Friday, January 7, 2005

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Mars is the second book in Robinson's Mars Trilogy. It continues right where Red Mars left off and is by no means a self-contained book. The transition from Red Mars to Green Mars (and on to Blue Mars, which I have not finished yet) is seamless, so if the books weren't so wordy they could probably be published as one novel. Yet somehow Green Mars managed to win several awards. I have mixed emotions about this one. On one hand, it follows the story started in Red Mars, which I liked a great deal, further developing its characters and ideas, and so inherits some of the interest generated by the first book. On the other hand, it's really really boring. While Red Mars was mostly about establishing a viable human colony and about the magnificence of the lifeless planet, Green Mars is about building of a fair society and the struggle for independence, and about the conflict between terraforming and preservation. The story follows endless arguments over various topics from human rights to the desired amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere. Unfortunately KSR skips over the details of some of the more interesting and ambitious ideas, such as ecoeconomics or gift economy. Instead he gets distracted by minutiae, the daily routine such as delivering coffee, loading up on kavajava, repeating it page after page until the actual issues at hand go out of focus. Without further exploration, these new ideas sound like yet another lame attempt to present communism in a positive way and make the reader believe that it is possible to implement in practice. The Martians and the notions of commune and sharing... Where have I heard that before? Ah! Heinlein's "A Stranger In A Strange Land". Now that was a good book. KSR's style is very repetitious, especially when talking about the planet. He will bore you to death with endless descriptions of geographical features, weather, snow and ice, lichen and algae. Every canyon, every patch of growth, every aquifer and cave are dealt with in detail, over and over again. The temperatures, as he goes over his imaginary weather reports, are always presented in Kelvins, making everything sound more extreme or scientific than it really is, until KSR himself starts getting confused with them. Because of all this, the book is a perfect soporific. Character development is extremely uneven. Plenty of effort is put into every one of the major players, yet most of them come out lopsided. Some are always grumpy or distracted to the point of complete uselessness, others always too optimistic, upbeat and energetic, running around like energizer bunnies without a hint at what motivates them so. Some are wrapped in mystery, others do nothing but struggle for more power. With such a weird presentation of characters, I hardly even questioned the plausibility of bunch of brilliant scientists turning into fantatical worshippers of viriditas or the absolute absense of life. Only one of the characters seems truly multi-dimentional, and he makes the book worth reading. Some of the most interesting passages in Green Mars are about how Mars changes Sax who changes Mars, about Sax's search for understanding of people and their motives and his metamorphosis from a hermitic mad scientist to a leader of the new world. All it all, I found this book to be a necessary evil. If you have not started on Red Mars, think twice whether you want to get sucked into nearly 2000 pages of boredom. If you read it and didn't liked it, don't bother with Green Mars. But if you want to know what happens to the original cast and their ideas, steel yourself for a few really slow hundred of pages and hope that Blue Mars will make the whole experience worthwhile.

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