Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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In the near future, mankind sets out to colonise Mars. But as tensions within even the first 100 colonists starts to rise and the first cracks begin to show, the question rises whether mankind will ever come to an agreement on what life on Mars means for the shared future of humanity. As the colonisation progresses and man’s impact on the planet keeps growing, the disagreements between the first 100 turn into full blown gloves off interplanetary politics. Still, the personal relationships between those first settlers may prove pivotal in preventing worse.

Listened to the audiobook with Richard Ferrone – fit the book’s style very well, and managed to really capture some of the characters.

Now that I’ve finally read one of Kim Stanley Robinson’s books, I’m confused as to why I haven’t read him before. Especially the Mars-trilogy has been showered in all of the important prizes science fiction can win: the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus, etc. And though the book is nearing its 30th birthday, it feels like it could have been written last year. The Mars-trilogy is not obscure among enthousiasts, but it doesn’t get the mainstream love it deserves – so this is me heartily recommending Red Mars to you!

Red Mars is perhaps best described as a mix between the hard sci-fi and refined technological descriptions of The Martian on the one hand, and a political thriller like a Ludlum or a Baldacci on the other (though I would like to note an important difference between Red Mars and The Martian, which is that, unlike Weir, Robinson gets the international space law right! Hurray!).

Red Mars describes the colonisation of Mars from the first 100 colonists all the way up to the existence of cities with factions and political struggles. It jumps forward in time several times to cover the next phase in the colonisation process, and every time it does so it shifts perspective from one of the first 100 to the next, exploring their motivations, relationships, and politics. In this way, each of the time jumps adds another layer of depth to the story’s main throughlines.

In particular, the interpersonal relationships between the leaders of the first 100 colonists and their disagreements over the terraforming process are built up masterfully over the book in this way. Similarly, the time jumps allow Robinson to weave new technological and environmental concepts into the narrative and focus on new themes.

The result of the time jumps is also that the sections of the book feel a little like separate short stories, with a relatively minimal overarching plot. Similarly, while there are a few tense moments in the book, it you are not reading it for its action scenes or its edge-of-your-seat suspense.

This is not meant as a criticism, since the calm style fit the long timeline, the plots of the individual sections are engaging and the character-driven developments made me feel emotionally engaged without the plot needing to constantly deliver mortal danger to the heroes. The mix of (political) character drama and hard sci-fi is unusual, however, and makes for a surprisingly literary read.

All in all, Red Mars was a pleasant surprise to me and comes highly recommended. I’m sure to be listening to the next parts in the trilogy in the coming months!

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