Monday, March 10, 2008

Review - Blue Mars

Blue Mars
by Kim Stanley Robinson
1997 Hugo Winner for Best Novel

I've already covered how much I loathed Robinson's Mars trilogy when I reviewed Green Mars (brief recap: one of the worst literary atrocities I've ever seen in print). All of the same complaints about Green Mars still apply: the completely unlikable characters, the monotonous prose, the acres of landscape descriptions, and the laughable social sciences continue to march on to a conclusion.

This time around Mars has become an independent state but the Earth is dying from natural disaster and needs Mars. The book meanders around between Martian politics and settlements in the rest of the solar system. It goes on for six hundred pages with nothing much really happening until the reader dies of exhaustion or the mess finally ends.

This time let me bring up another major problem Robinson has in his novels: time. He apparently forgets that that the Martian year is nearly twice as long as an Earth year so while he refers to time in Martian years characters behave like the period is as long as an Earth year. A longevity treatment was introduced early on so he could keep his unlikable characters over the course of centuries but that just exasperates the problem.

For example there are 40-year-old teenagers, 60-year-old "young punks", 100-year-olds waiting for their parents to retire so they can step in, and 200-year-old people going through mid-life crises. As with every social aspect that he touches Robinson says that things will be different but never shows the consequences; everything is exactly the same just with exposition telling us that it's different. It's especially bad in Blue Mars because Robinson plays up the generation gap forgetting the minor detail that there's now roughly ten generations being gapped.

And on that subject of social sciences Robinson is clearly from the idealist school of thought since he puts a great deal of effort into describing the development of a Martian constitution but the constitution is, at best, a joke laying down broad social programs with no thought of structure or enforcement. Which means that everyone goes on at great length about how brilliant it is so that the reader knows that it's brilliant.

The novel is so poorly written than I can only believe that it was voted in as the best novel on the strength of the concept and if the entire book was that concept then I might have an easier time of it. Trying to plot out the terraforming of Mars based on technology that exists today is an interesting concept but everything that is wrapped around it in the Mars trilogy is so painfully bad that that it boggles my mind.

I can recommend Blue Mars if you:
  • Can tolerate a cast of dozens of characters all written with the maturity of junior high school students despite being several centuries old.
  • Appreciate padding a book out by several hundred pages with descriptions of landscape in geological terms.
  • Are attempting to read all of the Hugo award winning novels and are determined to make it through them.
  • Need to get information from a suspected Al-Quaida agent (you can either read it to him or beat him with it; both are effective).
Everyone else should avoid it like it comes with a free sample of the Ebola virus.