By Philip Hall
This long book by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson is the first of his Mars trilogy which continues with Blue Mars and Green Mars. This first book deals with the setting up of a Mars colony, its expansion, the argument over terraforming and the eventual attempt by earth to enforce its views on the Martian colony leading to war and much destruction.
The colony is large, one hundred people, equally men and women to start with, and growing rapidly to many thousands. Before the colony is started a vast amount of assorted hardware is sent to Mars. While the technology is quite feasible the cost would be vast and certainly beyond anything plausible.
The story is essentially about the relationships within the first hundred, their intimate friendships, misunderstandings and disagreements.
The terraforming of Mars is presented in some detail right from early windmill efforts through genetically engineered lichens and the steering of asteroids onto the planet. The climate is presented in fairly realistic form. There is much discussion of Mars geography which appears true to the actuality. The geology is uncertain and less real. Robinson supposes that large amounts of underground water are found. As Mars warms with terraforming this produces monstrous floods.
The dispute with earth is presented as a result of largely mining disputes with transnational mining companies. This mining is only feasible with the construction of a space elevator which is a concept discussed among space travel aficionados, and which is theoretically feasible. It could provide very low cost travel from the planet surface into space. This elevator is destroyed in the Earth-Mars war. This destruction is a deliberate act by the colonists to reduce access to Mars.
Robinson indulges in much semi mystical speculation for example about human exploitation of resources. In particular he posits longevity treatment available to some on Mars but which leads to a population breakdown on earth.
There is a wealth of imaginative detail in this intriguing book. At a time when robotic exploration of Mars is underway and realistic plans are being made for manned exploration of the planet it is interesting to speculate on how it might happen. Although certainly the reality will not be like this book it is, even so, immensely interesting and topical. As a work of imagination it is magnificent The technology is almost incidental to the human relationships particularly within the first hundred. The human characters are boldly sketched, not greatly detailed but believable. Nothing is imagined which is scientifically impossible, and a great deal of the detail is perfectly feasible.