Literature: Red Mars Trilogy
aka: Blue Mars
A new home for mankind...
The day John Boone was assassinated we were up on east Elysium and it was morning and this meteor shower came raining down on us, there must have been thirty streaks or so and they were all black, I don't know what those meteorites were made of but they burned black instead of white...
The Red Mars
trilogy is a series of novels by sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson. It explores the settlement and subsequent terraforming
of Mars over the course of nearly two centuries. The series is known for its accurate science, complex characters, realistic portrayals of politics and economics, and for its ultimately optimistic tone, shading towards a utopia rather than a dystopia
depicts the settlement of the first Martian colonies. The initial group of colonists, known as the "First Hundred", are tasked with settling and ultimately terraforming the planet. However, they're almost immediately divided over the degree to which they should terraform, as well as how independent the new Martian society should be from Earth. This crystallizes into two major movements: the Reds, who want to limit terraforming and keep Mars as close to its natural state as possible, and the Greens, who want to fully terraform Mars into an Earth-like environment.Green Mars
depicts the fallout of a failed revolt, which has resulted in an underground separatist movement whose struggle for political freedom from Earth forms the bulk of the plot. Against this political backdrop, Martian society is strained by a massive influx of immigrants and increasing corporate meddling from Earth, and the terraforming process begins to proceed at a runaway pace as Mars begins to literally turn green
shows the aftermath of Mars becoming fully independent. After a global disaster on Earth threatens to destabilize the already overpopulated and polluted planet, the new Martian government is thrust into the unexpected role as Earth's savior. Meanwhile, the colonization of the rest of the solar system is explored as well as the continuing effects of the Longevity Treatment
on both the main characters and society as a whole.
A companion collection of short stories, The Martians
, features tales set in the same universe and more fully explore ideas only hinted at in the novels, as well as featuring fanciful what-if
stories. The novel 2312
begins a century after the events of Blue Mars
, and picks up on many of the settings and tropes that were only briefly alluded to in the Mars Trilogy, with its two central characters natives of Mercury and Titan. According to Word of God
the same fictional universe, but the basics of Martian history are similar
. Finally, the novel Galileo's Dream
is also related to the series, in the sense that it ties much of Robinson's work
Tropes featured include:
- Action Prologue: The novel opens with one protagonist inciting a riot and goading a rioter to kill his political and romantic rival. However, itís "action" mostly by the standard of a two thousand page epic: the chapter starts with a speech and also contains a long description of the town.
- Alternate Continuity: Two bookend short stories in The Martians feature an alternative timeline that diverges from the backstory of Red Mars. The divergence occurs in the pre-colonization "social experiment" in Antarctica where psychologist Michel Duval, who is evaluating the program from the inside, decides that the First Hundred would be incapable of surviving, psychologically, in the conditions they would face in the early years on Mars. So the mission is scrubbed and retasked as one of exploration instead of colonization. Mars is eventually colonized at a later date and the War of 2061 from the end of the first novel never happens.
- Anyone Can Die:
- The book begins with the assassination of the first man on Mars and the ball keeps rolling after that.
- In fact, of the four people named on the back cover of Red Mars, three end up dying by the end of first book (although the one who survives actually makes it all the way to the end of the trilogy).
- It's also rather remarkable that the hero of the entire story dies within the first 20 pages of a 2000 page story.
- Arc Words:
- Viriditas, "green strength," popularized by Hiroko. She also popularizes areophany, a sort of religious awakening to Mars.
- Nirgal, especially as a child, thinks of the world as "the white and the green".
- Berserk Button: All Nadia loves is creation; she is so mild mannered and peaceful that even among the fractious First Hundred she is one of the few that everyone gets along with without fighting, and she finds war and destruction abhorrent. However, once you start killing the people she cares about, she will blow up your moon base weapons platform. Including the moon it is on.
- Bold Explorer: John Boone became a world-wide hero after leading the first expedition to Mars and being the first person to actually step foot on the planet. Later, during the colonization phase, he parlays his celebrity "First Man On Mars" status into a successful political career.
- Colony Drop:
- The first Martian Space Elevator is attacked and severed, causing it fall to Mars. It's so long that it literally wraps around the entire planet at the equator twice. It's every bit as apocalyptic as it seems.
- A throwaway line reveals that a rogue faction in the War of 2061 redirected an asteroid at Earth (named Nemesis, no less) necessitating a mad scramble to blow the thing up before it hits.
