Kim Stanley Robinson
Blue Mars (1996)
Winner of the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Reviewed: 1998-03-14

This concluding volume confirms the standing of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy in the top tier of science fiction. A tour de force, a veritable monument, this tale of terraforming and colonization will be a landmark for years to come. Besides, it is probably the best story told about a revolution since Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. There will in all likelihood not be a more definitive work of fiction about Mars until we have actually been there. With his incredibly meticulous world building, Robinson transports the reader to the Red Planet. We walk the Martian surface, we see the dark purple skies, and in this third book we also breath the new air and sail the new seas.

Blue Mars is not so much a grand finale as a direct continuation of the previous books. An unprecedented future history, mostly written from the point of view of individuals who in the tiny slice of their immediate surroundings experience only a minute fraction of historical events, drawn along in a maelstrom beyond their comprehension or power to change, their understanding limited by word-of-mouth, public media coverage, the full scope only revealed in later analyses by historians. This sharp realism, and that's just what it is (consider the way you experienced history in your own time, such as the fall of the Soviet Union), is in stark contrast to the typical hero-bound stories inundating much of SF, where the protagonists are absurdly central to all events.

Robinson chronicles humanity's expansion into the solar system and beyond. Set on the vast canvas of a new world, the bulk of the trilogy is taken up by snippets from the life of individuals, in particular from the long lives of the First Hundred, their choices, their relations, their growing estrangement from the present. One of the little surprises is Robinson's unexpected understanding how legends come about. His creation of the Little Red People is as marvelous as the story of Hiroko.

And just like the previous books, Blue Mars is a travelog, this time treating us also to a journey to Terra and to the outer planets. It is a long book, and a long trilogy, sometimes it feels like it might not end, but I found it never boring. No doubt, the book will become dated. Robinson presents too much currently hot new science and scientific speculation as the state of the art in the 22nd and 23rd century. There is a marked lack of technical progress that would change the human fundamentals too much, and the time scale of the terraforming process is severely fudged, maybe by two orders of magnitude. None of this diminishes this work, though.

Including politics beyond a clearcut good-bad scheme is difficult even in a SF novel, as any direction the author may take is likely to alienate some readers. Appropriate for the theme of the trilogy, Robinson depicts people's long struggle for utopia. Now that you have won the revolution, how do you build a new world? It is easy to unite people against something, but next to impossible to unite them for something.

In his depiction of Mars's socio-political development Robinson goes for a kind of low-key democratic socialism. Of course not everybody will agree with this, but it is close enough to the political mainstream not to offend a majority of readers. It certainly beats by a wide margin the all too often found portrayal of a future with no change at all.

Home Page | Review Index | Latest Reviews

Generated: 2006-04-26

Christian "naddy" Weisgerber <>