Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.
On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.
While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).
Green Mars won the Locus Sci-Fi award in 1994 (after beating a different Mars novel by Greg Bear, Moving Mars). I was reading this book while my wife was nearly nine-months pregnant with our son. Between antenatal classes and trips to Mothercare, it was Green Mars I sought to escape into during moments of peace on the bus, in the bath, or curled-up in the corner of my local coffee-shop.
I jumped into Green Mars immediately after finishing Red Mars. If pushed to compare the two objectively, I’d acknowledge that Red Mars is probably the ‘better book’, but personally I found Green Mars to be a far more enjoyable book.
There’s a switch-up amongst the cast: by the end of Red Mars we’d seen saw Frank Chalmers, (the most bitter of its main character) and John Boone (the most idealistic), killed off. Green Mars replaces them with Art Randolph (the undercover diplomat sent from Earth) and Nirgal (the series’ first major Mars-born character). Art is like a more down-to-earth and modest kind of Boone and Nirgal is a life-loving, sweet, naïve and all-round adorable guy – a complete contrast to Chalmers. Together, these characters breathe a pleasant and refreshing new life into the story.
But if Art and Nirgal are the new lungs of Green Mars – it’s Sax Russell who grows into being the heart of the story. His transformation from reclusive scientist to revolutionary activist is what powers the plot onwards. His name is Saxifrage (after the plant) and my wife became so used to me babbling about his recent adventures that she took to asking how my Sacks-of-Rage were getting-on that day!
Whereas Red Mars is a book about things eventually going wrong, Green Mars is the flipside up-curve of things slowly coming right. It’s every bit as deeply detailed as the first book, but with splashes of success and celebration throughout that made it a distinctly more pleasurable experience.
It’s still, without a doubt, a slow book. The whole Mars Trilogy moves like a sleepy tortoise - that should just be accepted - but large chunks of Green Mars are given over to details of scientific and political conferences (interesting, but hardly thrilling stuff). There’s a lot of time spent looking at rocks and plants, or thinking about the nature of memory. It’s not light, fun reading, but it is rewarding.
While there are personal and planet-wide obstacles to be ploughed through, the progress towards a successful second revolution does feel inevitable throughout. There’s never a convincing overarching reason to doubt, so the book suffered (for me) from a distinct lack of tension. There are some great short-term moments of conflict and adversary, but by-and-large the antagonism consists of the umbrella actions of faceless meta-national corporations, and the fragmented nature of the mars resistance itself.
I still struggled to enjoy the chapters focused on Michel Duval or Maya Toitovna. The ideas of space exploration and terraforming are exciting to me, so to read of characters in the midst of it all being bogged down by homesickness and moodiness was hard to empathise with.
The second installment in the Mars Trilogy is another fascinating story that I highly recommend to those with the patience to appreciate it. I considered giving Green Mars the full five stars because it was my favourite of the three books, but there were just a few too many issues for me to do so.
After this I read: Blue Mars