Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Blue Mars forms the final book of Kim Stanley Robinson's massive epic about the colonization and terraforming of Mars. As with the earlier novels, Red Mars and Green Mars, Robinson has an extensive cast to work with, now built up through three volumes. This cast, actually, is one of the trilogy's shortcomings.
In an attempt to have continuity between the three novels, set at radically different stages of Mars's colonization, Robinson has bestowed extremely long life on his characters so members of the First Hundred, who arrived on Mars in the early twenty-first century, are still alive and active in its terraforming efforts more than a century later. With all the difficulties on earth and the fledgling society on Mars, the gerontological treatments available to the colonist simply do not have the versimmilitude needed to carry the characters through the trilogy.
Few of Robinson's viewpoint characters are particularly interesting, and the one who are only hold center stage for short periods of the novel. This lack of exposure may be what makes these characters, like Nadia, more interesting that characters which higher visibility, like Ann. In a novel (and series) of this length, however, the main characters should be shown as more interesting. However, it is the very lack of an interesting main character that makes Robinson's characters appear real and multi-dimensional. None of the characters appear as super-human, the closest Robinson comes to that are the long dead John Boone and the mercurial Hiroko.
Robinson's background suffers in other areas. Despite massive destruction on Earth caused by Antarctic flooding, famine and world-wide rioting, the UN still has the resources and time to attempt to impose their will on the Martian colonists, nearly 100 million miles away. Along the same lines, the reader is left wondering how the Martians managed to get all the specialized heavy war machinery they have from Earth, since there is little evidence of the type of industry needed to create these weapons.
The tone of the novel is set early. While Red Mars focussed on the initial colonization and Green Mars looked at the revolution, Blue Mars is about the Martian's attempts to consolidate their holdings and create a planet-wide state. As Art Randolph remarks, "Win a revolution and a bunch of lawyers pop out of the woodwork."
Robinson demonstrates a good head for politics and political theory. Similarly, he realizes that although there will be some changes, other things will remain the same. When asked for the Arab point of view during the Constitutional Congress, Zeyk replies, "Sunnis are fighting Shiites--Lebanon is devastated--the oil-rich states are hated by the oil-poor states--the North African countries are a metanat--Syria and Iraq hate each other--Iraq and Egypt hate each other--we all hate the Iranians, except for the Shiites--and we all hate Israel of course, and the Palestinians too--and even though I am from Egypt, I am actually a Bedouin, and we despise the Nile Egyptians, and in fact we don't get along well with the Bedouin from Jordan. And everyone hates the Saudis, who are as corrupt as you can get. So when you ask me what is the Arab view, what can I say to you?"
In addition to the political questions tackled in Blue Mars, Robinson also pays attention to more metaphysical questions. His Mars is inhabited by indigenous life, although it is not obvious to the humans on the planet. Early on, these natives are sublimated into the consciousness of the Gyatso Rimpoche, the nineteenth Dalai Lama, who was unable to find a single human on either Mars or Earth to contain his soul.
Frequently in Blue Mars, Robinson gives the impression that he feels the need to share all his research with the reader. This data dump material is equally likely to appear whether Robinson is describing the terraforming of Mars or a train ride through France. Although it adds background to the story, his exposition tends to intrude on the narrative and the action.
Blue Mars, as with the earlier Mars novels, tells a story which is epic in scope. Unfortunately, Robinson does not seem to have figured out how to handle the epic format. These novels try to get by on the strength of their topic, however the characters are not epic in stature and Robinson includes too many pieces of minutiae for the novels to fully work.
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