Visions of Paradise

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blue Mars

When a book has such high expectations as Blue Mars did, sometimes it is almost impossible to meet them. This is the concluding novel in Robinson’s trilogy, in which the first volume Red Mars won the Nebula Award, the second volume Green Mars won the Hugo, and this volume itself also won the Hugo Award.

In my own case, both Green Mars and Blue Mars were my books-of-the-year in the early 1990s, but Blue Mars was published smack in the middle of my science-fiction-burnout, so I never read it previously. That might have been a good thing, considering the expectations it carried.

In the past year I have reread both Red Mars (reviewed here on 9/25/10) and Green Mars (reviewed on 9/30/11), and they were both as wonderful as I recalled them being. But my feelings about Blue Mars are slightly less ecstatic.

The good points first. While politics and ecology continue to dominate the plot, the character development is the real strength of Blue Mars. I particularly enjoyed the chapter-long sojourns into the activities of specific characters, which Robinson has done throughout the series. In Blue Mars we got to spend time with:

• Nirgal, a native Martian who is part of a diplomatic mission to Earth in light of the successful revolution which freed Mars from Earth control;
• Michel, one of the “first hundred” colonists in Red Mars who is returning to his beloved Provence after nearly two centuries away;
• Ann, another of the “first hundred,” who was one of the most radical Reds who was thus alienated from most of her peers;
• Nadia and Art, she being the reluctant first president of free Mars, while he is her close advisor;
• Sax, the nerdy scientist of the “first hundred,” who is probably more responsible for the “greening” of Mars than anybody else.

Two relationships are the core of Blue Mars:

• Nadia and Art. Against her wishes, she became the first president of Mars, while he is a recent emigrant and representative of Praxis, the only metanational corporation on Earth which supported Martian freedom rather than trying to manipulate the Martian colonies for their own purposes. They were a closely-working pair in Green Mars who were largely influential in the development of the Martian constitution following the revolution. Their relationship continues to develop as they race around the planet in the unsettled years when the future of the constitution is very much questionable in the face of groups trying to ignore it, including radical Reds still determined to destroy all attempts at terraforming, and other groups striving to gather as much political control as possible (specifically the “Free Mars” group and its charismatic leader Jackie);

• Sax and Ann. After a series of physical challengers, including a stroke caused by Earth’s metanational enemies of a free Mars, Sax finally begins to appreciate its dwindling natural beauty as that original beauty is increasingly endangered. He also strives to renew his shattered friendship with Ann when their differences about the future of Mars drove them far apart emotionally as well.

Nirgal is also a fascinating character. He spends considerable time traveling alone on Earth, viewing the aging culture from the viewpoint of a native Martian outsider. And when he returns from Earth, we spend another chapter with him as he grows increasingly dissatisfied with the direction the “Free Mars” movement has taken during his absence, which leads to his attempt to find a niche for himself in the rapidly-evolving Martian civilization.

Wrapped around the character studies, Robinson shows us the continuing development of Martian culture, the “greening” steadily developing into a “blue-ing,” and the beginning of further expansion of human culture into the asteroids and satellites of the gas giants, and finally the first colonization expedition out of the solar system entirely. Since the book’s primary focus is on Mars itself though, we do not spend much time on these other locales, which perhaps await a future book.

If Blue Mars had been 200 pages shorter, concentrating on everything discussed above, it would have been as outstanding as the previous books in the series. One aspect which bored me a bit though was the endless political bickering between the various groups of Martians. Fortunately, Robinson seemed to feel similarly, for as the novel progressed, the politics slowly faded into background events which were mentioned rather than explored endlessly.

However, my main complain is that Blue Mars, even moreso than the previous books, was packed with endless expository lumps explaining everything from the ecological development of Mars through Martian geology and even a half-dozen page explanation of human brain processes. I accepted the ecological examinations in the first two books since that development was important to the political situation on Mars. But the dry lectures seemed mostly unessential in this book and–quite frankly–boring at times. I can't tell you how often I actually skimmed over long, meaningless paragraphs. For that reason, I cannot recommend Blue Mars as highly as I did Red Mars and Green Mars.


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