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  1. #16
    trolling > dissertation nquixote's Avatar
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    I personally think it's a good thing that so many books get good reviews. It's more important for reviewers to describe a book's strengths - and hence to steer people who'd like it toward reading it - than to warn people away from a bad book. I'd rather read 10 good books and try and discard 20 bad ones than read only 2 good books and no bad ones.

  2. #17
    Registered User beniowa's Avatar
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    I quite enjoyed the Mars books when I read them years ago. Like Wert has admitted, much of it has not aged well, but I would still recommend them. I think Red Mars was probably the best. It gets a little boring later after the main parts of terraforming are complete.

  3. #18
    I have read Red and Green Mars (Blue is sitting on my shelf from years ago unread). The books were ok in my opinion. Rather interesting in the ideas used to create a colonisation on Mars, but there wasn't really any page-turning story underneath, nothing that really made me want to keep reading. So if it wasn't for the 'scientific' aspects I doubt I would have finished Red Mars.

  4. #19
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well I like Robinson's writing. I really liked Antartica, which had great science but also interesting social stuff going on and good characters.

    But I did have a lot of problems with Red Mars. It wasn't so much the writing, which was okay, though not Robinson's best. The problem was that a lot of the science seemed quite off to me -- this came up in a conversation we had about big science blunders awhile back -- and the logistics of the mission were completely unrealistic. Ben Bova did slightly better in Mars and Mary Russell did far worse in The Sparrow, but all of these books seem to be riffing off Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which is an entertaining story that is a mess in terms of realistic world building. Essentially, they keep trying to make it like a colonizing expedition on some spot on Earth would be, except with Mars not having oxygen. In reality, the countries would keep much tighter control of a mission, it would be much more military, and you would not be able to set up hippy dippy utopia colonies like your Wild West frontier pioneers. You certainly wouldn't be able to sneak stuff onboard the spaceships. The progress the mission made on Mars was completely out of whack with how they'd do it, even in the 1990's.

    So for me, the story just doesn't end up making a lot of sense. The destructive love triangle is fine, but frankly it just becomes more and more of a surprise that all of these people aren't killed off within a very short span of time. And the Heinlein/Dick/etc. view that all these colonies will rebel against Mother Earth like the U.S. colonists against England -- it is a rather dated view and not very plausible.

    So some of the science I liked, some of the situations, the characters, enough perhaps that I might read the rest because I'd like to see more of the terraforming, but it was something of a disappointment for me. I'm more interested in reading some of his other works instead at this point. And I don't think it's really the definitive terra-forming work yet; I think we're still waiting for that. Maybe if we solve some of the problems down here first, like deep sea oil leaks.

  5. #20
    trolling > dissertation nquixote's Avatar
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    I dunno, Kat. Seems to me that by far the most realistic story about human colonization of Mars is that...humans never colonize Mars.

  6. #21
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Maybe if we solve some of the problems down here first, like deep sea oil leaks.
    Maybe the real problem is the sociology of why we can't solve problems.

    psik

  7. #22
    trolling > dissertation nquixote's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by psikeyhackr View Post
    Maybe the real problem is the sociology of why we can't solve problems.
    My guess is that it's mainly because people don't realize that Star Wars is space fantasy, not science fiction...

  8. #23
    \m/ BEER \m/ Moderator Rob B's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Banger
    Quote Originally Posted by phil_geo View Post
    I greatly appreciate the time the official reviewers take to review novels on sffworld. However, I will say that it is very difficult to find a novel they don't recommend. They have a couple hundred books in their official reviews section, but after clicking on over 25, there weren't any they didn't like, including a few very weak novels. They almost always address the flaws in a book, but then thoroughly recommend it at the end. I've often wondered if it is a conscious effort to avoid offending an author, or some other reason.
    I guess you missed my review of The Princes of the Golden Cage
    Or Mark's review of The Left Hand of God or my reviews of Blood of Ambrose and Karen Miller's Empress.

    To Adam's point, if I don't finish the book, it doesn't get a review. If I don't finish the book, then I didn't enjoy it and thought it was very bad.

  9. #24
    Green Mars and Blue Mars are the only Hugo winners I have not read. I figured I needed to read Red Mars first. I have tried twice with not success getting past the first chapter. One of these days I will give it another shot.

  10. #25
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nquixote View Post
    My guess is that it's mainly because people don't realize that Star Wars is space fantasy, not science fiction...
    That must be it.