- In a straight example: Phobos is dropped out of orbit and destroyed.
- Cool Train:
- A train on Phobos is used to keep the workers adjusted to Martian gravity. The gravity on Phobos is so low that the train can simply run around Phobos at a high enough speed that the centrifugal force causes the workers to literally stand upside down on the ceiling of the train.
- The city of Terminator, capital of Mercury in Blue Mars and a central location in 2312 is the ultimate Cool Train: the entire city moves around the planet, always keeping ahead of the devastating dawn.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: There are a couple, but the biggest standout is Phyllis Boyle. She sets up shop on Clarke asteroid at the top of the first Martian space elevator and freely admits to John that she intends to make herself rich working for the transnats, and no she does not care that said transnats are abusing their people and Martian society in general. After the war, she is seen still working for the corporations and immediately dimes out Sax Russell when she catches him using a secret identity to involve himself with the terraforming project - though it's hinted that she had no idea how brutal the transnat secret police were going to be and objected to Sax's torture.
- Crapsack World: Earth. Too crowded, corrupted by transnational corporations, full of brutal inequality, etcetera. World War III breaks out at just about the same time as the revolution of 2061.
- Crazy-Prepared: Sax in Green Mars. Once the revolution finally breaks out, it turns out he had spent the preceding years preparing for a number of large-scale contingencies, including making possible the open-air evacuation of an entire city by having raised the oxygen levels in the atmosphere and making tens of thousands of carbon dioxide filter masks.
- Determinator: Pretty much any of the First Hundred who survive even the first book could be considered Determinators, given that pretty much everyone is out to get them.
- Driven to Suicide: Ann Clayborne decides to freeze herself to death at the end of Red Mars, thinking that her son is dead and blaming herself for Frank's death. Her husband Simon stops her.
- Earth That Was: Earth is rapidly approaching overpopulation and it's promoting mass emigration to try and stop it. It stops working at all once Mars becomes independent (and wasn't really working before that, as Earth's population is growing faster than they can ship them into space). However, it does get (slightly) better by the time we see it close-up in Blue Mars.
- Energy Economy: Calories of heat, nitrogen compounds, and hydrogen peroxide form the basis of the Martian economy.
- Fantasy World Map: Or rather, Sci-Fi World Map, one at the beginning of each book that shows Mars with various cities and other locations.
- The Fog of Ages: In Blue Mars it becomes clear that this is a possible side-effect of the longevity treatment, as the extremely long-lived main characters begin to forget things they did when they were in their 100's. Eventually a cure for this is found that not only reverses the effect but also reinforces all the previous memories the person has, including memories from their childhood they normally didn't remember anyway.
- The example that helps characterize the entire series is the relationship between John Boone and Frank Chalmers. Early on, a segment told from Frank's perspective shows that he and John have completely opposite ways of doing things: John is charismatic and easygoing, and gets what he wants by getting people to go along with him, while Frank is intensely driven, but equally intensely temperamental and fierce. Few of his colleagues really like him, and he tends to achieve his aims through a combination of tireless, ceaseless effort and withering vitriol (the better to subdue political and professional rivals). Even after they both die, John at the beginning of Red Mars and Frank at the end, they are continually referred to by other characters, as their social philosophies basically embody the major social conflict in Martian life. Frank believed that most people were stupid, weak, and afraid to make hard choices, obliging people like him to take control (through dishonorable means, if necessary) and use the status quo for the greater good, even if it meant working with the transnationals to help keep their depredations under control. John believed that Mars was a chance for people to take what was best from all Terran cultures and create something new and worthwhile, and that the domination of the transnationals should be opposed because it stifled peoples' attempts to make new lives and societies for themselves.
- In the later part of the series, much attention is also paid to the contentious relationship between Sax, a terraforming proponent and biologist, and Ann, a geologist who wants to keep Mars just as it is.
- For Science!: In a therapy session, Michel asks Sax why science is so important to him; Sax replies "to learn." When Michel asks what the point would be if he learned everything about what he was studying, Sax's reply is "...to learn more."
- Global Warming: Since this is on Mars, it's actually a desired outcome for the terraformers (but not for the Reds and Ann Clayborne); however, there's difficulty in not just soaking the atmosphere with so many greenhouses gases that it'll never be breathable.
