Green Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)
‘Mars. the green planet.
Man’s dream of a new world is underway, but corrupted. The First Hundred have scattered or died, the rebels are underground, planning the utopia, waiting. The transnational corporations aided by the UN are rebuilding the ruined cities and mining valuable resources. They too have a dream. Mars can be plundered, cultivated and terraformed to suit Man’s needs – frozen lakes are forming, lichen is growing, the atmosphere is slowly becoming breathable. but most importantly, Mars can be owned. On Earth, countries are being bought and sold by the transnationals. Why not here too? Man’s dream is underway, but so is his greatest test. Societies are crumbling and re-forming, adapting and reacting to new conditions. The survivors of the First Hundred know that technology alone is not enough. Trust and co-operation are needed to create a new world – but these qualities are as thin on the ground as the Martian air they breathe.’
Blurb from the 1994 HarperCollins paperback edition.
Robinson continues his sublime depiction of the colonisation of Mars in the second volume of the trilogy which looks at events on Mars from thirty years on from the abortive rebellion of 2061 to 2127.
The First Hundred are missing, dead or in hiding while – almost unnoticed by the Earthborn protagonists – a Martian culture is already developing. Nirgal, the vat-born son of Hiroko and Coyote is a central thread of this book, about which other characters weave their own tales.
Earth is now in the control of several Metanational Corporations, businesses big enough to buy and sell entire countries. The metanats have created a new space-elevator to replace the one destroyed in ‘the Unrest of ‘61’ and terraforming efforts have gone far enough to allow grass and small flowers to grow on the surface in some areas.
However, Earth’s situation is worsening. Although everyone has the right to the longevity treatment there are still many people waiting for their first treatment. The population is rising and tensions are high between metanats and between nations.
One metanat, praxis, appears to be sympathetic to the Martian natives and sends an agent, Art, to meet and live amongst the Martian underground.
Art in turn becomes a friend of Nirgal and they are instrumental in arranging a conference of the disparate Martian Underground factors at Dorsa Brevia – the interior of a vast empty larval tunnel – out of which is produced the first Martian constitution. This in turn leads – with a kind of predestinate inevitability – to a more organised and more successful revolution.
This is the bare bones of the narrative, but fleshing out the full 780 pages is a novel which not only raises serious questions about society and its obligation to the planet on which it is based, but describes a detailed and attractive society, committed through force of circumstance to living in harmony with its world.
Robinson is at his best when he is in full flight in creating alternate societies and exploring the possibilities of social engineering. In one scene, where Art is in a workshop being run by Praxis owner and magnate, William Fort, it is suggested that population control could be achieved by allowing each citizen the right to three-quarters of a child. Thus, each couple could have one child and would be able to sell the right to the remaining half or buy a half from another couple in order to have a second child. Robinson briefly extrapolates some of the consequences before moving on, but this is only one of the extraordinary (sometimes throwaway) and inventive ideas with which the book is littered.
Robinson also introduces the novel concept of ecotage, in which the protagonists employ the unique and changing Martian meteorological phenomena as weapons.
Coyote at one point manipulates a local wind phenomenon in order to break into a high security compound to rescue Sax, who is being tortured and interrogated.
Later, Sax himself exploits the high amount of oxygen in a strategic canyon and sets fire to flammable trees (trees which incidentally need to be set alight in order for their seeds to be released) as a similar revolutionary tactic.
The environment is also employed in a constructive way such as when Hiroko and her hidden group live under domes made of mesh covered with ice, providing a strong but temporary airtight enclosure under which flora and fauna thrive.
In terms of laws Green Mars suffers slightly from three rather convenient events late on in the storyline. On Earth, the collapse of the West Antarctic shelf creates chaos allowing the Martians time to organise their revolt. An enormous water ice deposit is discovered beneath the Martian crust which, when pumped out, will be enough to form Martian oceans, and from seemingly nowhere a bacteria appears which releases large amounts of oxygen into the Martian atmosphere.
The character of Hiroko – particularly in this book – is perhaps a little too mysterious and messianic, especially when she appears at gatherings and makes speeches in her self-appointed role of ‘Earth Mother/Mars Mother’.
Once more however, the central character is Mars itself, a gorgeously described fresh new world which seems so real on the page that one might also imagine one had been there.