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Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Green Mars (original 1993; edition 1995)

by Kim Stanley Robinson

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3,318None1,634 (3.93)73
Title:Green Mars
Authors:Kim Stanley Robinson
Info:Spectra (1995), Mass Market Paperback, 624 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, 1994, Hugo, Locus

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Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (1993)

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In my reading of Red Mars, the first of Robinson's Mars books, I detected an esoteric infrastructure for the saga of the First Hundred, cast according to the pattern of the gods of ancient Egypt and their legendary deeds. The esotericism of this sequel is alchemical, as openly signaled in the first of its ten parts, but carried through in more subtle details as well as the overarching structure. Ann Clayborne reflects at one point on the nomenclature of areography, which is remarkably alchemical when Robinson translates it into English, not that Ann notices:

"Only on Mars did they walk about in an horrendous mishmash of the dreams of the past, causing who knew what disastrous misapprehensions of the real terrain: the Lake of the Sun, the Plain of Gold, the Red Sea, Peacock Mountain, the Lake of the Phoenix, Cimmeria, Arcadia, the Gulf of Pearls, the Gordian Knot, Styx, Hades, Utopia...." (121)

As with the first book, the novella-length components alternately follow different principal characters, most of whom are still members of the original expedition, now well into their second (terrestrial) century of life. These characters accordingly are driven to reflect on memory, both in actuality and theory. The two new focal characters are Nirgal (a native Martian of First Hundred parentage) and Art Randolph, a new immigrant sent as a liaison to the Martian underground from one of Earth's metanational corporations.

This middle book of the trilogy is a tale of transformation that describes the accomplishment of the Martian biosphere and political independence. As with the first, it is replete with political and scientific meditations, anchored in the travails of admirable but credibly fallible central characters. The lore of Big Man and the little red people of Mars (272-274) also acknowledges the vital presence of a fantasy dimension, that is nevertheless not deeply explored. The end of the book is clearly only the beginning of a story, although it does deliver some satisfaction in its own right.
2 vote paradoxosalpha | Nov 9, 2013 |
A good, and fast-paced volume in the Mars trilogy, the characters believable, and likeable. It doesn't really flag. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 2, 2013 |
Green Mars is is very much a continuation of the story started in Red Mars, but the focus has definitely shifted from engineering to political philosophy. We learn that Earth is now dominated by mega-corporations who want to extend their influence to Mars, while the inhabitants of Mars want to push back this influence and institute self-government. However, the people of Mars face two major problems: overcoming the significant financial and military resources of the Earth corporations, and trying to figure out how they want to govern themselves given their myriad backgrounds, beliefs, and philosophies. The entire book really highlights these struggles; the focus of this book definitely contrasts with the ponderousness (and wonder) of Red Mars. However, while science and engineering have definitely taken a back seat in the story, I still found Green Mars to be very engaging and thought-provoking, just in somewhat different ways. ( )
  Phrim | Apr 30, 2013 |
My reaction to reading this novel in 1994. Spoilers follow.

This was an excellent novel, but I didn’t like it as well as Robinson’s Red Mars, the first in the series.

Part of that, I’m sure, is simply the wearing off of the first novel’s novelty. The landscape descriptions of this novel seemed more prevalent but less interesting than Red Mars. That may be due to reading two long novels with the same sort of thing in them. However, I think there are more descriptions of the evolving Martian landscape here than in the earlier book. Furthermore, this landscape is more Earthlike as compared to the sublime, alien desolations (particularly Red Mars’ scene where Ann Clayborne shows black garnet sand dunes to Nadia) of Red Mars which were so interesting.

Also, this novel is much more characteristic of Robinson’s tendency to write what are, in effect, speculative essays with enough drama (and characters) to be labeled as fiction. Red Mars did not have a linear plot, had a book ending with John Boone’s murder, had a lot of inherent drama in showing the First Hundred splitting into murderous factions and ended with a destructive war. (Boone looms, like his murderer Frank Chalmers, large as a legendary figure over this book.) In short, it had drama and physical action.

This novel’s plot is straightforward and much more cerebral. That's not a bad thing given the discussions of economics, politics, and history. (I still find Robinson’s economic ideals, particularly the ludicrous combination of capitalism and communalism silly (land, air, and water are common property as is human labor yet human labor’s fruits belong to the individual). It ends not with a violent revolution changing the political order on Mars. The model of the American Revolution is specifically rejected in Red Mars for, amongst other reasons, the vulnerability of the infrastructure that supports life on an unterraformed Mars and the inability of the land itself to support life. Rather, we have a “velvet revolution” on the model of those that toppled the Soviet Union – the authorities simply give up challenging massive civil disobedience. Where Red Mars ended with the violent destruction of human cities and Martian landscape, Green Mars ends with only the city of Burroughs being destroyed. Red Mars featured murder and war. The most violent incidents in this book – Maya Toitovna’s killing of Phyllis Boyle, Sax Russell’s rescue from the prison city of Kasei Vallis and its eventual destruction – are given very little space in a 535 page book.

Most of this book is taken up with characterization and the exploration of political and economic ideas and landscape descriptions. I also think it would have been better served with a more detailed map. Robinson’s detailed landscape descriptions can be confusing – especially since he is no doubt drawing from detailed surface maps of Mars.

