Red Life

Part Two of Trilogy
Tracks Changes in Martian Colony

By J. Stephen Bolhafner
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Sunday, August 21, 1994

Green Mars
By Kim Stanley Robinson

WITH "GREEN MARS," Kim Stanley Robinson continues his epic Mars trilogy that began in 1993 with "Red Mars." The series is due to end next year with the publication of "Blue Mars."

Second books of trilogies are often disappointing. The thrill of discovering new wonders is gone, while the climax cannot be the real one, since that must be saved for the last book. Reading "Red Mars" made me feel like John Keats looking into Chapman's Homer, as if I were standing on a peak in Darien beside Balboa (Keats said Cortez, but he was a poet, not a historian), sighting a new ocean for the first time. That feeling of exhilaration just couldn't be matched. After the first book, the second had to be wonderful just to avoid feeling flat.

And, for the most part, it is wonderful. It doesn't carry the same thrilling sense of wonder, but that's appropriate. Because instead of the opening of a new planet, this is about a struggle for an inhabited one. The political aspects that were one of the most-praised aspects of the first novel are even more in evidence here, and we learn even more about what's going on back on Earth.

"Green Mars" opens several years after the disastrous events at the close of the first book (and although each book has a self-contained beginning, middle and end, I would recommend reading "Red Mars" before reading this one). The multinational corporations (known as "transnats" in Robinson's future slang) are in firm control of Mars, and of Earth for that matter. The remaining survivors of Mars' First 100 colonists are in hiding, but they're not the only ones. There's an underground population (literally as well as figuratively) that the transnats are barely aware of - and seriously underestimate.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot. It starts slowly and subtly - a lot of the beginning chapters seem like scene-setting, so that you're not really aware that the plot's been developing underneath you until you're well caught up in it. Suffice to say that history, in its usual helical way, avoids repeating itself while feeling uncomfortably familiar. I was surprised Robinson had the guts to do this - one might be tempted to fault his imagination and accuse him of the typical rehashing too familiar in sequels. But this is not a sequel, exactly, and Robinson knows exactly what he's doing. Just as World War II was an inevitable-but-not-similar replay of World War I, the attempted revolution in "Red Mars" set the stage for the events in this book.

The transformation of Mars, which is really what the trilogy is about, continues. By the end of the book, we are given glimpses of the transformation into "Blue Mars," the title of the last book in the trilogy. I'm looking forward to it. This is already one of the most ambitious and best works on Mars in the history of science fiction. How it all stands up 20 years from now will have a lot to do with how Robinson ends it.