- Gray and Gray Morality: There are no truly "bad" organizations/movements in the series. For most of the first and second novels, the "transnats" (later called "metanats") and portrayed as bad purely because the characters in the story perceived them to be this way, but later on a character from on of the transnats, Art, shows that things are much more varied and complex than previously assumed. Conversely, there are no true "good" guys; one of the main characters has another main character assassinated at the beginning of Red Mars, and is shown to be a rather Machievellian persona, but later is shown to be a deep and complex person, considered a hero by some. People previously portrayed as decent human beings in one narrator's Point of View suddenly become villainous in another characters's POV.
- Incest Is Relative: In Green Mars, we learn that all the children in the Martian Underground colony are technically half-siblings, as Hiroko is all their mother and all their fathers come from the sperm samples of all the male First Hundred colonists. Coyote calls Hiroko out on creating an "incest camp," but Hiroko, in her capacity as Mother Goddess figure, has no problem with this.
- Inherent in the System: The unstable and corrupt national and international systems on Earth. Many of the First Hundred, particularly Arkady, see Mars as an opportunity to create an entirely new society without the problems of the old systems.
- It's All About Me: Nirgal and Maya think this about Jackie Boone, feeling that she's only interested in securing and enjoying power for herself. How true this actually is depends on how much you trust their opinion. This definitely does apply to her daughter Zo, however, who seems completely incapable of understanding or respecting any point-of-view that is not her own.
- Hard on Soft Science: Most of the First Hundred are openly contemptuous of psychology and the personality tests they had to take in order to secure their positions. This makes it pretty hard for the group's actual psychologist, who starts having a mental breakdown during the trip.
- Helpful Hallucination: Hiroko leads Sax through a blizzard back to his rover, long after she went missing (and probably dead). It's left ambiguous whether she was really there.
- The Hidden Hour: A rare non-magical example, as on Mars, the day is 40 minutes longer than on Earth, and they deal with it by freezing the clock each night at midnight. The 40 minutes becomes a sort of free time, a time that is considered not to really count, and many clandestine things are done there.
- Honest Corporate Executive: William Fort, who is also the only metanational leader seen personally. He's kind of a Bunny-Ears Lawyer but seems to be the Only Sane Man in the corporate elite, in that he actually cares about the long term impact of his corporation's actions, eschews the more brutal tactics of the other metanats, and takes pains to try and establish a long term plan that doesn't involve simply strip-mining Mars. Later, he winds up committing his corporation's assets to the second Martian revolution, and is generally the only sympathetic character other than Art with a corporate background.
- How We Got Here: Red Mars starts with Frank engineering unrest at a city festival and the assassination of John Boone. The next chapter is the voyage to Mars and its settlement by the First Hundred.
- Icarus Allusion: In Blue Mars. Jackie's daughter Zo dies this way—not through her own carelessness, but trying to save a more reckless flier. Although throughout her chapter she is shown as being rather self-centered and haughty.
- Inscrutable Oriental: Perhaps unduly influenced by the paranoia about Japan's economic successes that was prevalent at the time of writing, the Japanese are described as the closest things to aliens mankind is ever likely to encounter (albeit by a character who's not meant to be entirely sympathetic), a sentiment embodied in the personage of the enigmatic (and probably insane) "Queen" Hiroko.
- It Can't Be Helped: Hiroko introduces this phrase to the first hundred, and they start using shikata ga nai regularly. One section of the book is named such.
- "Just So" Story: Some of the interstitial segments are these, pitting Paul Bunyan against a new Martian figure called "Big Man", eventually including John Boone, and sometimes the "little red people" that omegendorph abusers see at the edges of vision.
- Kill It with Fire: How do you get rid of anti-terraforming "Red" terrorists? Why, pump their domed "tents" full of pure oxygen and set them on fire!
- Language Equals Thought: The multinational colonists on Mars usually speak Arabic or Russian; Arabic because it has the best words for describing the landscape, and Russian for its ability to describe grim conditions in weather and politics.
- Latex Space Suits: The "mesh suits" worn by the colonists in Red Mars, though it's an extrapolation of real-world research into the effort rather than Fanservice. They provide pressurization, but the person has to wear cold-weather gear over it because it has no other protections.
- LEGO Genetics: Later in the series, people splice animal genes into their DNA in the process of getting longevity treatments.