    There is nothing to do but build a Deathstar and blow up the planet.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVrIyEu6h_E

    psik
    Last edited by psikeyhackr; June 22nd, 2010 at 11:54 PM.

  11. #26
    Live Long & Suffer psikeyhackr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob B View Post
    Or Mark's review of The Left Hand of God or my reviews of Blood of Ambrose and Karen Miller's Empress.

    To Adam's point, if I don't finish the book, it doesn't get a review. If I don't finish the book, then I didn't enjoy it and thought it was very bad.
    Maybe you should create a junk book page and list the unfinishable.

    But maybe the book should be give to another reviewer first.

    Two strikes and you're out.

    psik

  12. #27
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    Essentially, they keep trying to make it like a colonizing expedition on some spot on Earth would be, except with Mars not having oxygen. In reality, the countries would keep much tighter control of a mission, it would be much more military, and you would not be able to set up hippy dippy utopia colonies like your Wild West frontier pioneers. You certainly wouldn't be able to sneak stuff onboard the spaceships. The progress the mission made on Mars was completely out of whack with how they'd do it, even in the 1990's.

    So for me, the story just doesn't end up making a lot of sense. The destructive love triangle is fine, but frankly it just becomes more and more of a surprise that all of these people aren't killed off within a very short span of time. And the Heinlein/Dick/etc. view that all these colonies will rebel against Mother Earth like the U.S. colonists against England -- it is a rather dated view and not very plausible.

    So some of the science I liked, some of the situations, the characters, enough perhaps that I might read the rest because I'd like to see more of the terraforming, but it was something of a disappointment for me. I'm more interested in reading some of his other works instead at this point. And I don't think it's really the definitive terra-forming work yet; I think we're still waiting for that. Maybe if we solve some of the problems down here first, like deep sea oil leaks.
    I would have liked to have seen more discussion of the actual rationale for the colonising, especially since some recent discussions about going to Mars on documentaries identify what I guess was Robinson's key motivating factor: namely that a simple manned mission to Mars, going there and returning, will have to involve the astronauts spending months on the planet, not just a few days like the Apollo moon-shots. So they're going to have to have ways of creating their own food and oxygen up there. And if you're self-supportive for 6 months or longer, what would it take to be self-supportive indefinitely? Robinson also identifies the fact that even at solar minimum the astronauts are going to be taking a lot of radiation, enough so that after the round trip their chances of developing cancer will much higher than normal. As such, a one-way trip for some of these people may be preferable (and hell, there are people crazy enough to want to do it).

    That of course leads to the other problem that people who want to go and live on Mars forever, with no chance of ever simply walking out the door and enjoying a walk in the fresh air ever again, are probably not entirely the most stable bunch in the first place. Amusingly, one of the alternate-timeline stories in The Martians postulates that the Mars mission fails because everyone cracks up due to this very issue.

    The lack of military culture also made sense to me. A lot of NASA pilots and astronauts (and their Russian counterparts) come into the programme from the military air force, but a Martian colonising team would require a lot of people from pure science and engineering fields with no military service or experience, and who'd only be trained in space travel only as far as they could survive the trip out (I loved the idea of the Ares being built out of second-hand space shuttle fuel tanks, btw, a shame NASA never thought of this). Purely military or police forces on the mission would be a waste of space that could go to scientists or engineers in the relative fields who'd be far more urgently needed for the initial settlement.

    As for Mars going for independence like the USA in 1776, this is a very common theme in SF (Babylon 5 has an excellent, long-gestating subplot about this very idea) and in general social terms. Once you have a large-enough native-born population, they're going to start getting annoyed about being flooded with immigration and with their world being taxed and exploited by people back on Earth who have no idea what it is like to live there, and calls for independence would be the direct result of that. Again, I think Robinson has it happening far too soon, and certainly far too violently, but the idea itself seems reasonably sound.

  13. #28
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Except they aren't self-supporting -- unless you can make food and water under non-artificial conditions and have an atmosphere you can breathe, you can't support yourself and are entirely dependent on Earth, even if Earth can't get to you for a few months.

