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.

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