In 1992 Kim Stanley Robinson published the first book in his phenomenal trilogy about the colonization of Mars. Taking a look at the information we had on Mars at the time, how it might effect people living there, and telling a very deep story about community, Robinson paints a fascinating picture of life on the Red Planet, and how humans end up changing the environment of Red Mars.
Come the year 2020, the first humans set foot on Mars. John Boone is the first man out of the lander, and in one small step becomes the most famous man in the Solar system since Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth or Neil Armstrong. Returning to Earth, he puts his heart and soul into creating a mission to settle Mars. Wrapped up in the heady wines of fame, discovery, and international popularity, Russia and the United States begin constructing everything they need to settle the Red Planet.
With a reasonably vigorous testing system, a faux Martian settlement in Antarctica, and lots and lots of psychoanalysis, the United States, Russia, and various others from numerous nations representing one hundred in number, set off to colonize Mars on the ship Ares in 2026. Led by John Boone, his American counterpart Frank Chalmers, the excitable Russian Arkady Bogdanov, and the other Russian leader Maya Toitovna, the First Hundred head to Mars.
From there we have an exciting series of landings, struggles against nature, and exploration. From the landing of the First Hundred on Mars, the exploration of the Martial North Pole, and the struggles of building in low gravity, the initial backdrop for the colonization of Mars is vividly realized. There's many poignant and breathtaking explorations of Martian vistas, the world around them, and the different skies people see.
Much like all of Robinsons work, the story is also very ideological. There are those who want to terraform Mars as fast as possible, known as Greens, while there are those who want to be slow and methodical, keeping Mars pristine, known as Reds. Then others want to simply learn how to live in coexistence with this environment, for as long as possible. This ideological debate informs much of the early story, and it seems there are those willing to go to any lengths to see their views come out on top.
There is also no agreement on how Mars should be governed, or even developed. Initially the UN supports the slow approach, but pressure from a world that is overpopulated, resource hungry transnational corporations, and other factors, push them along the quick path. Then comes the question of who exactly governs Mars. Who sets the laws, who polices people, and who profits from all the work being done? That is an extremely messy question with no easy answer.
I found that, from the trip on Ares on, the story hooked me. Personally, I enjoyed the more confined element of the ship over from a story telling view, but it worked very well introducing us to all the various characters. It established personalities, ideologies, and competing interests very effectively for the eventual struggles which would culminate in the final acts of the novel. None of the characters ever felt like a cardboard cutout, and many had interesting depths. Some were better than others, but they generally didn't interact enough outside the First Hundred to really flesh the world beyond them out, so one might say the story is told almost exclusively from their view of it.
Some elements were told simply for plot. The idea of a stowaway on something as sensitive as a colonization mission to Mars is a bit extreme. Then a few of the ideological and cultural patterns did stretch belief (no idea who the Big Man of Mars is supposed to be represented by) but nothing really pulled me out of the story or ruined it. Reading this story with all we know now in the 2020s - and without a First Man on Mars - is interesting, as we see what people thought of Mars in the 90s. It's definitely going to be interesting how many speculations from the novel end up being correct from looking at the Martian environment.
Red Mars is an amazing piece of the classic science fiction canon, and a strong opening in this trilogy. Definitely worth checking out!