April 3, 2007

Red, Green, and Blue

I’m currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s superb Mars Trilogy, an imagined history of humankind’s colonization of Mars. The first in the series, Red Mars, was published in 1992. It was followed in 1994 by Green Mars and in 1996 by Blue Mars.

I have said here before that most science fiction takes the form of historical narrative, and the Mars Trilogy is no exception, chronicling the “terraforming” of Mars from the arrival of the first human colonists in 2026 to their fight for independence from Earth in the 22nd century in a story that roughly parallels the outlines of American history. But what is most interesting to me about the Mars Trilogy are the subtle adjustments Robinson made to that story line as he completed the books in serial. It’s clear that Robinson altered the course of his future history in response to the actual history that was so quickly unfolding around him during the course of the early-90s. Thus in 1992’s Red Mars, we find the “First Hundred” settlers chosen almost entirely from the ranks of American and Russian military scientists, with a few European and Japanese civilians thrown in for good will. But in 1994’s Green Mars—in a shift that clearly parallels the geo-political shifts of the early-90s and the rise of globalization in the mid-90s—we see American and Russian national influence on Mars greatly reduced and replaced by powerful corporate “transnats” which run everything from Martian mining operations to its police forces. This is just one example of how, in order to construct a plausible history of the future, Robinson had to respond “on-the-fly” to the momentous events playing out in his present.

Of course there are lots more; as always Robinson is a gold mine. If you’re a fan of science fiction and/or alternative history, and you haven’t read the Mars Trilogy yet, close your browser and get to the bookstore.

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