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The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Martians (1999)

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Mars Trilogy (Companion volume)

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Bits and bobs, leftovers and what I expect were background writings, along with a little farewell to Mars squib at the end, that is set right in Robinson's back yard, I imagine. Can't be easy to say good-bye when you've written a series like the Mars trilogy. One thing that comes through in this set of stories is the mad passion Robinson has for Mars. It came through in the trilogy too, I think, but I was often so caught up in the story I didn't step back and 'see' it. I love the character of Roger Clayborne who has to come to terms with Mars, past, present and future - he is a rare 'old one' who does not forget his past as most of the people who take the life extension treatments do. The third to last piece (the penultimate piece is actually poems) "A Martian Romance" is superb! A fitting end - it should have concluded the book in my view. But that's just me! Don't even think of reading this if you haven't read and loved the trilogy. ***1/2 ( )
  sibyx | Dec 7, 2013 |
My reactions to reading this collection in 2000. Spoilers follow.

“Michel in Antarctica” -- This collection is a mixture of hidden history, alternate history, addendums, and author notes adding to Robinson’s classic Mars trilogy. This story is mostly of the alternate history variety (though it does show some of the failed romance between Ann Clayborne and Sax Russell in the Antarctica training camp). Psychologist Michel examines the candidates (158 who will be pared down to 100) for the settlement of Mars and their psychological fitness. While we do see Michel’s early love of Maya and some of the First Hundred rarely or never seen in the trilogy, the story mostly centers on his conclusion that the colonists will not remain sane, that they will not be able to work together, and he advises the American and Russian presidents to cancel (they are the main backers and supporters of the Mars expedition) the project; though he later revises his recommendation to back the idea, the story ends with the line, “So they cancelled the project.”

“Exploring Fossil Canyon” -- With a 1982 publication in Terry Carr’s Universe 12, this is the first published installment in Robinson’s Mars saga. It is the tale of a hiking expedition amongst the canyons of an unterraformed Mars and the growing relationship, eventually sexual and romantic, between Roger Clayborne (who may be the same Roger Clayborne who is the protagonist of Robinson’s “Green Mars”) and Eileen Monday.

“The Archaea Plot” -- One of the type of Martian folklore bits about the tiny red people of Mars that shows up in the Mars trilogy of Robinson. Here the little red people are harvesting their ancestors, Mars’ Archaea bacteria. The Archaea plot revenge against the little red people and humanity’s terraforming efforts. I don’t remember any Archaea – or any other native life-being mentioned in the trilogy. Perhaps the tale is to represent some colonists suspicious (reds?) that Mars once had native life.

“The Way the Land Spoke to Us” -- Nice landscape descriptions of Mars.

“Maya and Desmond” -- This story partly falls under the category of a hidden history of the events of Robinson's Mars trilogy. Here we discover that Maya discovered Desmond aka Coyote’s existence en route to Mars though, in the plot of the trilogy, Maya really only seems to meet Desmond in Zygote. Here their long relationship as friends and sometime lovers is related from the trip out to Mars through Michel’s death. Robinson's fascination with history shows in this story. When Maya tries to study the historical (which doesn’t match her memories or many other memories as we learn in Robinson's Blue Mars) records of John Boone’s death and Frank Chalmers role in it, she asks Desmond if Frank did conspire in the assassination. Desmond doubts Frank would have discussed a murder in a straightforward manner given his deviousness, that, even if assassin Selim acted on Frank’s urging, Desmond feels those who commit an act bear moral responsibility for it and not those who urge it. Desmond doesn’t believe Frank was involved (the reader of Red Mars knows he was) but, if he was, Desmond is sure he was guilt ridden.

“Four Teleological Trails” -- Four life lessons taught through the metaphor of hiking.

“Coyote Makes Trouble” -- Account of an incident not in Robinson’s Mars trilogy in which Coyote conducts some sabotage against the United Nations Transitional Authority and uncovers one of their moles.

“Michel in Provence” -- This is a sequel to “Michel in Antarctica” in which Michel goes to Mars briefly (where his suggestion of scientific stations staffed by rotating crews has been followed) and returns to Earth. He begins, as civilization on Earth is threatened, to think the original Mars colonization scheme should have been followed. Mars colonization would have been a project to build a new type of social order, provide hope and solutions to Earth. His lover Maya gets him to admit this and that he scuttled the original plan because of his fear. Yet, in typical Maya fashion, she refuses to let the mistakes of the past dominate her present life or plans for the future.

“Green Mars” -- This is at least the second time I’ve read this story. While I, as with the first reading, appreciated the landscape description and the sf concepts of memory loss as a common feature of long life and the terraforming of Mars, I also appreciated the expansion of Sartre’s thought about the past only having relevance by us “assuming” it, that it is always there to create “new values for it”. (I don’t believe this, and it’s a convenient philosophy for Marxists who refuse to learn from history.) Here Roger Clayborne must create new values from his past as a red opposing terraforming and accept a green Mars with pockets, like the top of Olympus Mons, of the old Mars preserved. This seems to be Robinson’s second Mars story and is a sequel to “Exploring Fossil Canyon” since it represents the second installment in the life of Roger Clayborne and Eileen Monday.

“Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” -- Amusing story about Martian baseball, its variations, and the introduction of the curveball. The titular Arthur Sternbach is the same Arthur Sternbach who is on the expedition to climb Olympus Mons in Robinson “Green Mars’.

“Salt and Fresh” -- Another of the little red people Martian folk tales. This one talks about the water from Mars’ terraforming dissolving surface salts.

“The Constitution of Mars” -- The actual Martian constitution of the second Martian revolution. It has obvious influences by Swiss and American constitutions.

“Some Worknotes and Commentary on the Constitution, by Charlotte Dorsa Brevia” -- Self-explanatory title of material mostly covered in the trilogy. The note for banning weapons (as if not one could or would make them or have a need for them – how is society to protect itself but then, now that I think about it, there are no violent criminals except Selim in the trilogy apart from corporate or UN thugs) simply, unconvincingly says its “a no-brainer”.

“Jackie on Zo” -- Memories of Jackie on her daughter Zo, in the trilogy the archetypal carefree, irresponsible, clever Martian child who dies early.

“Keeping the Flame” -- An interesting story that is another example of Robinson’s fascination with the study of history, the ability – and to him – futility of ever knowing the true past. Here Nirgal, in his wonderings across Mars looking for his vanished mother Hiroko, encounters two of the First Hundred barely mentioned in the trilogy: Edvard Perrin and George Berkovic. As detailed in Green Mars, Phyllis Boyle is the villain (even more than Frank Chalmers) representing heavy terraforming, a collaborator with UNTA and corporate thugs. She tortures Sax Russell. As explained in “Michel in Antarctica”, Boyle, Berkovic, and Perrin formed a sort of menage á trois in training. Here, Berkovic and Perrin give another version of Boyle’s actions that contradicts Red Mars and Green Mars. Boyle, the “forgotten hero”, is compared to the triumvirate of “death and destruction”: Nadia, Sax, Maya”. Had she lived, we are told, she would have mediated between red guerillas and UNTA. She’s remembered as the advocate for the space elevator, builder of Cimmeria harbor. Nirgal concludes “the past was a mystery”. There are curious hints here that the two old men expect a reversal of the seeding of life on Mars.

“Saving Noctis Dam” -- An engrossing vignette about the geological and climatological difficulties encountered by a Martian dam – eventually found untenable and taken down.

“Big Man in Love” -- This one about the Paul Bunyan like Big Man, his love for Zoya (clone of Zo, Jackie Boone’s daughter), and the eventual fate of his amputated penis.

“An Argument for the Deployment of All Safe Terraforming Technologies” -- An uninvolving story about surfing on Mars. This may be a chronological extension of the trilogy since a period of cooling beginning in the 2210s – something I don’t remember from the trilogy – is mentioned. Setting off nukes in the regolith is mentioned as a proposed solution.

“Selected Abstracts from The Journal of Areological Studies” -- Robinson shows his mastery of the scientific form in not only convincingly imitating scientific abstracts but also his command of the biological and geological details of Mars and possibly Martian life. This introduces the idea of native Martian life, an idea I don’t remember from the trilogy. I don’t know if this is an alternate version of Robinson’s future history or not. I suspect Robinson was inspired by recent news, occurring after he began his trilogy, of possible Martian fossils in meteorites found in the Antarctica.

“Odessa” -- Vignette about the pleasant life in the Martian city of Odessa.

“Sexual Dimorphism” -- A promising story that goes nowhere and turns out to be little more than an exercise in imagery. Idea-wise, Robinson does nothing with Dr. Andrew Smith’s notion, the story’s protagonist, that human and dolphin DNA show unusual similarities. (Perhaps, though – as the story tells us – he’s seeing an illusory pattern.) Smith doesn’t get back together with his girlfriend after losing his temper and biting her – not unexpected since they had already grown apart. But he also doesn’t get together with other women though one is interested. Robinson and Smith keep describing the swimming women Smith hangs out with whale and dolphin images. Robinson also throws in some evolutionary psychology, but nothing comes from it. Smith’s colleague tells him he has to stop seeing women as separate creatures that the DNA and body is similar in the sexes, so little of life spent in reproduction (though extended lifespans should change this) that humanity is one. But Smith persists in his “sexual dimorphism” worldview.

“Enough Is As Good As a Feast -- A pleasant story of an idyllic life in the Martian vineyard. It reminded me of William Morris’ pastoral News From Nowhere. The ideal life is marred by the weed purple nutsedge and, more importantly, a “big climate shift” that seems to herald an ice age.

