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  1. #1
    Seeker of Stuff Moderator Kamakhya's Avatar
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    November Book: Red Mars

    It's that time! What did y'all think of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson? Are you likely to continue the series? Discuss away.

  2. #2
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Ooh, ooh. I'll go first, I guess:

    Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There were definitely sections that I didn't care for much, but overall the saga of the colonization was very interesting to me. I was a little pensive about reading this one after hearing so many people talk about how dense and unwieldy some of it is. I was expecting a much more difficult read than I received.

    The thing I think I enjoyed the most about this book was one of the characters. It certainly wasn't any of the human characters. I thought they were okay, but i felt they were merely a means to view the larger and most important character of the novel, Mars itself. The changes that were wrought to Mars were all interesting in their own ways, regardless of how plausible some of them were.

    The politics of terraforming were also fairly interesting. I enjoyed the dialogue between the Reds and the Greens, though I am not sure which I would side with more if placed in the situation. I think a balance is what I would most like to see in such a situation.

    Many of the human characters I found simply blah. I think Robinson tried to explain Frank in a convincing way, but he just seemed a little childish, as did Maya, Arkady, Phyllis, etc., etc. John seemed to be one of the few characters that really understood what he was going for, and he was killed off for reasons I don't yet fully understand.

    Several of the descriptions of areas of Mars were breathtaking, while others went on for too long. The trek through the valleys ahead of the flood at the end seemed extremely drawn out and anti-climactic to me. I thought it was a pretty lame ending to a book that focused throughout on the science and politics of terraforming mars.

    I understand some people's complaints that Robinson gets a little preachy against corporations and those who would destroy the environment, but they are in many cases valid arguments that are given no more weight in the book (to my eye) than those opposing them.

    Enough for now. I will certainly read the next two books sometime, though I dread it a little, as they're so big. I look forward to hearing some other people's thoughts on the book, especialy some of the philosophical issues he deals with. Let's discuss for once instead of doing book reports.

  3. #3
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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    I've read "Red Mars" and the two other books in the trilogy. I really enjoyed them. I really enjoyed the political interplay between the different factions. I agree that some of the characters were shallowly drawn or a little childish, but some real people are like that too. In my experience intragroup politics quickly descends to the level of kindergarden sandbox (with a bigger vocabulary). Not always, but pretty often.

  4. #4
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I finished Red Mars, and I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it.

    I really liked the part about the planet, and exploring. The descriptions were so riveting, that I kept having to remind myself that the story was not real.

    On the other hand the focus on the people and their problems was a bit overdone for me. I liked when Nadia (?) the engineer was the narrator. I enjoyed her perspective, and the fact that she was focused on the task of settling Mars and building and fixing things. The other characters eventually bored me. I was sick of their games and their whining. I think their type would be part of the project, I just don't want to spend huge amounts of time dealing with them.

    I thought KSR made some rather extreme assumptions about what would happen once others joined the first batch of colonists. Not sure if that was for more drama or what, but I felt it distracted me from believing in the story.

    I also thought KSR cheated with the immortality treatment, which was simply a way to get the colonists outside of the bunkers. He could deal realistically with cold, lack of pressure, and lack of air, but the radiation would have eventually killed them all the way they were bopping around on the surface before they had a thicker atmosphere. He created a magic fix to repair their mutations and genetic damage so he could get them out and doing 'sexier' activities. I was bothered, because I had heard from fans of the series that he did a good job of writing a realistic way to settle Mars - in terms of technology, and materials; now I find a science fantasy embedded in the book.

    I will read the other two books, but I am not in any hurry to do so. I will probably pick them up used rather than rushing down to my local bookstore.

    Edit: I will add that the book made me think of Heinlien's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and not in a way favorable to Red Mars . It was much shorter, and the characters were done much better. He managed to impart a sense of colonizing an alien planet while dealing with philisophical issues, and actually ENTERTAINING the reader.
    Last edited by FicusFan; November 4th, 2003 at 09:51 PM.

  5. #5
    Seeker of Stuff Moderator Kamakhya's Avatar
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    Sigh...I didn't find my pb edition of Red Mars to re-read for this discussion.

    That said, I would not have read anything other than Blue and Green Mars after I read Red Mars. I was blown away by the detail. I loved the Green vs. Red Mars politics. I was drawn in by the characters, weak as they were. Robinson is one of the only authors I know that can focus on all aspects of human behaviour, e.g., emotional, scientific and religious.

    I agree that the immortality thing was a cheap fix. However, I saw it as a cheap fix to keep the same lead characters in the following novels. Nevertheless, I loved the implication that by exploring new territory, we would grow as a species, and thus find the secret to immortality.

    Red Mars gave me hope. Yes, I am every bit an idealistic Bleading Heart Liberal Commie as Robinson. His vision of what could be made me believe, for at least a moment, that we, as a human race, might just reach the stars and maybe, just maybe, do good, if we can shake off the yoke of commercialism.

    If you were lukewarm to Red Mars, I don't recommend continuing the series. It only gets more political and more unbelievable as the story progresses.

