Monday, 25 September 2000

Kim Stanley Robinson: Blue Mars (1996)

Edition: Voyager, 1996
Review number: 626

The final volume of Robinson's Mars trilogy is set furthest into the future, and covers the longest period. The work that has gone into terraforming Mars has borne fruit, and by the middle of the ninety or so years described in the book it has become possible to walk outside unprotected in the low-lying parts of the planet.

Thanks to improving longevity treatments, there are still some of the original First Hundred colonists alive, and the book concentrates on them as the story of the Martian inhabitants develops, through a series of crises mainly concerned with the relationship between overpopulated Earth and Mars. Blue Mars follows on directly from the ending of Green Mars, as the planet becomes an independent political entity in the wake of the second revolution.

Blue Mars is easily the least impressive of the trilogy. This is because it is the most remote from the present day, which makes it more distant from Robinson's strengths as a writer. The plausible, detailed, and interesting science of Red Mars is its main virtue. The further away from today's science that the story goes, the more Robinson has to resort to fairly vague generalisations; the more he tries to concentrate on character (his major weakness); and the more he writes about politics (where he tends to sermonise). There are two very long and tedious sections which really drag the novel down: the political arguments leading to the drafting of the Martian constitution (an attempt to imagine a post-capitalist socio-economic structure which turns out to basically embody the US constitution with a weaker president), and the search to discover a cure for the memory problems experienced by the oldest of those given multiple longevity treatments.

It is a pity that this trilogy ends with its weakest novel, particularly when it began so well.

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