The first book in the SF Mars trilogy. It’s part of my Sci Fi Challenge as a modern classic.

Publication year: 1992
Format: Audio
Publisher: Recorded Books
Narrator: Richard Ferrone
Running Time: 23 hrs and 52 minutes

Red Mars is a tale of colonization of Mars which is an international effort and so very political. The characters talk about politics, revolutions, various religions and cultures. In other words, it’s not a mystery or a thriller, and it moves quite slowly. It has a lot of characters but to me the most interesting character turned out to be Mars itself.

In 2026, the Ares was sent to Mars with a hundred scientists who would be the first Mars colonists. Fifty men and fifty women journeyed for almost a year to the red planet. About the first half of the book is set on Ares during the journey. People being people, they form cliques, love triangles, and romantic couples. Apparently, most of the selected scientists are single and all of them are over 30, most in their forties and fifties. Still, they form couples and clicks like high schoolers. They also work on simulations and various other things, but they don’t really have much work to do as such. When they get to Mars, they will start building.

The characters themselves feel secondary to the ideas. There is a core group of characters whom we follow but I felt quite detached from them. They have love triangles and cliques which I didn’t feel where necessary at all and made them seem like teenagers instead of people who have already lived half their lives. They also know that they aren’t going to come back and yet nobody seems to miss the people they have had to leave behind; none of them have kids or siblings or even good friends? None had beloved pets?

They are celebrities on Earth. They are interviewed before the journey and during it.

Politics is clear even in how the scientists are selected. There’s a group of Americans who have a leader of their own and a group of Russians with their own leader. They have different living quarters and political views. During the journey, a few scientists question if they are going to go through with the building as they were instructed or try something new. Some also don’t want to change Mars too much while others support a full scale terraforming. Near the end, when other people come to Mars, there’s also the tension between the original one hundred who have already lived without a capitalist system, and the big corporations who want to exploit Mars and humans, as well. Poor people are sent to Mars to work. The originals aren’t happy with that.

Robinson also includes the treatment of women by various cultures. There’s not criticism of the way that Western women have to conform to certain looks and use of make up etc. In Russia, women are apparently hugely overworked; raising children while working full time. Some of the secondary characters are Moslems who have moved to Mars and are apparently keeping their women in their cultural way: illiterate and kept at homes.

… “But it’s slavery, isn’t it?”…

“Isn’t it?” he said, helplessly feeling the words bubble up out of his throat. “Your wives and daughters are powerless, and that is slavery. You may keep them well, and they may be slaves with peculiar and intimate powers over their masters, but the master-slave relationship twists everything to it. So that all these relations are twisted, pressured to the bursting point.”

“The laws are there to read, and to watch in action, and to me it looks like a form of slavery. And, you know, we fought wars to end slavery. And we excluded South Africa from the community of nations for arranging its laws so that the blacks could never live as well as the whites. But you do this all the time. If any men in the world were treated like you treat your women, the U.N. would ostracize that nation. But because it is a matter of women, the men in power look away. They say it is a cultural matter, a religious matter, not to be interfered with. Or it is not called slavery because it is only an exaggeration of how women are treated elsewhere.”

The characters make a point to show later that the Moslem women on Mars have some freedoms but they don’t show it to the outsiders and apparently they are happy to stay that way. However, this book was written in 1992, twenty years ago, and this matter is just as relevant today.

I quite enjoyed the colonization itself, although the repetition and large chunks of descriptions can be a bit tedious. I also enjoyed some of the political and religious debates which might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

After the halfway point, a new twist is introduced: a treatment to extend life. I really liked it and the complications it brought.

The book doesn’t really have an ending. It just stops. I’ll likely continue with the series at some point.