Tag Archives: travel

Book Review: Exploring a Mars-topia

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.

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Day and Night Part 3

It’s been a while (too long in other words) but here is the third part of Day and Night (I really need a better title, but that will come). I wrote this in two 25 minute pomodoros, and it’s about 1200 words long. There was a good rhythm, and I like where the story is going. Won’t be much more to it I feel. Enjoy, and remember, this is literally the words that come to me posted straight away. The polishing comes later. Any tips and suggestions are welcome.

******

She turned and headed to her room, food in hand. It would not do to stay close to these citizens.

When Felicia reached her room, she looked out the attic window, and witnessed Sundown. It was a quick process, and all it took was a few movements of the giant mirrors to shift the spread of light. One moment the world was bright and golden, the next an amber haze fell across the land. Not quite enough to get a proper rest, but sufficient to deem the King merciful. Felicia set her eyes and clenched her fist at the thought of her brother.

Wrapping her cloak around herself, she closed her eyes and began to meditate. Soft but steady breathing. She felt herself drifting towards sleep. Focusing on the feelings of her balled up fists, she slipped into a Dream.

Her eyes snapped open. She was in a grey world, of fog and shadows. Little bubbles of activity whirled about her in all directions. She let her legs unfold, her arms float up. It had been some time since she had visited the Nexus, the spiritual side of the Temple of Dreams, and she had to become accustomed to the physics.

This point in the Nexus was mostly empty, or only half-formed. There was very little activity close to her, but she could sense stronger dreams a long way off, near the place of her exile. The unfortunate side-effect of near perpetual sunlight. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t feel the subconsciousness of all her people.

It was Sundown, and a vast majority of people were sleeping, or trying their best. Very few houses were allowed dark rooms, and at least some fraction of light had to touch all corners of any building. Theirs was a light sleep, a tortured one. Felicia drew herself up, felt the tendrils of many minds, and pulled.

Tiny bubbles and larger ones, all were drawn to her. She gathered them, joined them, made them one. This was potentially dangerous, but she was the Night Queen; the act was her duty and her life, and she would make no mistakes. She felt one particular consciousness sweep by, deeper in sleep than the others. It carried a particular familiarity. She smiled. She would make sure this one slept the deepest.

* * *

Sean woke with a start, his bed drenched, his breath harsh. He couldn’t believe it–he had had a Nightmare. Surely that was not possible, he thought, trying to remember what had happened.

He had been in a market place, in casual attire, mingling with his subjects. No one had recognised him. That should have given him enough concern, but no, there was more to it. He chewed his nails, trying to drag it all out.

He remembered, he remembered that he had tried to buy some fruit, some exotic things, but when he touched them, they dried and shriveled up, wasting away quickly to nothing. Every fruit, no matter what. Then he had grown thirsty, but as the water touched his lips and tongue, it had evaporated. Yes, that had been frightening, truly frightening, but there had been something else. A figure…

A dark figure, someone in shadows but radiant nonetheless. And this person, they had been drawing everybody. It was a man, no, it had been a woman, atop a podium, calling out, rousing the people. He recalled following the others, his people, and looking at this feminine figure. The sun blinded him, but in a flash, it came back.

His sister.

The Night Queen.

The Night Queen had been in his dream. Sean scrambled out of bed, the image of her pale face so vivid. He gulped. Surely it could not be. He went to call his servants, just as Saul blew the doors open, dismay on his face.

“Your Brightness, you have slept too long. Battle has been met on all fronts. And I do mean all.”

* * *

The Lord of Light gazed from the gilded balcony that overlooked the centre of the city, the core of the Citadel of Light. He wore his full armour set, the gold and crimson design catching the light and making him a beacon. At his right side was Saul, given that Rufus had been called to the battle on the Eastern Plains. To his left stood the Arch-Knight, Champion of the Sun, Protector of Fate. Their faces were not welcoming. Sean looked over his people, and they intermittently looked back, but it was not with mutual respect.

There had been riots from the moment Sundown had ended. It was worse than Sean had thought, and he had not been prepared. Saul had told him of the rebellion, marching on the streets. The eyes of his people sagged as usual, but a spark had gone off in them. They had dreamt last night, as he had. The Night Queen had touched them all.

“Have we enough Citadel Guard to quell this?” asked Sean.

“Barely my lord, but this is no organised attack,” said Saul. “It will be contained.”

Sean glanced back, a hint of fear.

“Do you think she will strike in the middle of this, from some unknown angle?”

“No, my lord, she knows we are too well-defended. She is relying on three fronts. The Gilded Sea, where she hopes to plough through and up the River Romance; the Eastern Plains, where her forces are numerous but out of their league; and here, where she hopes to sow discontent and a sudden, new army. None of these will work.”

“I do not think that is the whole picture,” said Sean. “The Temple of Dreams, that is the basis of her power, like the Solar Array is mine. To do this, she has to be close. But without the Temple…I still don’t…how could she…?”

Saul thought about it for a moment. Their entourage tensed ever so slightly, as the discontented voices from below reached their ears. The Guardian of the Sun walked to the edge, placing his hands on the railing. He watched his subjects milling around, shouting in the faces of the guards who bravely protected his halls. There was something not quite right…

“Your Brightness,” said the Arch-Knight. His name was Julius, hand-picked by Sean to be a personal body guard in war and peace. “If you say that the Night Queen gets her power from the Temple of Dreams, then we must protect it at all costs.”

“Don’t be foolish,” scorned Saul. “The Temple is at the top of the Palace, above the throne room. It would be nigh impossible to reach its heights.”

“But our guards,” wavered Sean. “They protect the streets and the entrances. There are other ways into the Palace. And Felicia, curse her name, will not have forgotten those catacombs of yesterday.”

Saul’s eyes widened, his shoulders dropping. Julius shifted his stance, unconsciously preparing for a fight. Sean twirled, marching between the two.

“Guards!” he bellowed. “With me, for the Eternal Light!”

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