September 30, 2014

Review: The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson.

A companion for a classic saga!

   Creating your very own universe is a tough endeavor in the realm of Sci-Fi. While other “serious” fiction writers have a readymade reality in place for them, science fiction writers must create a believable one from scratch. One of the modern best in the business is Kim Stanley Robinson. Recently, we had a chance to pick up his 1999 book The Martians, and it was worth the wait.

The Martians is a companion piece to his outstanding Red Mars/Blue Mars/Green Mars trilogy. The series covers the terra-forming of the Red Planet and how it changes humanity as we in turn change it. The books put the hard-core Science (with a capital “s”!) into Sci-Fi in a manner that would make Clarke or Asimov proud. Many a scientist that wouldn’t be caught dead with a science fiction book has found a guilty pleasure with the series; they’re really that good!

The Martians interweaves a series of short tales and addendums to the trilogy, and is a unique companion for any fan of the series. In it, you’ll find short stories, poetry, and such pieces of the Red Mars universe as The Constitution of Mars and Abstracts from The Journal of Areological Studies. I particularly like how the 1996 revelation of possible Martian life in the Antarctic meteorite ALH84001 was incorporated into some of the stories such as The Arcaea Plot. One word of warning is in order; although some of the short stories do stand on their own, I wouldn’t read The Martians unless you’ve first read the trilogy. The stories skip around in the timeline a bit, some even covering preparation for Mars colonization in Antarctica and stories that take place centuries hence. (I thought Purple Mars was a nice ending). A couple of stories even touch on alternate timelines!

As in the Red Mars saga, a thread of climate change versus technology runs throughout. Robinson’s message is that while the juggernaut of technology may be unstoppable, even necessary if we’re going to live beyond Earth, human frailty and even short sightedness may still rule the day. His vistas of Mars are so compelling, you can almost imagine standing atop Olympus Mons.

Certainly, the challenges of Martian colonization will be tough, not the least of which will be the lack of an appreciable magnetic field and protection from life-damaging cosmic radiation. But when technology solves these dilemmas, we’ll find a world ripe for the terra-forming… or should we say Martian-forming? The books also question the wisdom of simply turning Mars into a New Earth. Just what will become of humanity as we venture out into the cosmos? As we change worlds to make them habitable, they will make an indelible impact on us, as we become the true Martians.

Do pick up The Martians and Robinson’s Antarctica as companion readers to the Red Mars trilogy, or simply as a way to revisit a wonderful series. First “Mars-fall” may be decades away, but you can live the life of a Martian now through Robinson’s books!    

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