I once heard it said that there are some books that if you do not read when you are young, you will probably never read them. This is partly because life, particularly modern life, is difficult and keeps you from having the kind of time to do such things. And partly because the mind just isn’t up to the task at a certain age. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is an example of a series that has that exact reputation. The books are famously dense and difficult, having a whole lot of technical knowledge peppered in. This does not make for good passive bedtime reading. If you are going to pick this up, you are going to want to be paying lot of attention to it, and thus don’t even try if you are not willing to give it that.
If you manage, these books are extremely rewarding. I felt rewarded after finishing Red Mars. After finishing Green Mars, I felt a lot less confident.
The book picks up where the previous one left off, even with many of the same characters. There is some focus on the terraforming of the planet, but largely it felt like the major focus was on the political situation between Earth and Mars. This was particularly the case towards the end. However, I didn’t really enjoy this aspect of it, and I couldn’t help but think to myself that Heinlein did it better.
That’s incredibly mean, partially because I know Robinson wasn’t going for that at all. But for some reason that is all I came away with from reading this.
The elevator pitch this series is usually given is that it us about the terraforming of Mars. I don’t think it would be fair to say that those descriptions of the book are dishonest, but that there is just so much going on that a lot of those other things seem secondary. Almost everything that happened in the book seemed to be secondary, in some kind of rotation where things come to the forefront for a moment and then get shuffled back. But here is the weird thing: I could have written that exact same previous paragraph about Red Mars and it would have felt just as valid. And yet, I don’t really recall being bothered by it as much in Red Mars. Almost the opposite: for Red Mars I would have hailed it as one of the books virtues. There just seemed to be some other x-factor that I cannot put my finger on that made the one enjoyable and the other not.
That’s the most unsatisfactory explanation I ever came up with. Maybe I just wasn’t all that up to the challenge.
I’m gonna blame myself on this one. After all, these books are famously difficult.