:05 pm UTC

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby ElWanderer » Tue Aug 07, 2012 10:48 am UTC

I finished the trilogy a couple of weeks ago, having got Red Mars for Christmas, then the other two books for my birthday in April. I loved Red Mars, and could see myself ploughing through it again quite soon. The other books, I enjoyed less and less as they went on. It took me quite a while to finish off Blue Mars.

Parts of it reminded me of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris - an interesting premise followed by lots and lots and lots and lots of descriptions of the various shapes formed by the sentient(?) ocean. I hated that, and in a similar manner, I didn't really connect with the many descriptions of the Martian geography (and later flora and fauna) in the Mars trilogy. On the other hand, it has made it more interesting looking at maps of Mars in the Curiosity-related stories, I have more of a feel for the landscape. It also reminds me of Iain M Banks' Look To Windward - lots of people like that because it's less about spaceships and explosions than his other Culture books, and much more about the lives of ordinary citizens who have nothing to do in their utopia except have fun in a variety of ways across a variety of constructed environments. I didn't like it so much... because I prefer the spaceships and explosions! It's down to personal, subjective choice, really.

Green/Blue Mars spoilers:
Spoiler:
Because of "the treatment", which I can understand (if not like) as a plot device to keep and develop the same characters rather than having to come up with a whole new set every few years (as in Asimov's initial Foundation books), there are a couple of large stretches in the middle of the trilogy where not a lot happens and no one dies. The lack of peril does make it feel a bit empty - to me it feels like there's enough "action" for one excellent, exciting book spread thinly across two books. Again, that's my personal preference.
Now I am become Geoff, the destroyer of worlds

User avatar
AvatarIII
Posts: 2098
Joined: Fri Apr 08, 2011 12:28 pm UTC
Location: W.Sussex, UK

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby AvatarIII » Tue Aug 07, 2012 10:54 am UTC

I think my favourite book in the series is actually The Martians because I like short stories and it fills in a lot of gaps in the main series, but I really like the series on the whole, and as it goes on and you become better acquainted with the characters, and it brings in more and more Science Fiction elements, and loses a bit of the realism of the first book, I think it becomes more enjoyable.

Although I never really understood the eyetooth thing, did they have their teeth replaced with bits of Mars rock?

User avatar
ElWanderer
Posts: 293
Joined: Mon Dec 12, 2011 5:05 pm UTC

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby ElWanderer » Tue Aug 07, 2012 12:22 pm UTC

AvatarIII wrote:I think my favourite book in the series is actually The Martians because I like short stories and it fills in a lot of gaps in the main series, but I really like the series on the whole, and as it goes on and you become better acquainted with the characters, and it brings in more and more Science Fiction elements, and loses a bit of the realism of the first book, I think it becomes more enjoyable.

Although I never really understood the eyetooth thing, did they have their teeth replaced with bits of Mars rock?

I'd not realised there was a fourth book in the trilogy!

I don't know about the teeth - I think that confused me too.
Now I am become Geoff, the destroyer of worlds

User avatar
AvatarIII
Posts: 2098
Joined: Fri Apr 08, 2011 12:28 pm UTC
Location: W.Sussex, UK

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby AvatarIII » Tue Aug 07, 2012 12:26 pm UTC

ElWanderer wrote:
AvatarIII wrote:I think my favourite book in the series is actually The Martians because I like short stories and it fills in a lot of gaps in the main series, but I really like the series on the whole, and as it goes on and you become better acquainted with the characters, and it brings in more and more Science Fiction elements, and loses a bit of the realism of the first book, I think it becomes more enjoyable.

Although I never really understood the eyetooth thing, did they have their teeth replaced with bits of Mars rock?

I'd not realised there was a fourth book in the trilogy!

I don't know about the teeth - I think that confused me too.


not really a 4th book, it's a short story collection with short stories set at different points during the actual trilogy. Much like Galactic North is to Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series, or A Second Chance at Eden is to Peter F Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy.

User avatar
ahammel
My Little Cabbage
Posts: 2135
Joined: Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:46 am UTC
Location: Vancouver BC
Contact:

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby ahammel » Tue Aug 07, 2012 4:06 pm UTC

ElWanderer wrote:Green/Blue Mars spoilers:
Spoiler:
Because of "the treatment", which I can understand (if not like) as a plot device to keep and develop the same characters rather than having to come up with a whole new set every few years (as in Asimov's initial Foundation books) [...]

Spoiler:
Extreme human longevity is a pretty common theme in KSR's books, I believe. By Blue Mars it's really not so much a plot device as it is the whole plot, for my money.

AvatarIII wrote:Although I never really understood the eyetooth thing, did they have their teeth replaced with bits of Mars rock?
Yep. Those guys weren't, as I recall, exactly models of mental stability.
He/Him/His/Alex
God damn these electric sex pants!

