The Short Review
5 reasons RED MARS is a must-read for the scifi fanatic and anyone remotely interested in planetary geology:
- RED MARS is a KSRobinson classic, published in 1992 and winner of the Nebula and the first of his acclaimed Mars Trilogy
- The story imagines life on Mars in a way that feels scientifically viable and compelling, therefore relevant to the current and growing conversation around Mars exploration
- Scientists are the narrators of this story. They are also the heroes, sometimes the villains, the problem solvers and the work horses. I was especially drawn to the “builder” character, Nadia
- The planetary geology content, naturally integrated into the story, is breathtakingly fun
- Despite being over 170K words long, KSR does not get bogged down in the “how would that ever be possible” science scenarios, but drives the story forward through characters and the politics that pressure a budding Martian community
The Longer Review
RED MARS tells the story of the first 100 scientists sent to Mars by a multi-national Earth entity called UNOMA, United Nations of Martian Affairs. The story PG-13 (for some sexual content) follows about 10 of those scientists closely, though many others are referred to and are part of the action in direct and indirect ways. The novel is broken up into eight parts and each of the parts has a different primary narrator. I do think Robinson’s choice on point of view works in a novel this long, adding a level of complexity and depth to the very audacious idea that Mars might be “tamed” by human beings. Robinson plays with themes around the idea that really smart people might be able to build a better civilization from scratch, and form some kind of utopia, but does not make the task easy on the idealogues within his story.
Various characters, all of whom are scientists in one discipline or another, give voice to ideas of alternative governing and living environments. The sharing of abundant resources is the initial reality for the first 100, but eventually, when new groups arrive on Mars, the corporations who have funded the exploration and building, come calling for the planet’s vast natural resources.
The conflict that arises is somewhat predictable and draws out the best and worst of the people in charge who are trying to manage a fragile, but quickly expanding human presence on Mars.
Meanwhile, Earth is falling into total chaos. Robinson does not spend any time showing the reader Earth itself, but shows it via news stories viewed by the inhabitants of Mars. Earth’s chaos is also a reason why many thousands of migrants are streaming to the new world. Robinson does lean left in his politics (proudly so) and sees corporate giants as the villain, though the villain is also amorphous in the story. Robinson’s ideas don’t come across as preachy to me. He’s a deep thinker and a thoughtful writer, so he understands the grittiness of governing and the probable impossibility of building that utopia even if one does start with 100 brilliant scientists.
Many science fiction readers will not mind the length of RED MARS, but at times, I confess to being a bit bored and wondered…Where is this story going? However, I did stick it out and the payoff was decent. It stands alone as a novel, without the kind of cliffhangers that drive you to the second book. Will I read the next two books in the trilogy? Probably yes, but not this summer.
- Meaningful story that unfolds with a tense, creepy vibe
- More family friendly than a lot of current scifi
- If you happen to be a Brad Pitt fan, he’s pretty much in every scene of this film with a lot of closeups. Has to be on your bucket list.
- The science fiction fan will enjoy a number of zero gravity fist fights, a vehicle chase/ambush on the moon, raging space baboons, and a more gritty portrayal of space travel and space tech for the science geeks.
- Nuanced performance by Pitt. His character is non emotional with flat affect, but this film is about his growth toward engaging his emotions. I thought Pitt pulled it off.
I recommend AD ASTRA for the whole family. It’s worthy of a watch party. AD ASTRA is rated PG-13, I’m guessing for its few gory scenes. I don’t think the gore will disturb most viewers. If you need warning, write to me via comments section and I can warn you when to walk out of the room.
There are no sexually explicit events in this film and very little offensive language. It’s a quiet film in portions, much of it narrated by Pitt in voice-over journal entries/reports…The vibe felt similar to Space Odyssey, monotone and spare. However, unlike Space Odyssey, AD ASTRA gives its audience a few exceptional action sequences.
AD ASTRA, directed by James Gray, written by Gray and Ethan Gross, follows one character’s odyssey into space to save the world. Major Roy McBride (Pitt) is contacted by SpaceComm, the military’s space command, for a special assignment.
Power surges are wreaking havoc on Earth. These surges seem to be coming from an old space station, the Lima Project, the station run by Roy’s father (Tommy Lee Jones). That station went as far as Neptune. In Roy’s youth, the station stopped communicating with SpaceComm and all its inhabitants were presumed dead. At least this has been the public’s assumption. Roy’s included.
Now, the military reveals they believe Roy’s father is still living on Lima. The want Roy to communicate with his father, but Roy can only do this from an underground Mars station. (For some reason it cannot take place on Earth). Thus begins his odyssey to Mars and beyond.
The audience knows Roy has more than a few daddy issues. He’s serious, non-emotional and disconnected from others. Roy describes himself as someone who compartmentalizes for the sake of survival. Roy does have a wife, Eve (Liv Tyler), but that relationship is failing. They have no children.
So, in saving the world, Roy McBride will journey to save himself and if possible, his father. The interior journey that parallels the exterior journey to salvation is not so subtle in the film, but it is still a fun ride.
I am excited about this post, a first guest post for allscifiallthetime.com, written by a PhD and a math nerd at that…
It is my pleasure to introduce fellow SciFi fan, Dr. John Mayberry, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. Dr. Mayberry teaches a wide range of courses in applied math and statistics. He first became interested in science fiction and fantasy after reading Susan Cooper’s the Dark is Rising in fifth grade and found it such a welcome and imaginative escape from the real world that he has been hooked on the genre ever since. He is married with three kids and has enjoyed sharing this love with them through bedtime stories and weekend movie nights.
