The nice thing about giving your characters longevity treatments is that you can keep the same bunch of characters throughout your epic series, no matter how long the time span. It’s like having a bunch of Gandalfs running around.
And in Green Mars, this really is the case. Out of the first one hundred Terran scientists to colonize Mars, a small fraction has survived the previous century of hardship, revolution, and each other (no small feat, because they are all crazy!). But that small fraction is aged, wizened, passionate, and surprisingly active. Many of them still trek around Mars like they are on a Tolkien-like quest; alternately terraforming and ecotaging their beloved home, while essentially booby-trapping the planet against potential conquest.
Also, like Gandalf, their reputations over the past one hundred years have evolved into legend and, in some cases, messiah-dom. It isn’t the longevity treatments that cause this level of fame—everyone on Mars, now populated in the millions, receives longevity treatments—it’s their celebrity combined with their historical impact. Besides being the first ever colonial mission to Mars, the trip to Mars began as a reality show for the people on Earth. Video feeds of the astronauts’ interactions were sent back home for entertainment. Consider the extent of worship some of our reality show celebrities experience today. Now consider if those people lived over one hundred years…
Oh, no. Oh god no.
So these quirky, eggheaded scientists are living, breathing (through a filter, of course) mythological giants. Deities, if you will. And why not? After all, they meet the qualifications of any other god: build planets, create and sustain life, shape political and economic events. This is the ultimate story of intelligent design.
But now, in Green Mars, the first colonists have experienced a failed insurrection and are writing the rule-book on how to overthrow an imperial planet. In that case, these people are more like renowned revolutionaries: Tom Payne, Jean Paul Marat, Che Guevara, but with the fabled celebrity of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. In many ways, the individuals themselves have embraced the personas bestowed by their followers, while other characters struggle against them, desperate for exoneration from their past sins. But public memory is steadfast, and every mythical epic needs antagonists.
This second installment of the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson rectifies the weaknesses of the first novel, Red Mars. Characters are stronger and their interactions are more interesting. Mars remains the focal point, and the descriptions of engineering and scientific feats are just as heavy-handed as before, but that’s not a bad thing. KSR writes science like a poet. Sometimes it slows down the prose, but it’s not as clunky as its predecessor. Green Mars is longer than Red Mars, but I read it in less time and in fewer sittings.
Do you need to read Red Mars in order to understand Green Mars? No, but as much as it drags, the literal world-building in Red Mars, and its introduction to the characters is a valuable supplement to the Green Mars portion of the story. I would recommend the completionist approach to this series. We will see if I feel that way after the next installment, Blue Mars.
Update: Here’s my review of Blue Mars!