Books by Robinson, Kim Stanley

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Blue Mars. New York: Bantam Books, 1996. ISBN 0-553-57335-7.
This is the third volume in Robinson's Mars Trilogy: the first two volumes are Red Mars and Green Mars (April 2001). The three volumes in the trilogy tell one continuous story and should be read in order; if you start with Green or Blue, you'll be totally lost as to the identities of characters introduced in Red or events which occurred in prior volumes. When I read Red Mars in the mid 1990s, I considered it to be one of the very best science fiction novels I'd ever read, and I've read all of the works of the grand masters. Green Mars didn't quite meet this standard, but was still a superb and thought-provoking read. By contrast, I found Blue Mars a tremendous disappointment—tedious and difficult to finish. It almost seems like Robinson ran out of ideas before filling the contracted number of pages. There are hundreds of pages of essentially plot-free pastoral descriptions of landscapes on terraformed Mars; if you like that kind of stuff, you may enjoy this book, but I prefer stories in which things happen and characters develop and interact in interesting ways, and there's precious little of that here. In part, I think the novel suffers from the inherent difficulty of writing about an epoch in which human technological capability permits doing essentially anything whatsoever—it's difficult to pose challenges which characters have to surmount once they can simply tell their AIs to set the robots to work, then sit around drinking kavajava until the job is done. The politics and economics in these books has never seemed particularly plausible to me, and in Blue Mars it struck me as even more na´ve, but perhaps that's just because there's so little else going on. I can't make any sense at all of the immigration and population figures Robinson gives. On page 338 (mass-market paperback edition) the population of Mars is given as 15 million and Earth's population more than 15 billion in 2129, when Mars agrees to accept “at least ten percent of its population in immigrants every year”. Since Earth pressed for far more immigration while Mars wished to restrict it, presumably this compromise rate is within the capability of the interplanetary transportation system. Now there's two ways to interpret the “ten percent”. If every year Mars accepts 10% of its current population, including immigrants from previous years, the Mars population runs away geometrically, exploding to more than two billion by 2181. But on page 479, set in that year, the population of Mars is given as just 18 million, still a thousandth of Earth's, which has grown to 18 billion. Okay, let's assume the agreement between Earth and Mars meant that Mars was only to accept 10% of its present population as of the date of the agreement, 2129. Well, if that's the case, then you have immigration of 1.5 million per year, which leaves us with a Mars population of 93 million by 2181 (see the spreadsheet I used to perform these calculations for details). And these figures assume that neither the Mars natives nor the immigrants have any children at all, which is contradicted many times in the story. In fact, to get from a population of 15 million in 2129 to only 18 million in 2181 requires a compounded growth rate of less than 0.4%, an unprecedentedly low rate for frontier civilisations without any immigration at all.

January 2004 Permalink

Robinson, Kim Stanley. Green Mars. London: HarperCollins, 1994. ISBN 0-586-21390-2.

April 2001 Permalink