Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is one of the highlights of American science fiction, as far as I’m concerned. Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars were published between 1992 and 1996 and tell the future history of our neighboring planet over a period of almost two hundred years.

In those two centuries, Mars is fully terraformed: transformed from a cold, dry, lifeless desert into a living world with seas, forests and cities. Not all main characters are happy with those changes: the battle between the Reds, who prefer to keep Mars as it is and the Greens, for whom terraforming cannot go fast enough, is the main theme of the trilogy.

Often read copies of Red mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Often read copies of Red, Green and Blue

2020

You would almost forget it in the current covid-19 crisis, but 2020 is an important year in Robinson’s chronology. Although the story of Red Mars does not begin until 2027 with the journey of the First Hundred, the first manned Mars landing takes place seven years earlier, so more or less as we speak.

In order not to let that milestone in alternative history go unnoticed, I took two projects that I devoted to the trilogy long ago and gave them a little make-over. Two completely different projects: a literary analysis of the perspective and the use of time in the three books and a 3d model of the spaceship of the First Hundred, the Ares.

Close-up of the Ares, the spaceship on which the First Hundred travelled to Mars in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy
Front view of the Ares with on the left the bubble dome

Perspective

Let’s start with the literature. The structure of the books is fascinating: the story is seen through the eyes of ten different characters, each of whom has the perspective in a number of chapters. They all have their own views about how things develop and their ideas range from “Red” to “Green” and all the shades in between. As a reader you are not pushed into one specific direction, but you can form your own opinion.

The result of this setup is that there are many loose ends and unresolved issues. And while these ten characters certainly play an important role in the story, there are also some protagonists who do not have their own chapters, such as the red-bearded revolutionary Arkady and the mysterious visionary Hiroko. There is not really a pattern in the change of perspective; the choice through whose eyes we look for the duration of a chapter seems completely arbitrary. The length of the chapters also varies enormously and the number of chapters per book increases from eight in “Red” to twelve in “Blue”.

And actually I think this looseness and arbitrariness is one of the strengths of the trilogy. History simply cannot be fit into a schedule. As a reader, you actually know as little as the protagonists. You can speculate a lot about what happened to Hiroko, for example, and you may find clues, but you will never find out the truth. I suspect even Robinson doesn’t really know all the answers.

Diagram with the timeline and changing perspectives in the Red Green and Blue Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
Perspective and timeline in the Mars trilogy

Timeline

A striking aspect of the timeline is the exception in the first chapter. Instead of starting at the beginning, the departure of the Ares, Red Mars begins in 2053, the night John Boone is killed, and then jumps back to late December, 2026. From then on, the story is completely chronological until the end of Blue Mars.

In some chapters, the line is almost horizontal. These parts correspond with important periods in the history of colonization: the first settlement, the first and second revolution and the first years of the 22nd century. In some other chapters, the line becomes quite steep. In many places at the beginning of a chapter, the line takes a leap of several years or decades, leaving a gap in our knowledge. For example, very little is known about the first decades after the disastrous revolution of 2061.

The character top 10

After reading the trilogy, I felt that the main characters were Ann, Sax and Nirgal. Ann represents the Red line of thought, Sax can be identified with the Green ideology and Nirgal, born in the world that is the result of the battle between Red and Green, stands for the Blue, in a way. Looking at the number of pages, the conclusion has to be different, because the number one in the top 10 is Nadia, a more moderate character. Ann is in a disappointing sixth position.

Knowing that Kim Stanley Robinson is a male American, it should come as no surprise that the US is the best-represented country and that the men were allocated slightly more pages than the women. But the author has certainly done his best to identify with other nationalities and the opposite sex, because the numbers two, Russia and the women, follow closely. And besides: there are two Russian women in the top-3…

Top-10 charactersSplit by nationality
characteraantal paginnumber of pagesa’s
1Nadia395United States916
2Sax370Russia737
3Maya342Mars374
4Nirgal310France57
5John172
6Ann149
7Frank122
8Art103Split by gender
9Zo64men1134
10Michel57women950
The Ares, the spaceship on which the First Hundred travelled to Mars in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, with the Red Planet and the stars as a background
The Ares on its way to Mars

3d model

The second project that deserved a 2020 version is my reconstruction of the Ares, the rather large spaceship that the First Hundred used to travel to Mars. There is nothing as good for your spatial insight as modeling a spaceship in 3d. I based my model on the descriptions by Robinson himself and on the original cover illustration by Don Dixon (which contradict each other on some details).

The Ares, the spaceship on which the First Hundred travelled to Mars in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, seen from the stern
The Ares as seen from the stern

Sustainability

The Ares was an early example of sustainable building: Robinson, who wrote the book in the early 1990s, had the Ares assembled from recycled space shuttle tanks. American tanks, recognizable by the brown insulating foam, for the outer ring, and Russian tanks for the central shaft. The Ares left for the Red Planet in late December 2026 and although that is still a few years in the future, we may fear that Robinson was a bit too optimistic about the development of industrial capacity in space.

The Ares, the spaceship on which the First Hundred travelled to Mars in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, arrives in orbit around the Red Planet
Ares arriving in Mars orbit

Red Mars – the movie

At the turn of the century, director James Cameron, known from Titanic and Avatar, had the plan to turn Red Mars into a movie. Unfortunately, that never happened. On second thought, the story may have been a bit too extensive, complex and layered for a motion picture. Even a three and a half hour movie would probably feel like nothing more than a summary. Not to mention the next parts Green Mars and Blue Mars that fan out even more. Actually, a multi-season Netflix series would do more justice to the trilogy: an epic of Game of Thrones-like proportions, but of course without dragons.

I made a trailer about six years ago, but after all this time it deserved to be refreshed a bit, with re-rendered images in high resolution, new scenes and some extra effects. But still with the most bombastic music I could find in the YouTube library.

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