By Kim Stanley Robinson
Published by Recorded Books
Read by Richard Ferrone
The is the opening volume of a colorful Mars Trilogy. The other two are Green Mars and Blue Mars and the detail the long story of the colonization and terraforming of Mars and, to a lesser extent, the other colonizable planets in the Solar System.
I have to admit that the first time I read this, I got a bit confused. It starts out simply enough with the colony firmly established and most of the main characters celebrating at the inauguration of one of the new cities on Mars. However, there is tension, both among the original colonists and between some populations that have immigrated from Earth. It seems that everyone has their own reasons for moving to another world and not all are compatible with each other. Welcome to Earth Mk II.
I thought it was a bit sad that nothing would change on a new world; that so many people would go to Mars just to continue living as they already had, but Robinson, might be right about that. And then one of the “First Hundred” founders is assassinated and a very long flashback begins that lasts the first half of the book.
We are then treated to tales of the initial arrival and exploration of Mars by the one hundred original colonists. I enjoyed this section, but by the time we get back to the present I found I had forgotten about the assassination. My fault, I suppose, but I still found myself wondering when that happened. Maybe had it actually happened “On camera” rather than by word of mouth it would have made more of an impression? Can’t say, though maybe the story should have been told in chronological order (as the rest of the series is).
Once we’re out of the flashback sequence, the story is fairly straightforward in construction but the nationalist/political factions become increasingly important to the story and while we see the gradual terraforming of Mars going on, we also see the powerful faction “The Reds” who wish to leave Mars as they originally found it. I cannot quite call it an ecological movement as there had been no ecology going on at the time, but the notion of preservation from the acts of mankind is the same.
My only real complaint is that a lot of the scheming and plotting by some of the characters and the political motives of some of the groups on Mars seem unusually complex and convoluted. Some of them just do not make a lot of sense to me. One character, Frank Chalmers, seems to me to be more than merely unhinged, but I am left wondering why the rest of the First Hundred haven’t decided to lock him up for his own safety. His only obvious cause for discontent may have been that during training he was the leader of the American contingent but as the exploration of Mars continued, it was John Boone, the first astronaut on Mars, who becomes the charismatic leader among them. So he starts his scheming, all the while using Machiavelli and Nietzsche to justify his actions. Well, I personally reject both Machiavelli and Nietzsche as valid philosophers in my life, so maybe that is why I find Chalmers as a sociopath and an obviously insane malignant narcissist.
Parallels in today’s world? I’ll leave that to you.
In spite of my own confusion, I found the story to be an interesting collection of ideas that were presented in an entertaining yet thought-provoking manner. All told, I’d say it’s a good story.
I do not think I have listened to Richard Ferrone before. At first, I wondered if he was reading the story in a deep raspy, sort of hoarse voice because that was how one of the main characters, John Boone’s voice was described. It might have made sense had the story been narrated by the Boone character, but as I continued to listen, I realized this was his normal reading voice. It is not unpleasant and he does not resort of funny voices or strangely strong accents. No, he gives this a good even reading in his own natural manner.
So we have a very complex and mostly satisfying story (with my reservations noted above) and Mister Ferrone makes it an interesting listening experience.