- It isn't clear that these are serious bits of personal re-engineering that could be inherited, however. The cat-derived "purr" may be largely surgical.
- The crocodile blood derived CO2 tolerance mechanism plays this straighter, however.
- Lightworlder: Native-born Martians end up tall and thin due to the low gravity, but when one of them (Nirgal) goes to Earth, he can't take the higher air pressure and gravity, and gets so sick he has to leave.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The first book starts with the one hundred colonists originally sent to Mars, although the narrative focuses on fifteen or so. Subsequent books add their children, and people from Earth, and new acquaintances, and grandchildren....
- Longevity Treatment: Gene therapy, known as gerontological treatments, are the reason some characters live through the whole two centuries of the series.
- Mars: Obviously. The series is considered quite seminal to the Mars sub-genre of sci-fi.
- Masochism Tango: All of Maya's romantic relationships.
- Meaningful Name: Most obviously with Ann Clayborne, the chief proponent of leaving Mars in its rocky unterraformed state. Also with Saxifrage Russell - "Saxifrage" is a plant who's name means "Rock Breaker", which is ironic considering his pro-terraforming views. Specifically lampshaded when Ann points out the meaning and significance of their names to Sax.
- Sax's given name is meaningful on a more esoteric level lampshaded in a joke his assistants tell. He's named after a flower, the way lab rats are.
- Mega Corp.: The "Transnat" (Trans-national, meaning they're not limited to just one country) and "Metanat" (Meta-national, meaning that they are so powerful that they control countries and may as well be de-facto countries themselves) corporations.
- Mercurial Base: In Blue Mars, the settlement on Mercury itself follows this pattern (and is also another Cool Train).
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Way down the hard end. Robinson definitely shows his work.
- Mundane Dogmatic: None of the technological advances in the series require any great leaps, and for the most part, are just extrapolations of things that we already have today.
- Never Found the Body: Hiroko Ai goes missing in Green Mars, and the disappearance remains a mystery for the rest of the series. Due to her status in the Martian Underground, this eventually becomes a Shrouded in Myth situation, with various tall-tales about her springing up in the Martian culture. Despite continual rumors of sightings, she's never seen again in the novels, except for one vague and possibly hallucinated encounter by a main character.
- No Social Skills: Sax.
- Nothing Is the Same Anymore: After the longevity treatment. The societies of Earth and Mars are thrown into upheaval when people no longer die of old age.
- Our Giants Are Bigger: The folk tales of "Big Man" and his occasional interaction with Paul Bunyan.
- One Nation Under Copyright: Human society increasingly falls under the sway of 'meta-national' corporations over the course of the series. At first, the big names in the corporate world are merely 'transnationals' (spanning multiple nations) - they begin to be referred to as metanats when they not only supersede proper nation-states in influence and power, but in fact control (or outright own) most nations in the world. Much of the story derives from the various characters' attempts to resist or escape the metanats' influence.
- Perpetual Storm: A massive dust storm kicks up in Red Mars as a result of the nascent terraforming efforts. It lasts for years, and there are wild celebrations when it finally ends.
- Population Control: The invention and widespread use of a "longevity treatment" that vastly increases lifespan spurs discussions of this. Discussed in Green Mars via the infamous "three quarters of a child" plan, but never actually implemented.
- Eventually, most nations on Earth are forced to adopt a two-child-per-couple law until the oldest people finally start dying off at around age 200-250.
- Purple Prose: One of the stories in The Martians, entitled "Purple Mars."
- Rebel Leader: Arkady Bogdanov becomes one near the end of Red Mars. Even after his death, Bogdanovists remain a political force for the rest of the series.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Bureaucratized: Played straight in the first revolution, which is part of why it fails. The survivors in Green Mars spend a lot of time attempting to avert this trope for the next time by laying the groundwork for the government they want to create, as well as planning a revolution that has as much head as it does heart.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The series has two 'Martian revolutions'. The first one, in 2061, was not only a complete failure but a horrifying bloodbath. Transnational forces sought out and killed dozens of the first hundred, even if they weren't combatants, simply to get them out of the way while they had the chance. They also attacked and captured a neutral city that was offering shelter to refugees by popping its pressure dome, resulting in heavy civilian casualties...and then there's the revolutionary town where they hacked the life support computers, cranked up the oxygen levels in the air, and blew it up, burning the entire settlement alive. The second revolution isn't much better: there is less carnage due to the revolution being better organized, but a fight between rebels and transnational forces results in a major dam being destroyed, flooding and submerging the city of Burroughs (at the time, Mars's largest city). If not for Sax Russell having thousands of CO2 filter masks on hand to evacuate the population, the death toll would have been extreme.
