Ben Smithgall

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Bit pusher at Spotify. Previously Interactive News at the New York Times, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





Green Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Finished reading on June 29, 2019

Following on from the first book, Robinson continues to explore how economics and politics shape and change all of human endeavors, as much as we try to rid ourselves of them in our day-to-day lives. Take, for example, the scene is which all of the scientists have gathered into a massive Martian terraforming conference: Sax goes around spellbound, tremendously happy at first. Over time, though, he realizes that people’s scientific interests are caught up precisely with what their sponsor/company’s interests are. As more competing interests emerge, bitter fighting ensues and Sax finds this difficult to square with what is supposed to be a gathering to explore and celebrate knowledge.

The story ebbs and flows also around the future of Earth. While we have a brief scene with a new character, Art, there is not much explicitly stated about what is happening back home. Instead, we absorb information as the characters do: media, controlled by the large meta-national corporations, trickle out information of dubious quality, which we are then left to analyze. I thought this was very clever: we have to work a bit to figure out what of the presented information is good, and it helps also to color the characters a bit.

In the end, the revolution breaks out, and the obsessive paranoia about the failed revolution in 2061 that takes place in Red Mars helps to ensure that the Martian colonists, or in some cases, Martians, have a better go of it this time.

So far it’s been a tremendous ride: though Robinson can be a bit too much sometimes, what is always clear is how serious he is about the implications of his stories. In some ways, it is almost the opposite of someone like Philip K. Dick, who will have a wild idea and barely scratch the surface of its implications. Here, we get a long treatment of how different terraforming efforts play out in the long run, what kinds of unexpected outcomes they bring, and the implications that those have on the political developments that shape Mars. I am excited to read the conclusion.