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16 – Red Mars

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OFFTOPIC2

Top21SFRed Mars, 1993
Kim Stanley Robinson
(b. 1952)

 

Red Mars PB:B Format PBKim Stanley Robinson is, in my opinion, the finest science fiction writer of his generation.  Today he is best known for the Mars Trilogy:

  • Red Mars
  • Green Mars (1994)
  • Blue Mars (1996)

A collection of miscellany from the world of the Mars Trilogy was also published as The Martians in 1999.

Robinson has continued to publish steadily for more than thirty years, building an impressive body of work. His writing is a brilliant combination of “soft” SF themes with very “hard” descriptions of future science and technology, presented in a beautiful, clean prose with an emphasis on character development that can stand comparison with the best work in mainstream fiction.

The Mars Trilogy explores many themes alongside the primary theme of the trilogy – the colonization and terraformation of Mars – especially the politics of establishing a new human society, and the physical and psychological effects of longevity. Like many of his stories, these books are utopian, and despite all the struggles and catastrophes the characters live through (and create themselves) over the course of the novels, the message of the Mars Trilogy is ultimately hopeful for humanity. Robinson researched not only the science but the planet in great depth in preparation for the novels, and uses his tremendous narrative powers to great effect, bringing Mars itself to life as the main character of the trilogy.

I first discovered KSR on a trip to Vermont in the summer of 1995 – I found Red Mars and Green Mars on a paperback rack in Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, bought them both on the spot, and got engrossed in them immediately, finishing them both within a week. Then I had to wait more than a year for Blue Mars to be published!

Robinson has written two other trilogies:

Three Californias:

  • The Wild Shore (1984)
  • The Gold Coast (1988)
  • Pacific Edge (1990)

These three early novels are each distinct visions for the future of California. The Wild Shore is a post-apocalyptic utopia about survivors of a nuclear holocaust attempting to build a new society. In The Gold Coast, Robinson depicts a dystopia set in a near future “hyper-California” culture of designer drugs, casual sex, endless parties, car culture, weapons industry, and terrorism. Finally in Pacific Edge Robinson rolls out many aspects of what I assume (from many years of reading his books) to be his own hope and vision for the future – an ecologically sustainable utopia based on environmentalism as well as political ideals. In many ways it was clearly influenced by Ecotopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston (1975) by Ernest Callenbach, although KSR’s novel is more complex and well-developed.

Science in the Capital:

  • Forty Signs of Rain (2004)
  • Fifty Degrees Below (2005)
  • Sixty Days and Counting (2007)

These books tell one continuous story. Set in the early 21st century, the characters (mostly scientists) witness, attempt to avert, and manage a series of ecological disasters caused by global warming. As usual, Robinson weaves many different themes and characters into the books in addition to the main story line, including the politics of science, the threat and danger of electronic surveillance, and the joys of a stone age lifestyle. He even includes a storyline for a small cast of sympathetic Buddhist monks whose fictitious island homeland is threatened by the rising sea level.

Robinson has written many other novels, some of which are experimental, and many which explore the future and the past in various directions. I have read them all, most of them more than once. Some of my favorites include:

  • Icehenge (1984)
  • The Memory of Whiteness (1985)
  • Antarctica (1997)
  • The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)

When someone asks me to recommend some SF books, I almost always ask if they have read any of KSR’s, and Red Mars is invariably the book I recommend they check out first.

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My Top 21 Science Fiction Novels of All Time:

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