    For me, the story continues to place in my top 50 books. It is an amazing in-depth perspective of what it might be like to colonize Mars.

  6. #6
    Seeker of Stuff Moderator Kamakhya's Avatar
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    Erf said:
    Enough for now. I will certainly read the next two books sometime, though I dread it a little, as they're so big. I look forward to hearing some other people's thoughts on the book, especialy some of the philosophical issues he deals with. Let's discuss for once instead of doing book report
    So, Erf, I am not good with initiating discussion and clearly, we are not getting discussion, so why don't you talk about the philosophical issues as you see them and maybe initiate a dialogue. I would be interested in hearing some of your thoughts on this, beyond your initial thoughts on the book.

    FWIW: I had no problem delving into Blue and Green Mars. I was blown away by the depth and breadth of Robinson's scenario.

  7. #7
    Temporary Eternal golinub's Avatar
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    Note: I wrote this while I was reeding so I may repeat a few things already mentioned by others. Sorry if it's a bit to long and please accept my apologies for my mistakes. Even if I try my best to write good english, some parts still elude me.


    Well it seems that I'm one of the few in this thread that was not really impressed by Red Mars. It's not that I didn't enjoy this book. It has remarkable descriptions of Mars making you believe that KSR has been there. The hard science and technological parts are also well done but I have a few reservations when they become more "science fiction" than real science like the Immortality Treatment and the Space Elevator.

    What doesn't work for me with this book is the way it start. It seems to me rather strange to see such a big crew of americans and russians in the same ship knowing how important getting hold of territories and resources is important for a country. And what about the importance for a country to be the first to have their territories and towns on an other planet (Let's just think of the recent Chinese space efforts as an exemple). This, for me, doesn't make sense politicaly.

    The lack of social order and discipline on the ship (and on Mars up until the end of the book) seems to me completly unrealistic. This makes it look as if no planning or reflections about this space flight and the creation of the first human setlements on an other planet has been done on earth (the small importance that those planners gives to sexe in prolong space travel is a good exemple). The more I think of it the more I see that KSR gave very few "realistic" thoughts for the "soft" sciences (social, political and behaviorial) in his book.

    An other big problem I had up until the very end of the book is the feeling that I was missing the important stuff. I always felt like something important was happening somewhere and I was not there. Most of the characters seems to be spectators and not the driving force behind the events. Even Frank seems to be lost at the end and fail to make us understand why he killed Boone. This "passive" use of the characters makes them seems bland and not worth the effort of knowing them and feeling related to what's happening to them.

    While I was reeding, many many question began to appear in my mind regarding the undelying events of the books. Just as an exemple, I was very much annoyed with the fact that people, cities and setlements where poping out of nowhere while the characters were traveling. The overall implications of all that was needed to bring all those people and equipment on Mars in s o little time seemed again to me so disconnected from reality.

    So eventually I came to realize that with so little importance given to the human side, the real "hero" of this book is the logical physical transformation of Mars.

    I'm not saying that Red Mars is a bad book. It's best quality is making you believe that you are there on Mars. The terrafroming science and technology is always very interresting and thought provoking. But still for me Red Mars is only an above average book and even if it won a Nebula award, I fail to understand it's popularity. Maybe my problem with it comes from the fact that I was expecting a "realistic" anticipation of what will realy happen when humans will colonise Mars in our real future almost as if this was our actual future history. But I may have made the mistake of expecting a work of anticipation in what is definitly a work of fiction.

    Red Mars may be a nice scientific sightseeing tour of a Mars terraforming project but for me it is a poor anticipation of the social and political implications that would come from this important aspect of our human civilisations expansion.

    Still, I'm curious and will read the other 2 books since I've already paid for them.

  8. #8
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    Yes ! A fellow non-believer !

    The problem I have with Red Mars is that it's more of a travel guide than a novel. The descriptions are superb, and the science backing up the terraforming is impressive. However, I never felt involved in the characters, never really cared very much about their success or failure. Reading Red Mars reminded me of Moving Mars by Ben Bova, but Bova managed to involve the reader in the society, not simply describe it.
    However, whether or not one liked the book is simply a matter of opinion, and no-one's likely to change theirs. Here's a question, though: where do you stand on the Red/Green argument? Assuming we do put a colony on Mars (which doesn't look likely, or even particularly desirable at the moment) how should we deal with ecological issues? If there's nothing alive there, do we have the right to terraform? Or should we leave it in barren splendor ?

  9. #9
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Good comments - well done stormgard for that detailed analysis.

    A counterview to the Red/Green Mars view is Brian Aldiss's book White Mars, which suggests an alternative to the two extreme views.

    Hobbit
    Mark

  10. #10
    Temporary Eternal golinub's Avatar
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    Thanks Hobbit from pointing out White Mars. I will check this book out.

    For me the Red/Green debate in Red Mars doesn't make sense by the fact that the only possible solution for a true Red is for humans not to go on mars and leave the planet alone.

    A Red on Mars that travels just to see it's wonders is making a contribution for the Greens because being present on Mars is changing it. And that just with the fact that you had a world with no life and you bring yours on it with all that is needed to keep it. This is a dramatic change for a lifeless planet and to preserve that life, you must do things that are of the Greens way.