    The military/NASA of the U.S. and other major countries has no problem supplying its own scientists, doctors and engineers. There is a surfeit of astronauts (causing the crazy lady astronaut.) And even if they were to bring in civilian specialists, those specialists would be trained as military for years before the mission and would be under the supervision and control of the military. Essentially, any scientific long-term mission to Mars would be operated like they do the poles -- scientists and military only. No kids, no colonies, just research and development, probably for decades. They certainly wouldn't have specialty clusters of scientists who were all one ethnicity/from one country. They would not be as unsupervised as they are and as able to avoid communication, they could not hide people on the ships, they would not be able to set up little utopian towns with competing political philosophies. And they couldn't do a damn thing about Earth's control until they have a breathable atmosphere and the ability to repair all their machinery and build their own spaceships -- which again would not be possible for much longer than Robinson spins it.

    Robinson has a lot of interesting science in the book and then has some situations -- like with the air ship incident -- that we've discussed before as problematic and implausible. But for this particular book, he falls into the same trap as many other SF authors -- the Campbellian/Bradbury lure perhaps -- of treating the tackling of a planet, especially a non-terrestrial one, as the same as settlers into the American West, Australian Outback or African Savannah -- or any other remote place on Earth like under the sea. And he turns it into a political debate about which governing philosophy is best and how the politics of competing views would work, giving these people total freedom to speechify at each other and set up their own shops once they get to Mars. But a deliberate effort on Mars would not be like a bunch of colonists. It would not be soft and squishy. And it would be in no position to have generational population growth and to have inner groups rebel. It would have a lot more guns and soldiers. It would not be a democracy, even with several countries involved. And I agree with you, Wert, that the acceleration of development is much too fast.

    It just didn't work for me. That is not to say that there is nothing interesting in the series. (Hell, Bradbury's Martian Chronicles is largely ridiculous as to the science -- as he himself agrees -- yet incredibly wonderful.) Nor that there aren't interesting science and characters in the series. And I may finish the thing. But I like other Robinson fiction better because I think the fundamental center of the Red Mars story is wildly implausible and in this case, that just sort of sinks it.

    I would like to read a story about terra-forming that involves social realism as well as the science aspects. I'm sure there are some out there that I've missed. But Red Mars did not make the bar on that for me. I did, however, really like Antartica and recommend Robinson as a writer to check out. He's always doing very interesting stuff and research. And in terms of prose style, he's certainly much better than many.

  14. #29
    Registered User Colonel Worf's Avatar
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    I read the first half of Red Mars about three years ago. I remember liking it, but put it down to start something else, probably something else I was really looking forward to reading.

    I picked it up this year and read to almost the exact same point. I realized why I put it down. There comes a point in the novel, after they drop the algae or whatever onto the surface with the windmills, that I stop caring about the characters or what is going on. The time jumps become very odd and I'm not sure who's with who or who's working on what.

    I plan on finishing the book after I finish reading what I'm on now. I'm interested to at least see how it ends. It's not bad or anything... just wandering at times.
    Last edited by Colonel Worf; June 30th, 2010 at 11:32 PM.

  15. #30
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    Green Mars

    2090. Sixty years ago, humanity landed on Mars, and stayed. The First Hundred led the colonisation effort, soon joined by other colonists and settlers. Thirty years after arriving, the people of Mars demanded political independence from the trans-national megacorps that were gradually subsuming national governments on Earth into their influence. The result was the First Martian Revolution, a revolution that was crushed. During the fighting Phobos was destroyed, the space elevator linking Mars to space fell and two-thirds of the First Hundred were killed.

    Mars is becoming greener, with algae, lichen and primitive plants growing on the surface. The atmosphere is thickening, the icecaps are melting and the terraforming is proceeding at a pace outstripping the most optimistic projections. Now several new generations of native Martians have been born, all chafing against the rule of a planet millions of miles away that they care little about. Thirty-nine of the First Hundred still live, their lives extended by an experimental - and expensive - treatment that is only available to the rich and powerful on Earth, fuelling civil unrest there, whilst being freely available on Mars. Over the course of almost forty years, the Martians prepare for a new bid for independence, one that will be led by reasoned argument rather than mindless violence.

    Green Mars is the second novel in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, his epic account of the colonisation and terraforming of Mars. The first novel, Red Mars, concerned itself with the initial landing, exploration and colonisation of Mars, and the changes wrought by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of fresh immigrants from different cultures, culminating in the bloody and failed revolution. The second novel is principally about learning from the mistakes of the first attempt and preparing for a second, more ambitious revolution. At the same time, the terraforming of Mars and the science behind it remains a key focus, as Robinson floods the Hellas Basin and Vastitas Borealis, tents over canyons to make viable living spaces, thickens the atmosphere, and increases sunlight through the arrival of a huge mirror in Martian orbit.