Joeldi
Posts: 1055
Joined: Sat Feb 17, 2007 1:49 am UTC
Location: Central Queensland, Australia
Contact:

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Joeldi » Wed Aug 08, 2012 3:09 am UTC

Red Mars is one of the very few books I never finished. Got about 3/4 of the way through, and then this was this long chapter about politics or finance or something, and I realised that I had no idea what was going on anymore.
I already have a hate thread. Necromancy > redundancy here, so post there.

roc314 wrote:America is a police state that communicates in txt speak...

"i hav teh dissentors brb""¡This cheese is burning me! u pwnd them bff""thx ur cool 2"

User avatar
Adacore
Posts: 2755
Joined: Fri Feb 20, 2009 12:35 pm UTC
Location: 한국 창원

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Adacore » Wed Aug 08, 2012 4:50 am UTC

I think I finished Red Mars but just didn't have any motivation to read the other two after that. This was a decade ago, mind, so maybe I'd have a different opinion of it now. Some bits of Red Mars were really interesting, but mostly I just found it a slog to read.

madd0ct0r
Posts: 44
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2012 3:13 am UTC

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby madd0ct0r » Wed Aug 08, 2012 11:42 am UTC

i really liked it, espically as the focus gradually (over the books) gradually shifts from a tiny group of people trying to survive to the economics and politics driving humanity's accelerado across the solar system (and beyond)

User avatar
hawkinsssable
Promoted
Posts: 216
Joined: Fri May 06, 2011 7:46 am UTC

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby hawkinsssable » Thu Aug 09, 2012 6:55 am UTC

I've almost finished green mars and I've loved every bit of the trilogy so far.

It does somehow give a sense of being a more intimidating read than it is - at the end of each chapter, and at the end of Red Mars, I kinda didn't feel ready to immerse myself in a whole new perspective, and worry the next part of the book is going to be a bit of a slog. But then whenever I get a few pages in I'm hooked again.

There's an interesting article here by Kin Stanely Robinson on science, climate change, utopia, revolution and how it relates to his Mars trilogy. I read it after Red Mars but before Green, and it helped put a few things into perspective. He's got an amazing mind.

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote:The problem, however, with this and all other utopian alternatives, is that we can’t imagine how we might get there. We can’t imagine the bridge over the Great Trench, given the world we’re in, and the massively entrenched power of the institutions that shape our lives — and the guns that are still there under the table. Indeed right on the table. The bridge itself is what we can’t imagine — and maybe that’s what Jameson means: but then it’s not utopia we can’t imagine, but history. Future history, the history yet to come. And that makes sense. History has been so implausible that there’s no reason to suspect that we will ever be able to accurately prophesy or describe the history that will come next.
Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Izawwlgood » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:01 pm UTC

hawkinsssable wrote:I kinda didn't feel ready to immerse myself in a whole new perspective...

Not in regards to the next part being boring to read, but I felt every time a major change occurred, more colonists arrived, a dam burst and a basin flooded, etc., that everything I had accepted and gotten used to was in upheaval. I think that's the mark of a good novel, that the author perpetually forces you into new and potentially uncomfortable territory.

Wait, people are FLYING in mechanized bird suits through the canals? We have a city on Mercury that travels on rails around the equator being pushed by the equator? Schweet.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
Jorpho
Posts: 6291
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:31 am UTC
Location: Canada

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Jorpho » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:48 pm UTC

At times I had the impression that there were things he just didn't want to bother to develop. The name of "Underhill" pops up out of nowhere in the middle of a paragraph inside a chapter with no explanation at all. You'd think the naming of the first settlement would be somewhat more momentous.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Izawwlgood » Sat Aug 11, 2012 5:00 pm UTC

Jorpho wrote:At times I had the impression that there were things he just didn't want to bother to develop. The name of "Underhill" pops up out of nowhere in the middle of a paragraph inside a chapter with no explanation at all. You'd think the naming of the first settlement would be somewhat more momentous.

I honestly don't remember this, but wasn't the first settlement called whatever the first settlement was called the instant Nadia made some buildings?
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

User avatar
Jorpho
Posts: 6291
Joined: Wed Dec 12, 2007 5:31 am UTC
Location: Canada

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Jorpho » Sun Aug 12, 2012 12:25 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I honestly don't remember this, but wasn't the first settlement called whatever the first settlement was called the instant Nadia made some buildings?
I think you could put it that way if I understand you correctly, yes.

User avatar
Izawwlgood
WINNING
Posts: 18686
Joined: Mon Nov 19, 2007 3:55 pm UTC
Location: There may be lovelier lovelies...

Re: Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Aug 12, 2012 7:29 pm UTC

Oh, then the name didn't just randomly pop up. It was a name they had previously agreed upon, but because some of them were too preoccupied with working, they didn't celebrate with pomp. I vaguely recall Nadia even having a little section to that effect; saying she didn't have time to party when there was stuff to build, progress to be had, that they hadn't come all this way to be entrapped by red tape and formality.
... with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.


Return to “Books”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests