A new home for mankind, where people are born and raised... and die.
The Red Mars trilogy is a series of novels by sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson, named after the first novel in the series. The series explores the settlement and subsequent terraforming of Mars. Spanning nearly two hundred years, the series is known for its accurate science, complex characters, a realistic*
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portrayal of politics and economics, and for its ultimately optimistic tone, shading towards a utopia rather than a dystopia.The first novel, Red Mars itself, depicts the settlement of the first Martian colonies. The "First Hundred", the initial group of colonists tasked with settling the planet, establish themselves and begin altering the environment. The colonists are almost immediately divided over arguments about how independent they should remain from Earth as well, as how much terraforming they should do. This crystalizes into two major movements: the "Reds", who want to keep Mars in its natural state, and the "Greens" who want to terraform it to be ultimately Earth-like. The novel ends after a violent and unsuccessful revolt on the part of the Reds is put down, leading to Mars being taken over by a consortium of large Earth corporations and ushering in an age of mass immigration.Green Mars depicts the fallout of the failed revolt, resulting in an underground seperatist movement whose struggle for political freedom from Earth forms the bulk of the plot. Against this political backdrop, the massive influx of immigrants and the increase of Earth corporate meddling strain Martian society, and the terraforming process begins to proceed at a runaway pace as Mars begins to literally turn green (thus the title of the novel).Blue Mars is about the political aftermath of the independence struggle, with Mars becoming a fully independent entity from Earth. After a natural global disaster on Earth threatens to destablize the overpopulated and polluted planet, Mars is placed in the unexpected role of being a savior to Earth. In the background, the colonization of the rest of the solar system is explored, and the continuing effects of longevity treatment on both society as a whole and the individuals using it is further explored.There's also a companion collection of short stories, The Martians. Some of the stories are set within the same universe and explore more of the ideas only hinted at in the novels, while other explore Alternate Continuities. The novel Galileo's Dream ties a lot of Robinson's work together with a quantum multiverse (accessible to time travelers from the 31st century). The more recent 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.
Tropes featured include:
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 (in a Flash Forward) 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 (though the last actually makes it all the way to the end of the trilogy).
Berserk Button: You can murder engineer Nadia Chernyshevski's one true love. You can hunt her and her friends like animals. But when you start destroying infrastructure, she will blow up your moon base. Including the moon it is on.
Bold Explorer: John Boone becomes a world-wide hero after leading the first expedition to Mars.
Colony Drop: The first Martian Space Elevator is attacked and severed, dropping onto Mars and wrapping all the way around it twice. It's every bit as apocalyptic as it seems. Additionally, a throwaway line reveals that a rogue Martian 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 triggered an apocalypse.
Also, in a more straight example, Phobos is dropped out of orbit and destroyed.
Cool Train: A train on Phobos is used to keep the workers there adjusted to Martian gravity; the gravity on Phobos is so low that the train is simply run around Phobos at a high speed, with workers literally standing upside down on the ceiling of the train experiencing the centrifugal force. The City of Terminator, capital of Mercury in Blue Mars (and a central location in 2312) is the ultimate Cool Train: it 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.
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: All the survivors of the First Hundred in Red Mars credit Maya with keeping the group together and alive.
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 Peter 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.
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.
Foil: 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.
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.
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.
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.
Honest Corporate Executive: William Fort, who is also the only metanational reader 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.
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.
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!
LEGO Genetics: Later in the series, people splice animal genes into their DNA in the process of getting longevity treatments.
One character is shown getting some leopard genese splice in so that she can have leopard spots on her skin, while another character gets some of the polar bear's cold-adaptation genes to help him live on Mars more easily.
Longevity Treatment: Gene therapy known as gerontological treatments are the reason some characters live through the whole two centuries of the series.
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.
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.
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.
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 supercede 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.
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 Red Planet: Obviously. The series is considered quite seminal to the Mars sub-genre of sci-fi.
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 several 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 CO 2 filter masks on hand to evacuate the population, the death toll would have been extreme.
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.
Terraforming: A 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).
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.