If we’d to pick one author whose work will set the pace for sci-fi in the future, it’d definitely be Kim Robinson. He is unquestionably one of the most effective working science fiction writers today. And, wouldn’t you know it, Red Mars, which is the debut novel in his lavishly praised and hugely successful Mars trilogy, is also one of the best science fiction novels of the modern era in our humble opinion.
Robinson’s Red Mars won the British Science Fiction Association Award and the Nebula Award in 1993. It kicks off Robinson’s epic Mar trilogy about colonizing and terraforming the planet of Mars.
The first batch of 100 settlers to arrive from Earth on planet Mars comprise representatives from Russia, the USA, and the Arab league. At the helm of the American crew is Frank Chalmers who is challenged for leadership of the group by a charismatic spaceman named John Boone. As it turns out, this isn’t the first time John is landing on Mars, which is why he’s a worthy rival to Frank’s leadership.
Both Frank and John set out to consolidate their powers on the new planet in differing ways. On the one hand, John leverages his reliable connections to block the expansion of Russians and Arabs. On the other hand, Frank Chalmers works quietly behind the scenes.
Maya Toitovna, the leader of the Russian team, is another key character. She’s something of an expert when it comes to people manipulations, especially when she wants to build her status and gain more power. The rivalry between Frank and John heats up when Maya sleeps with both of them. She also takes note of another small rivalry between Saz Russell, a proponent of terraforming Mars, and Ann Clayborn, a staunch opponent of the initiative to prepare Mars for human use.
The sectarian groups soon became Maya’s ticket to rising to the helm on the Mars expedition. There’s also Nadia, a close friend of Maya and a member of the Russian expedition; she’s well known for her avid leadership and problem-solving skills. But when an industrial accident injures her hand, she has no option but to assume a consulting role.
One day, a member of the American group named Phyllis and Nadia make a trip to the ice caps to check if they can be a potential source of water. On returning, they find their bases in ruins after a fight breaks out between the supporters of terraforming Mars (aka the Greens) and those who oppose the initiative (aka the Reds). Arkady Bogdanov, who serves under Nadia, has also teamed up with a group that proposes a complete break-away from the Earth.
The Arab crew has, up to this point, managed to stay low and out of the rivalries and politics that mar the Russian and American crews, much to the chagrin of John who is concerned about the Arabs taking over Mars. As such, he attempts to downplay their ability and freedom to exercise their political will. In turn, this gives Frank the leeway to befriend some of the members of the Arab crew and convince them to revolt against the oppressive John.
It wasn’t long before all-out and bloody war broke out, leading to many fatalities, serious injuries, and growing animosity. Humans have finally brought their Earthly behavior to Mars – what an irony, right?
Robinson’s depiction of Mars is plausibly lifeless, arid, and cold, just like the folks that made the voyage to the planet. The author uses the point of view of different characters to create a fascinating and intricate mosaic of political and ideological chaos. In it, Robinson constructs an interesting contrast and subtle balance between revolution and murder, discovery and survival, and betrayal and love.
Even though the density of the narrative can be imposing sometimes, this novel manages to entertain and wow with a stunningly convincing and cleverly realized setting plus superb characters. You will find the vicious cycle of revolution, exploitation, and colonization to be pitifully accurate, and even more laughable, it’s still for detail, depth, scope, and power. No other post-apocalyptic and Martian adventure novel comes close to Red Mars!
This is Robinson’s first major science fiction novel that gained worldwide recognition. You should definitely read it in a single sitting. You’ll appreciate the fast pace, realistic writing style, and splendid characters, not to forget the themes that speak to Rober Charles Wilson’s Axis, Greg Bear’s Moving Mars, or Cordwainer Smith’s The Rediscovery of Man.