Fantasy epics are good. Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, and Game of Thrones are but the most popular. But what about good sci-fi epics? Perhaps the Dune series? The Rama books? Both are on my List, but I just finished an epic that would be loved by lefties and techies the world over. It’s the Mars Series by Kim Stanley Robinson.
I’ve written about Red and Green Mars, but this is more of a general overview. First up, know that this is truly an epic, spanning decades and stretching out across the Solar System. There is a hoard of characters, though KSR sticks to a handful for most chapters. This is hard science fiction at its best, futurism at its most optimistic.
That’s saying something. KSR doesn’t picture the rosiest picture of the future, but you can tell he has high hopes. If you care about a balanced society, if you care about gender equality, and if you care about the eventual dismissal of neoliberalism, read these books.
And why not admit it. Nowhere on this world were people killing each other, nowhere were they desperate for shelter or food, nowhere were they scared for their kids. There was that to be said.
Mars is the utopia, while Earth languishes in population and corporate woes. It takes a while to get there, and this tension between the settlement and the home world provides most of the major tension, but eventually it seems that the Red Planet comes to peace. We explore new economics, divergent ways of working and living, enlivened ideas about environment. In fact, the environment is a key aspect of the books, and indeed most of KSR’s books (I’ve heard). Currently Mars in uninhabitable, and would need the introduction of greenhouse gases to make it livable. But where and when do you stop? How much human imposition should a planet sustain?
These are the issues we face now. That is, overpopulation and human encroachment are affecting Earth. Our desires overpower the Earth’s needs (and really, as a result, our needs). We’re headed to Mars very soon (I’m pretty sure these projections fall into KSR’s dates) and the reality is we are going to have to take conservatism with us to the stars. The Mars series tells us how to do it.
But what about the book the ideas are woven into? It’s well-written for the most part. It’s definitely nicely framed and structured, with proper jumps in time and character. There are some awkwardly written sex scenes, but I think KSR deliberately skipped through these quickly, understanding that they’re a bitch to write. That said, the blooming romances and relationships are beautiful and you know these characters so well that they feel natural. Blue Mars does feel like it teeters at the end, not going on for too long, per se, but struggling with how to express the last movement. There’s a lack of grandiose action sequences compared with the first two books, but by now the planet is settling. And KSR does manage to inject some fantastic lines that make you stop and say “whoa”:
Ann was looking at him closely. Finally she said, “Everything dies someday. Better to die thinking that you’re going to miss a golden age, than to go out thinking that you had taken down your children’s chances with you. That you’d left your descendants with all kinds of toxic long-term debts. Now that would be depressing. As it is, we only have to feel bad for ourselves.”
Read it and weep. I mean really weep. That’s what the world faces now. Hopefully that sought after golden age is still within our grasp.