- Scenery Porn: Lots of descriptions of the different Martian landscapes.
- Settling the Frontier: The core of the series.
- Shown Their Work: And how! You wouldn't believe the author is not actually a scientist (although his wife is one).
- Shrouded in Myth: One of the short, italicized segments between sections shows this happening to John Boone after his death.
- Space Elevator: Mars gets one first; by the end of the trilogy, Earth also has several.
- Stalker with a Test Tube: Queen Hiroko has several children, most notably John's son, Kasei, who were created by impregnating herself with DNA samples from unwitting males of the First Hundred.
- Sugar and Ice Personality: Ann Clayborne, who struggles with clinical depression for much of the story.
- Tall Tale:
- People on Mars still tell stories of Paul Bunyan, but they make him out as a Trickster Archetype creator figure, not unlike Raven in Native American mythology. This is an In-Universe illustration of how tall tales can evolve into mythology.
- In the first book "the Coyote" as well: someone who inexplicably appears to help people who get into trouble then disappears just as fast. Turns out Coyote is real, and was a stowaway on the Ares.
- Terra Deforming: The central conflict of the series is between the "Reds" who believe Mars should be lightly settled and maintained in its pristine state as much as possible, and the "Greens" who don't. Both are opposed to metanational efforts to heat the planet as fast as possible, often doing things that will make it less habitable.
- Terraforming: The central focus of the trilogy. The series is considered a realistic portrayal of what terraforming Mars would take (albiet extremely optimistic and in a short period of time, relatively speaking).
- There Are No Therapists: Played with; there is a therapist, but he ends up being the one who needs therapy. Apparently they should've sent two therapists.
- Took a Level in Badass: Saxifrage Russell goes from a meek and apolitical scientist at the beginning of the series to the most realistic sort of Mad Scientist you can imagine after being abducted and interrogated by the Secret Police. He plays a significant role in the second revolution, occasionally referred to as "General Sax".
- Triang Relations: The John/Frank/Maya threesome, which is a recurring theme despite John dying at the start of Red Mars. There's also Vlad/Ursula/Marina, although most of the focus there are rumors that Vlad is The Beard for Ursula and Marina.
- Tsundere: Maya, who at least has the excuse that she actually is bipolar.
- Unreliable Narrator: The books are written from over a dozen different viewpoints, each character with their own opinions and interpretations of events.
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: As a young man, Frank was an idealistic public servant, working for a very effective government agency to relieve poverty in the Southern US... until was shut down by a politician for no more reason than his corporate campaign backers didn't like it, which badly impacted all the people it was helping. Maya speculates that this might have been what turned Frank into the man she knew.
- The War of Earthly Aggression: Red Mars leads up to a failed rebellion against Earth; Green Mars is about a successful one. Blue Mars features a war that, while brief, is primarily resolved through what amounts to hugging.
- Weapon of Mass Destruction: Numerous during the revolutions:
- There are basic orbital lasers, which punch holes in tent cities (or ignite hyper-oxygenated ones).
- An unusual example (also from Red Mars) is the orbital elevator. When the counterweight is cut off, it wraps around the planet twice, causing a huge amount of destruction. By the end, it was going several kilometers a second and embedded deeply into the surface.
- An attempt to launch an asteroid at Earth is stopped by a nuke-launching railgun on the Moon, both pretty terrifying prospects.
- We ARE Struggling Together: A big problem, especially in Green Mars. Since the metanats are too big and powerful to fight, the various rebel groups start sniping at each other, especially since "anti-metanat" is the only thing that some of them have in common. Radical Reds want Mars to be a big preserve, which clashes with the Bogdanovists' desire to rebuild humanity there, etc.
- The World Is Just Awesome: Multiple characters have moments of awe and wonder over the landscape of Mars, space, and eventually other planets over the course of the series.
- Zeppelins from Another World: Airships are the main form of air travel on Mars, right from the beginning.
- Zero-G Spot: This happens frequently on the initial voyage to Mars. One of the Russian characters also apparently experimented with many forms of zero-G sex while on Novy Mir.