There was much I liked here. Robinson skill in the “literary” school of writing is impressive as he is able, through technological and scientific metaphor (his use of this technique – so often associated with cyberpunks – is not as flashy but as extensive), symbolism, plotting, and character to carry his themes through a long book juxtapose them, and wrap them up neatly at the end. The tension between Red and Green visions of Mars runs throughout the book, is unresolved, and seems a more intractable difference than the various political/economic visions of Mars' future (as shown in a sort of constitutional convention in Dorsa Brevia – or, more accurately, a declaration of principles and independence).

Robinson also plays around with his characteristic concern for history and its meaning. History is thought of, by Nadia, as possibly a Lamarckian process. A sort of Marxian (in the sense of man progressing through economic stages of development) vision of man’s political/economic past and future is laid out. (Robinson subscribes to the shopworn notion of a future improbably dominated by transnational and “metanational” companies though the end of his novel – where nations simply seize corporate property – points out its absurdity.) Robinson also nicely combines the psychological effects of longevity treatments (most of the First Hundred have problems remembering their early days on Mars) and speculation on the meaning of history in the character of Maya. She wonders what the use of longevity is if old people, like the young, can not use the supposed benefit of a long life – experience. Are old people damaged by life, their capacity for optimism and idealism crippled or do they benefit from wisdom bought by experience? When she begins to suspect Chalmers had Boone killed, she finds herself having to read history books to find out what was really happening with her lovers – and she finds the books of little help, filled with bad information or observations that bear little resemblance to her life. What lessons can be drawn from history when the accounts of it seem to have so little truth in them and the memories of even those who lived history are so unreliable?

The “Scientist as Hero” section would, in other hands, be a daring tale of revolutionary espionage as Sax Russell goes underground with an assumed identity to spy on the transnationals. Here, though, it is merely a fascinating portrayal of a man who sees everything through rational, scientific eyes – a man forever classifying things, calculating results, even calmly observing and noting his own emotions of fear and sexual attraction. (He does a fair job of trying to escape after Boyle discovers his identity.) I liked seeing the world through his calm, curious eyes, and I liked his transformation into “the mad scientist” of the revolution, motivated in part by his “rational” conclusion that the current political setup on Mars and Earth can not sustain itself and his pain and brain damage at the hands of security force torturers. He develops a formidable passion for building weapons, a scientific and aesthetic love of Mars and the life slowly taking it over, and a desire to rid the world of government thugs like those who tortured him.

I also found the book’s other mad scientist, Ann Clayborne, fascinating though I disagreed with her radical Red agenda. (She goes from being merely vigorous opponent of terraforming to an active saboteur of it.) She reminded me – particularly when she’s at her most mad in “The Long Runout” section of this book and “Shikata Ga Nai” in Red Mars, her most withdrawn and melancholy – of schizophrenic Pris Frauenzimmer in Philip K. Dick’s We Can Build You. The resemblance may not be coincidental since Robinson is quite familiar with Dick’s work having done a PhD dissertation on them.

The First Hundred still are the most interesting: Nadia for trying to prevent another destructive war, Maya for being a charismatic, though old revolutionary. While this book features just as many – if not more – massive engineering projects, they seem less interesting though more grand. I think this is because so many are off stage or not directed by the familiar First Hundred (now the First Thirty-Nine). (Indeed Maya stands in awe of the “pharonic” powers of engineering the young Martians take for granted.) I liked that young Jackie and Maya can’t stand each other because they are so similar though neither realizes this. Of the new, younger characters diplomat Art Randolph – a more cheerful, optimistic version of cynical Chalmers – and Nirgal are the most interesting. (Though I expected Robinson to do more with Nirgal’s freakish ability to sense the exact temperature and raise the temperature on parts of his body.)

I liked the ending where Robinson neatly wraps up several themes. The process of aeroforming the mind and culture – the Martian landscape changing men’s minds and cultures and politics and economics – is neatly linked with the other process going on throughout the novel: the terraforming of the planet. This is all done when the inhabitants of Burroughs must flee into the Martian desert and walk the surface with only coats and filter masks and not walkers and helmets. A new social order has been born and its members embrace the new Martian landscape on more natural terms, a unity of Martian civilization is reached or, at least, made closer. A new type of Mars – its future – politically or climatologically – uncertain, has been born. This is something biblical about the trek away from the soon-to-be-destroyed Burroughs, a flight from slavery to the old order, a walk to the promised land. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Apr 26, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kim Stanley Robinsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Carella, MariaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dixon, DonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elson, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The point is not to make another Earth.
"Even if you want no state, or a minimal state, then you still have to argue it point by point. Especially since most minimalists want to keep exactly the economic and police system that keeps them privileged. That's libertarians for you -- anarchists who want police protection from their slaves!"
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553572393, Mass Market Paperback)

Kim Stanley Robinson has earned a reputation as the master of Mars fiction, writing books that are scientific, sociological and, best yet, fantastic. Green Mars continues the story of humans settling the planet in a process called "terraforming." In Red Mars, the initial work in the trilogy, the first 100 scientists chosen to explore the planet disintegrated in disagreement--in part because of pressures from forces on Earth. Some of the scientists formed a loose network underground. Green Mars, which won the 1994 Hugo Award, follows the development of the underground and the problems endemic to forming a new society.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:24 -0400)

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After a generation of pioneering work on Mars, a conflict arises between those who want to reshape the planet into a lush garden and those who want to preserve its stark beauty.

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