Kim Stanley Robinson's "Blue Mars"
I just reviewed Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars. It brought a tear to my eye it was so good. Specifically, the final scene, Ann’s spiritual rebirth, and Maya’s practice in the third final chapter of simply living sanely and helpfully, are two scenes charged with clarity, mindfulness and the powerfully compassionate presence of a fierce and disciplined dakini kind of woman. I love Robinson’s women because they are so similar to the kind I love to create.
I also noticed patterns.
- An “Ann” and “Sax” chapter bookend the opening and the conclusion. The actual narrative core of the book, chapters 5 to 8, showing Michel rememebering, Ann observing, and Nadia governing, itself is bookended by two brilliant chapters showing Nirgal witnessing Earth then Mars.
- The book is dominated by issues of quality of life. Each chapter builds on this question: “What is the good life?” This theme reaches its climax in two chapters which contrast two extreme versions of the good life, Zo’s hedonistic headlong kind, and Maya’s serene, sane, accepting kind. One is left in no doubt of the benefits and disadvantages of each kind of good life.
- The issue of how one strives for quality of life when there is no apparent direction or purpose is treated before these climactic scenes with Zo and Maya, through a long discursive narrative about Nirgal. Nirgal, having returned to Mars, disocciating himself from his former historical identity, strives to attain the good life and mostly fails, but the point is that he is successful in the striving itself. And his apparent lack of success bears fruit in the final chapter, where he ends up with Bao, and is carefully set up during this part of the book.
- I wrote a line on each chapter to capture it. Zo’s is: “Chapter 11, Zo does Mercury, Mars, Sax (literally), Oberon, Miranda, Ann, and death.” Short and sweet. Maya’s is “Chapter 12, Maya does living sanely”.
- Broadly speaking the Ann and Sax chapters that bookend the book are about death and life. I wrote: “Chapter 1, Ann does war,” “Chapter 2, Sax does terrorism.” And: “Chapter 13, Sax does mnemogenesis,” “Chapter 14, Ann does spiritual rebirth.”
- The portions of the book where contemplation predominates over action are: “Chapter 5, Michel does Provence”, “Chapter 9, Sax and Bao do science”, and “Chapter 12, Maya does living sanely.” What purpose they serve precisely will require careful rereading.
So that is my overview of the bare bones and the underlying essence. I am not sure whether I will dig deeper, especially since the other two thirds of the novel remain to be explored in the way I have above as well (Red Mars and Green Mars).
Landscape and the quality of witnessing are the predominant aspects of Robinson’s novel. Red Mars is strong on landscape. Green Mars represents landscape admixed with turbulent subjective emotions, distortions, madnesses, and frenzies. But Blue Mars is serene, and the subjective quality of the character’s inner life aligns with the landscape in an educative way. That is to say, within the subjective field of awareness of the characters, they grow and evolve through and by the land; when a character detects she is projecting onto the Mars, she begins to re-own her projection and grow as a consequence.
Unlike Shakespeare where the main character overhears himself and changes as a consequence, in 'Mars' characters see and hear the world and come to realize themselves first in, then of, and finally beyond it. That is a great high level way to summarise the entire three book Mars novel: characters self-actualise in, from the beyond the subjective experience of external reality.
The essential premise of the three-book novel seems to be that science trumps politics. How each book and chapter does this will be the matter for a more comprehensive review of the three books as one novel.
1. Ann does war
2. Sax does terrorism
3. Art does diplomacy
4. Nirgal does Earth
5. Michel does Provence
6. Ann does blue Mars
7. Nadia does government
8. Nirgal does Mars
9. Sax and Bao do science
10. Nirgal does running, self-development, and leisure activities
11. Zo does Mercury, Mars, Sax, Oberon, Miranda, Ann, and death
12. Maya does sanity
13. Sax does mnemogenesis
14. Ann does spiritual rebirth