Here is Dr. Mayberry’s review of THE EXPANSE:
The Expanse made the news last year after its cancellation on the SyFy channel led to massive protests and rallies from fans who wanted more. Their pleas were so convincing that Amazon picked up the show, released it on Prime, and started work on Season 4. Comparisons between the Expanse and Firefly, one of my personal all-time favorite space operas, coupled with its newfound accessibility to us non-cable folks encouraged me to give it a shot. I was not disappointed. In fact, after watching all three currently available seasons in just a few weeks (no small feat for a parent of three little ones), I believe that The Expanse has surpassed Firefly and even (dare I say it?) Battlestar Galactica in the pantheon of epic SyFy channel originals.
The Expanse takes place three hundred years from now in a future where humankind has populated the far reaches of our solar system, thanks to a series of technological breakthroughs in “high-g” space travel. The United Nations controls Earth and “Luna” while Mars is under the governance of an independent military coalition. The outer reaches of the system (referred to as “the Belt”) consists of a series of asteroids and space stations operating on artificial spin gravity. The Earth and Mars depend on the Belt for resources while “Belters” are treated as second-class citizens by the “inners”. Season 1 centers around three distinct storylines that respectively follow a cop in one of the largest belt stations, the crew of a deep space ice freighter, and a high-ranking Earth diplomat as they independently discover evidence of an unfathomable plot to destroy the solar system’s fragile peace. It turns out to run so much deeper than any of them could have possibly imagined.
The show accelerates you into a “high-g burn” from the start of episode one and never really lays off the juice thereafter. BSG, for all its glorious moments, suffered from some pretty lame episodes and character inconsistencies (like Lee’s sudden “you never let me fulfill my dream of being a lawyer, dad” moment), but no episode of The Expanse is wasted on such side plots and trivialities. Everything builds towards major epiphanies that aren’t dragged out indefinitely (like in Lost), but instead brought to fruition within the scope of seasons or even half seasons and then turn into bigger questions and realizations which keep you coming back for more. In fact, at the end of Season 3, my wife and I felt like the whole first three seasons, for all they accomplished, played like a prologue leading up to an even greater space adventure in the seasons to follow.
Underlying the compelling storyline is a charismatic and well-cast group of actors whose chemistry on screen is reminiscent of the Firefly cast at times. The Tarantino-esque convergent storylines woven throughout the show merge in extremely satisfying fashion throughout the series. New characters are introduced with purpose and have important roles to play in driving the overarching plot towards its objectives. Even for sci-fi skeptics (like my wife), the characters and political backdrop of the Earth-Mars-Belter coalition will draw you in and force you to imagine what the future could be like…and whether it is the future we want to build towards or not.
THE MARTIAN became a must-read science fiction novel a few years ago. Not only did the book go mainstream, but the story captured the imagination of Twentieth Century Fox. Under Fox Entertainment, Drew Goddard adapted the book to screen and Ridley Scott was hired to direct. In 2015, THE MARTIAN became Scott’s top grossing film. Mark Watney, the hero of the story, became a household name as did many of his quips, like:
- In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option: I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.
- I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the greatest botanist on this planet.
- They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonized it. So, technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!
THE MARTIAN in novel form
THE MARTIAN tells the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars. He is a member of NASA’s third mission to the red planet, having traveled on Hermes, a one-of-a-kind craft that has the capability to reach Mars. The story is set in the year 2035. While the crew is on day 5 of their 30-day mission and living in a tent-like research structure, a 175 mph sandstorm erupts on Mars. This leads them to abort the mission, but while Watney and the rest of the crew rush out of the tent and are on their way to the ship that will take them back to the Hermes, Watney’s suit is penetrated by a blowing antenna. All of his fellow crew members know this to be a death sentence in the harsh Martian environment and in the confusion of the storm, they lose contact with him and make the tough decision to leave his body behind, assuming he is dead. But, Watney survives.
The rest of the story unfolds as part survivor tale, part rescue mission. The tension is palpable throughout. Watney is the main narrator, making journal entries about every challenge and every Mars-life-hack he performs to survive. He is an engineer and a botanist, so his skill-set comes in handy. He needs to make water, grow food and figure out a way to contact NASA to let them know he is alive. He meticulously details the science in his journal entries and they are funny, while being brilliant. When he does finally reach NASA and his former ship mates, the rescue mission begins, but not without its own challenges/impossibilities.
The narrative broadens in vital ways when NASA is contacted. Now, the reader sees new characters and just in time. It might not have been so compelling a read without the new voices and the new motivations. Watney’s story continues to be mainly told in his journal entries. The NASA folks come into the story via omniscient narrator. Very quickly, NASA tells Watney’s crew (still en route back to Earth) that Watney is alive. Now they become a part of the story, trying to figure out a way (if there is one) to rescue their fellow crewman…These characters are all interesting and are making decisions that ramp up the tension. Saving Watney is going to be extremely costly and potentially fatal for the Hermes and its crew. There are a million reasons to let Mark Watney die.
This story succeeds in capturing the unique voice of a space hero. Mark Watney cannot fly around like Ironman (a reality he bemoans at one point in the story), but his superpower is his ingenuity, his intelligence and his sense of humor in the face of the slimmest of odds. He is matched by NASA’s creative problem solving and his crew mates, who show themselves to be people of courage and sacrifice.
I laughed aloud reading this book (actually consumed it via audio book with my family while on a road trip…all four of us love a good scifi story and Weir’s first person narration does make for a great audio experience). Watney’s voice rings in one’s brain following a good listen.
I highly recommend this novel and will write another post for educators, as the science-inspired story potentially gets kids revved up about their studies.
To buy the Martian, click here.