*** So much politics, so much Mars, but unrealistic characters
After reading, a few years ago, the first book in the trilogy, “Red Mars”, I finally found the courage to try my hand at reading “Green Mars”. I’m sorry to say that, in my opinion, it doesn’t stand comparison with the first one.
As always Robinson is very good in world building, i.e. he can create an imaginary future on Mars that is very well detailed and credible, thanks to his vast imagination and a clear thorough research work. And he does so with a wonderful prose. There are really beautiful passages that deserve to be read regardless of everything else.
Compared to “Red Mars” I read it all in the sense that I have not skipped some parts as had happened to me in the first book (the theoretical disquisitions of psychology, for instance). Since such a book that also has an informative purpose tends to be plagued by some info-dump, I’ve never felt like this, perhaps because the author succeeded in better spread his arguments throughout the text without overloading certain parts, but also because these are topics that I found most interesting and related to the story. But I admit that, although I have read everything, I occasionally got distracted in some passages where in fact nothing happened, but I never lost the thread of the plot.
Nevertheless I could not make myself like this book. The reason is simple: I haven’t identified myself with any character. There wasn’t one that has caught me, and at the same time has maintained a consistent role throughout the book, as had happened with Frank in “Red Mars”. In this sense the enormous leaps in time didn’t help; as soon as I found an interesting character (for example, Arthur), the part abruptly ended and from that point on it became negligible in the economy of story.
The problem is that this book is not made by the characters and neither by a well-crafted plot, but it is an attempt to reconstruct a possible socio-political situation of the future on Mars. The characters, instead of creating the story, are just puppets, as if it were a non-fiction book.
Within the individual parts, moreover, the pace is so slow that you get the impression that nothing happens, and when something happens, it is reported in a manner so as to seem a detached account. Then, moving to the next part, you discover that so much time has passed and what had a prominent role in the early part becomes negligible now. As a reader you feel a bit betrayed by this way of telling, as you tend to project your own feelings, expectations and emotions on the characters and events, only to discover that it all happened without you to know and doesn’t matter anymore.
But let’s get to some aspects of the plot.
In the first book there was the possibility of prolonging the life of the protagonists with some treatments. It is a narrative device that allows to use the same characters for a longer period of time. The problem is that in this second book you find out that the treatments let them live indefinitely. The very idea that the characters don’t have some time reference to measure their life is quite disturbing and contributes to put some distance from them. One wonders what the purpose of life of these people is.
In reading this book it would seem that all the characters are only interested in the situation of Mars (terraforming, independence from the Earth), i.e. everything turns around some big issues, so that it seems that they don’t have a real life, made of small things. The small elements that define the humanity of people are missing. And, when there are some, they are narrated in a didactic way, as if they were secondary. But for real people their own purposes are all that really counts. As much as one can devote to a cause, this cause must come after, otherwise the person becomes a potentially dangerous fanatic. Sure, there are fanatics on Mars too (and indeed some are described as such), but it is not credible that all are like this. In fact, the characters don’t seem real people.
As for the scientific aspect, despite the obvious research done by the author, I have the impression that the process of terraforming described happens a bit too fast and the conditions to accelerate it are too easily created. But this is a minor problem, since it could be a license taken by the author to bring the plot in a certain direction. Besides, it is a trilogy about the terraforming of Mars. It must be said that the partially terraformed Mars, described in this book, in my eyes has lost the charm it had in the first book.
Finally, I hadn’t appreciated the catastrophism at the end of the previous book. We get something similar here, but not as much dramatic. But, while in “Red Mars” the catastrophic event determined the climax of the story and then had his narrative purpose, the tension in “Green Mars” remains low for most of the novel and fails towards the ending to increase as it should.
In short, once I reached the last page, the only word that came to my mind, exhausted by a heavy reading to say the least, was: finally!Green Mars on Amazon.