    Green Mars is not an action-packed novel, although there are more action beats than I remember from my first read of this novel some twenty years ago. One of the First Hundred is imprisoned by one of the corporations and his comrades have to rescue him, whilst later on some of the more radical groups launch a terrorism campaign against the Earth-imposed government on Mars. Towards the end of the book, the second revolution is launched which results in some impressive imagery: the flooding of the city of Burroughs after the nearby dyke is blown and two hundred thousand people have to walk seventy kilometres to safety and trust that the atmosphere is as breathable as the scientists claim is a stirring image, almost as memorable as the fall of the space elevator in the previous novel.

    But for the most part, this is a hard SF novel, concerned with the physical sciences involved in terraforming and with the social sciences of how to meld a new society together out of myriad competing interests. A minor weakness of the first novel is that Robinson's own politics were too often on display, but in Green Mars he does a better job of portraying all sides of the debate. The would-be rebels' extremely reluctant alliance with one of the more democratic megacorps seems to be an admission that as much as you may want to escape the woes of Earth and fly off to another planet to found a utopian paradise, you really can't, at least not whilst that society is dependent on science and technology to survive, and is not totally self-sufficient (yet, though by the end of the novel it's close).

    For the most part, our characters are survivors of the First Hundred: Maya, Michel, Nadia and Sax, who have seen their dream (not unanimously shared) of a free, green Mars corrupted by corporate interests. They are joined as POV characters by Nirgal, the son of Hiroko, who represents the Martian-born generation, and by Art, representing the metanational corporation Praxis, who tries to form an alliance with the Martian revolutionaries and then finds himself unexpectedly inheriting the mantle of John Boone from the first book as the guy who can talk to everyone, no matter their agenda. Characterisation is pretty strong, helped by the fact that many of these characters are now extremely old and have changed a fair bit from the first novel: the formerly quiet Sax is aggressive and angry after a spell in jail, Maya has realised what an unpleasant person she was in her youth and is determined to change, and Nadia has embraced her status as someone who is respected and listened to (which pays off handsomely in the final novel in the trilogy).

    As with the first novel, this book isn't a thriller or an adventure (though it has elements of those in some sequences). It's a hardcore novel about how the colonisation of Mars could really happen. This manifests itself most notably in a lengthy mid-novel sequence in which the competing factions gather together to decide on the future of Mars. Rather than a quick gathering and a bunch of people agreeing on a way forwards, this takes the form of a month-long conference with tons of arguments which ends in a compromise declaration that satisfies no-one and people are unhappy with but nevertheless reluctantly agree on. Robinson draws parallels (some subtle, most not) not only with the Continental Congress and the American Declaration of Independence, but also with the Russian Revolution, even naming the chapter in question What Is To Be Done? Many will find this sequence mind-bogglingly boring, but those with an interest in history and politics will find it fascinating and convincingly realistic (though maybe only up until the slightly hippy-tastic closing ceremony where everyone celebrates the end of the conference by going surfing on an underground lake, which feels a bit random).

    On the more negative side, Green Mars is almost 800 pages long, some 150 pages longer than the first book, and there is less decisive forward movement in the plot compared to the first novel. Some sequences feel rather skimmable, mostly those involving the in-depth political discussions on the differences between the Marsfirsters, the Reds, the First Hundred, the Bodanovists, the Arab settlers and what feels like fifty other groups. Yet Robinson is also laying out the groundwork for the explosive Second Revolution (the novel finishes with the revolution unfinished, giving us something of a cliffhanger), in particular having to explain how the mistakes of the 2061 rebellion are not repeated. Necessary, but not always gripping.

    Beyond that, there are the rich, evocative and atmospheric descriptions of the changing Martian landscape, the sheer scope as Robinson tries to channel as many scientific disciplines as possible to paint the most realistic picture possible of the colonisation effort (in this regard there are similarities with Aldiss' similarly fantastic worldbuilding for Helliconia), the richly-realised characters and the sometimes poetic and lyrical power of his prose (though he falls back into a dry, academic and textbook-like approach a little bit too often).

    Green Mars (****) won both the Hugo and Locus awards for best novel in 1994 and it's easy to see why. This is inspiring and epic hard SF, though it stumbles a little with pacing and tone. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

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