I have just returned from Mars.
Well, I haven't of course but it feels a little like that. I feel like I have been one of the pioneer colonists struggling to tame Mars for posterity. That is how immersive this book can be, though it is not actually quite so engrossing throughout every page but even to attain that level of engrossment at times is a significant achievement by the author.
I believe this is one of the most popular sf series ever, I have certainly seen it in many "best of" lists, each book in the series has awards up the wazoo. It is not Dune or Enders Game big but if those are XL
s this series is definitely an L. Red Mars, the first volume of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, falls into the subgenre of hard science fiction. It is set in the near future (2026), the science is based on and extrapolated from known science, there are no extraterrestrials, time traveling or FTL travels here.This may not appeal to scifi fans who read books to have their mind blown by bizarre goings on, but for me variety is what keeps sf from becoming stale. Another advantage of hard sf is that it requires very little in the way of suspension of disbelief.
What surprises me about this novel though is the amount of character development in this book, not a common feature of scifi in general, even less so for hard scifi. This is both a strength and weakness of the book because while it is good to be invested in the main characters the emotional scenes can descend into melodrama or even soap operatic. Interestingly considering that Red Mars is very hard sf, KSR clearly has a lot of respect to the Mars themed scifi classics like Bradbury's [b:The Martian Chronicles|76778|The Martian Chronicles|Ray Bradbury|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1338384826s/76778.jpg|4636013] and [a:Edgar Rice Burroughs|10885|Edgar Rice Burroughs|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1207155710p2/10885.jpg]'s Barsoom / Mars books. Considering how much of the book seems to involve battle of the sexes I am glad he does not include any reference to that awful "Mars" book "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus".
On the world building and technological side I find it all very plausible and often vivid. One of my favorite scifi technology is the space elevator, popularized by Arthur C. Clarke's award winning [b:The Fountains of Paradise|149049|The Fountains of Paradise|Arthur C. Clarke|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344265959s/149049.jpg|734510] which is due for a reread very soon. The achievements of the scientists / colonists in this book make me think of the amazing height mankind can achieve if we put our minds to it, and the almost inevitable fall from grace through our usual infighting and folly. The process of colonization, terraformation and chaos is very convincingly portrayed here. The politics and the colonists' fight for independence also bring to mind Heinlein's classic [b:The Moon is a Harsh Mistress|16690|The Moon is a Harsh Mistress|Robert A. Heinlein|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348768309s/16690.jpg|1048525].
I am tempted to rate Red Mars at five stars but in all honesty there are some rather dull passages or chapters in this book. Looking at some of the less than enthusiastic reviews I came across quite a few comments along the line of "boring" and "like reading a text book". I don't really get the "text book" allegation as I don't think Robinson spends that much time explaining the techs, but I certainly find some of the arduous journey parts of this book almost interminable. If there is a major flaw in this book I believe it to be the pacing, occasionally it grinds to a halt or become rather turgid. This is not actually a deal breaker though, a lot of it is fascinating and very readable, you just have to be patient and not expect the story to be a pulse pounding page turner all the time. By the time I finished the book I realized the whole of it is greater than the sum of its parts, viewed as a whole in retrospect it is a very worthwhile read.
So I think a four stars rating is fair, and I look forward to reading the other two volumes.