    A true Red would never put his/her foot on Mars.

    A true Red would do anything to stop or destroy the ships leaving for Mars.

    A Red on Mars is a coward Green letting the other Greens doing the hard work.

    For me this debate is how green should we go? Just a little bit of green to keep humans on the survival mode and preserve the red look of Mars or all the way and go for the ultimate transformation where the aim would be to create a second earth and maybe have a few preservation red parks for the tourists ?

    Before going for that debate, I think that we should ask ourselves why do we want to go there? For me it's just a question of survival. We should begin to think that a day could come when staying alive on earth may not be possible. So why debate about the Red/Green state of Mars when our survival could be at stake?

    Well maybe just because we don't feel that our survival is at stake... but is it ?
    Last edited by golinub; November 12th, 2003 at 10:07 PM.

  11. #11
    Registered User lemming's Avatar
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    Nice to see others reading this series. It is my all-time favorite SF trilogy, and as people have already said most of the good things I would say about it (and I have little to say to the detractors--if you don't like the Mars descriptions you are indeed out of luck), I don't have much to say now. Except, of course, do keep reading, because some pretty crazy stuff happens and it's a fun ride.

    I agree with whoever said the immortality treatment is primarily there to keep the main characters "main" throughout the story arc. Most of the first hundred do die during the series, but a few are still left at the end of Blue Mars, and I for one think that's nice... it's good to watch them evolve all the way through the series. And yes, there ARE some critical character development issues held back for the last book. Some of the newer characters from later generations are also quite engrossing and worth the extra reading time to meet.

  12. #12
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I found one of the follow-up books in a used store and I got it. They also had something else by KSR called The Martians which seems to be a book of short stories about the various characters on Mars. Not sure if it is more in depth with the characters and stories from the trilogy, or if it focus on characters and stories that didn't make it into the trilogy for one reason or another. Any one read it ? Is it worhtwhile or just capitalizing on the fame of the previous work ?

  13. #13
    Registered User lemming's Avatar
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    Is it worhtwhile or just capitalizing on the fame of the previous work ?
    A little of both, actually. Thanks for the reminder, I meant to comment on it yesterday but forgot. It's mostly a collection of stories and vignettes (and even a few poems) set mostly in the Martian world as set down by KSR in the trilogy. You get to see some favorite characters and meet some new ones, and most of it is pretty good--though it does not stand alone at all and would not make much sense without the trilogy. I seem to recall it also has a preface or something that goes into some detail about KSR's constantly thinking/imagining what things would be like on Mars in preparation for writing the trilogy. I liked that part.

    The really weird thing about The Martians is that some of it takes place in an alternate future history where the Mars mission got cancelled, and all the characters live out their life on earth! And there's no particular warning on when you'll stumble into one of those. Very odd... though very nice to see Michel in France.... I think KSR just took the book as an opportunity to play with his world--not a complete sellout but not a masterpiece either.

  14. #14
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    I read this book a couple of years ago. This is a review of it that I posted some time later on another site. Many of the other posters at that site really hated the book, and think that Robinson is one of the worst storytellers out there.

    Obviously, this is a book that has elicited a wide range of responses from readers. I thought it was a great beginning to what turned out to be a pretty good trilogy.

    The story turns on the conflicting priorities and beliefs within a group of one hundred scientists sent to establish the first settlements on Mars. These scientific settlers soon break into several idealogical groups with differing goals, with rabid preservationists and rabid terraformers at the extremes. A small group of natural leaders within the colonizing scientists drives the action--interesting, though not always likeable characters. As the story moves forward the diverging interests of the scientists on Mars from those of the government back on earth that sponsored the expedition in the first place becomes a bigger and bigger factor.

    I'd be the first to admit that the story get a bit soap opera-ish at times, but for me the strengths of the book far outweighed the weaknesses. Certainly it avoids romanticizing the process of planetary colonization. The most memorable aspect of Red Mars is its truly poetic descriptions of the characters' immersion in the awe-inspiring majesty, beauty and difference of the alien landscape.

    The book opens with an unusual plot device . . . a "flash forward" to the murder of one of the main characters by another one of the main characters.

  15. #15
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Just wanted to post some thoughts on this great book before I go off it. I'm about a third of the way through. So far it has been gently fascinating, not exactly gripping but there's something about the entire situation that is beginning to really interest me.

    I have to admit I wondered what Robinson was going to write about, from such a supposedly realistic point of view; once the journey and the landing were over I expected it to get a bit dull. There's only so much fictional interest you can inject in to what is essentially a plausible and experimental scenario. Fortunately he seems to be quite adept at creating interesting scenarios and squeezing his array of characters for various interesting plot devices. I suppose if I I have a criticism at the moment it is that what has taken 200 or so pages could easily have been condensed by around 30 pages without losing any of the meat. Still, Robinson's writing seems largely competent and focused, if tending to veer occasionally into confusing passages of akward character development.

    More comments later, probably.

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