“What Matters” -- There seems to be a series of stories, running through this collection, about Roger Clayborne and his life at various stages. Here we see him apart from Eileen Monday after the two resurrected their romance after the climb in “Green Mars”. This story clears up Roger’s relationship or, rather, lack of relationship to the trilogy’s Ann Clayborne. Here we meet Peter Clayborne, Ann’s son, in a time when the climate is growing colder. The two discuss one of Robinson’ favorite topics: the meaning and study of the past. Roger eventually comes to look at the past as if through the wrong end of a telescope – objects and events become too small to hurt us. The two discuss the role of chance (“fate”) and the “personal stuff” that really moves history. (Of course, Robinson has postulated other notions in other stories. He’s fascinated by the question.) History is, the two decide, “the heart’s story”. The story ambiguously ends with one of the two, but we don’t know which one, deciding to act on their emotions.

“Coyote Remembers” -- Desmond remembers and meditates on Hiroko, Sax, son Nirgal, Michel, and Maya.

“Sax Moments” -- Sax Russell is my favorite character, the “scientist as hero”, from Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and this story is wonderful and delightful though little more than a collection of scenes from Sax’s life.

“The Names of the Canals” -- An odd sort of author’s note – sort of a poetic essay – on the source of some place names in Robinson’s Mars trilogy.

“The Soundtrack” -- A list of music Robinson listened to (including some linked to specific novels and characters) while writing his Mars books.

“A Martian Romance” -- It is only with this story that I realized that, throughout this collection, Robinson has written a linked series of alternate histories to his Mars trilogy. Most of them, like this one, feature Roger Clayborne and Eileen Monday. The series can definitely said to consist of “Exploring Fossil Canyon”, “Green Mars”, “What Matters” and this story, probably “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” (the only connection is Arthur Sternbach shows up in this tale and “Green Mars”) and “Enough Is As Good As a Feast” with its mention of a cooling climate. “Keeping the Flame”, with Berkovic and Peerin warning of a coming climate crash, might belong. This story reunites most of the climbers of “Green Mars” and Monday and Clayborne. They skate about the frozen ocean of a cooling Mars. Here the terraforming efforts, which used only biological and not the industrial methods depicted in the trilogy, did not achieve a sustainable climate or ecosystem. The title has a couple of meanings. The renewed love of Monday and Clayborne is the obvious one, but the title also evokes the dying Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Here the life on Mars is retreating, dying off in the cold. This disturbs the old climbers gathered together, depresses them. All except Roger Clayborne who points out that it only depresses them because they remember a more vital Mars and that they will never see that Mars again before their extended lifespans end shortly. Clayborne brings them around to his viewpoint that Mars will have life for thousands of years, that the young couple they travel with are not depressed, that they love this Mars because it is the one they are used to.

“Purple Mars”-- A charming piece that seems to be a fictional account of Robinson’s last day of writing his Mars trilogy and the quotidian details of his life during the writing of the series. I liked the bits where Robinson, talking to his kids, would describe how a certain act would look, feel, and smell on Mars. I suspect Robinson, to effectively create the sense of place and reality he did on his three Mars novels, may have actually done stuff like this. ( )
2 vote RandyStafford | Nov 19, 2013 |
I'm both elated and depressed at finally finishing Robinson's Martian trilogy-plus. It's been a long, LONG voyage, and the ideas he offers and the characters who span the story have become very real to me.

This fourth book is a series of short stories, some poems, and even a few scientific reports (all done within the Martian world Robinson created), and they add some interesting alternatives and information on major and minor characters and theories. If you've read the trilogy proper, do tack this on to your TBR list. If not, don't, because it will make little sense. ( )
1 vote auntmarge64 | Jul 24, 2011 |
  mcolpitts | Aug 1, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553574019, Mass Market Paperback)

The Martians is a collection of stories, alternate histories, poems, and even the complete text of a planetary constitution based on Kim Stanley Robinson's award-winning Mars trilogy (composed of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars). For those unfamiliar with the series, The Martians from the title are the humans who have colonized and terraformed the Red Planet over the course of several generations. While Robinson told their story at considerable length in his novels, The Martians fleshes out some of his more interesting characters and also adds depth to their world.

When it's at its best, this collection presents stand-alone stories of life, love, and work on our celestial neighbor, ranging from the tale of an expedition seeking to conquer Olympus Mons in "Green Mars" to a folksy story of friendship and baseball in "Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars." Unfortunately, some of the material here can be tough going for those unfamiliar with Robinson's Mars milieu. For instance, the ending piece, "Purple Mars," is apparently an autobiographical snippet about the day Robinson finished writing the final novel. That's great stuff for someone who has been following the entire Mars saga from beginning to end, but newcomers will probably not know what to make of it.

Still, there is enough material here to interest anyone on the lookout for some good Mars stories. Although Robinson has made his name by writing fat novels that span dozens of generations and characters, in The Martians he proves that he is also adept at shorter pieces. It's a fine if somewhat uneven collection that serves to round out the Mars universe while providing some excellent reading. --Craig E. Engler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:50 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Twenty-eight stories, including poetry, devoted to life on Mars. The story, Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars, is on the effect of the planet's gravity on the game of baseball, Jackie on Zo, is about childbirth on Mars, and Green Mars is on climbing a mountain.… (more)

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