Monday, April 13, 2009

Red Mars (Cont.)

“The revolt seemed to Nadia more a waste than ever, an unfocused spasm of rage, the ultimate cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The whole world, wrecked! She told the others to send out a radio message on one of the general channels, announcing that Arkady was dead. Sasha agreed, and helped convince the others to do it. “It will help stop things more quickly,” Sasha said” (513).

This New World is a dangerous one, and fear seems rampant even before war breaks out. It is a place where, mixed with an idealism of what Mars could be, death and destruction seem part and parcel of everyday life: “New organisms are being cooked up daily,” John sent on, “and it might be possible to create something that would kill everything else on the planet.” (261). Cultures remain isolated and inscrutable to one another: “Worse than that, there was now a whole society on Mars that was basically impenetrable to him. Moslems, what were they exactly? (282). And so John might attempt to “inspire the people on the planet to figure out a way to forget history, to build a functioning society,” but even his idealism has its limits, as when he notes that “events were out of control” and “there were no plans” (283). It might have been okay – this beginning of a new life together – if they had left an Earth where citizens played nicely with one another. But no such luck! Instead, it has several wars in progress and the citizens of this great land have created such a “shithole” that they have essentially moved to Mars – not as a great experiment, but as an escape.

And so they brought not only their fears of other cultures with them, but also their inability to understand and tolerate one another. Their personal relationships serve as a microcosm of just such discord. John sleeps with Maya not just out of lust, but also as a punishment for Frank, who still wants her. And Ann may discuss the insurgents with John, but she bluntly tells him she wishes them luck, because unlike John, she does not want to change the planet. And John wants to work through UNOMA while Maya prefers not to, which causes more disagreement between them. Frank resents John’s power and actively seeks to kill him. Sax wants terraforming, but at the expense of the ecological health of the planet, and Frank reminds him that it comes at a cost: “Real costs, Sax. . . . Think what will happen when millions of displaced Terran emigrants arrive here, and with all their viruses, biological and psychic. Maybe they’ll all join Arkady or Ann, ever thought of that? Epidemics, running through the mob’s body and mind – they could crash your whole system! . . . You should pay attention! This isn’t mechanics, Sax. It’s ecology. And it’s a fragile, managed ecology, so it has to be managed” (403).

Even John, the ultimate idealist, realizes that “few of the newcomers seemed much like the first hundred in regard to their reasons for coming” (284). And worse, there are bands of insurgents following their own leaders (Bogdanovists, religious communes, utopian experiments, nationalists, followers of the biologist Schnelling, etc. . .) in what appears to be a microcosm of the craziness on Earth. And worse, the Margaritifer group, apparently with Arkady’s permission (he told them to work on Clarke?), intentionally separate the cable – killing masses of people in the process (which they excuse as mostly UN police), and then sheepishly realize that they may have killed Arkady in the process. And of course, in this dystopian world, there is no punishment for their actions, except for the aftereffects of the chaos that they too will have to live in.

It is also never really clear what Arkady actually intended, or instructed his followers to do, as he himself states “And if some of his own people were keeping things from him, that was bad; but if another group had secret plans of its own, that was worse, apparently, because they were at least interference, and perhaps competition” (191). What a mess. And when war comes, it seems to come from all sides: “Look, Sax, this isn’t the American Revolution, or the French or the Russian or the English. It’s all the revolutions at once, and everywhere! A whole world is in revolt, with a land area equal to Earth’s, and only a few thousand people are trying to stop it . . .” (513).

And so, many of the first hundred are brought back together in their new “home,” as Hiroko states, but that plot development does not make this novel a utopia. Only the next two novels will tell whether they can manifest their dreams without killing one another.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Red Mars

It does not seem that Mars can ever be inhabited. I question the ability of a colony to survive on a forbidding planet, and even after watching these original 100 inhabitants live in a tent of polyvinylidene difluoride – its carbon atoms linked to hydrogen and fluorine atoms, resulting in a substance that resembles saran wrap - I still question it. This tent fabric, because it is invisible, causes them to feel they are in the open air; it even has skyscrapers as part of the tent framework. Yet no one seems bothered by the fact that it is not real. It begs the question, is a fake world as good as a real one? Frank Chambers has a moment, in his speech, when he finally wishes to be honest (“The planet, taking in itself, is a dead frozen nightmare . . .”) and yet he stops himself (7). Is he afraid of dashing the hopes of the new inhabitants? Of hurting the creation he euphorically built in his own mind?

It is not as though these doubts are put to rest. The whole colonization process is a mess of tensions and battles between races. And so, as Eric Otto points out in “Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and the Leopoldian Land Ethics,” the “settlers’ hopes are indeed utopian in the etymological sense that utopia is always impossible and always existing nowhere (118).” As Maya Katarina Toitovna, the settlement’s leader of the Russian contingent, reflects, “Interest groups, micropolitics – they really are fragmenting. One hundred people only, and yet they were too large a community to cohere” (Otto 118/Robinson 76). It does not bode well for the end of the book, for the success of this colonizing process.

Stanley Robinson drops hints throughout the text regarding the unsuitability of this process on several levels, but particularly when she addresses the harshness of the climate: “There was never any spontaneous generation out of the clays or the sulphuric hot springs; no spore falling out of space, no touch of a god; whatever starts life (for we do not know), it did not happen on Mars. Mars rolled, proof of the otherness of the world, of its stony vitality” (96). If no touch of god exists on this planet, can life? If whatever starts life does not begin it on Mars, can a tent and specially designed Rovers allow them to sustain it, and if so, is it worth the sacrifice?

It is hardly surprising that when people try to create a colony, friction results – friction over job assignments and religion and architecture/hierarchy. All of these issues exist on Earth, and since they have never been resolved here, it is unlikely they will once people are far away on another planet. Buddhist friends of mine say that we take our karma with us wherever we go – there is no escaping it. Even on Mars. William White’s article, ‘”Structuralist Alchemy” in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars,” notes the disharmony that exists in this colony. It even exists amongst the reluctant, alienated psychiatrist, Michel Duval, who eventually leaves with Hiroko Ai to be part of the “bioscience-oriented ‘farm team’ that ‘splinters off from the colony at the end of Part 4 to pursue in secret their vision of Mars’” (580). I may not have read the end of Red Mars, but such actions hint at a catastrophic end to this “harmonious” colonization.