Study Guide

Red Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Mars Introduction

Overpopulation, global warming, nuclear winter, and deadly asteroids are a few choice scenarios for the end of our beloved blue Earth. No matter what fate befalls our planet, though, the human race will be along for the ride. What else can we do? Pack up and move to Mars? Oh, wait…

Like so much science fiction, Stanley Kim Robinson's Red Mars originates from a gigantic "what if?" As in, what if humanity needs to colonize another planet because Earth begins falling apart beneath our feet? No hospitable planets exist within millions of light-years of our current planetary home, so we'd probably have to transform one of our solar neighbors to do the trick.

Jupiter? Too gassy. Mercury? Too hot. Mars? Eh, beggars can't be choosers.

Published in 1993 but set in 2026, Robinson's novel tells just such an intrepid tale. Aboard the spaceship Ares, one hundred humans head off to colonize Mars. Their goal is to terraform Mars—a.k.a. use the most advanced scientific technology and techniques to change the desert planet into a place that can sustain human life.

But did anybody say playing god was easy? Because it is not. The colonists face plenty of trials and tribulations on the inhospitable Martian landscape, while back on Earth greedy politicians and transnational corporations have their own plans for the red planet.

This book is pretty epic, and critics heaped praise upon it to match. It won the BSFA in 1992 and went on to win the Nebula a year later. It also set the stage for two more sequels, both beasts in their own right.

And check this out: When the Phoenix robotic spacecraft landed on Mars in 2008, it brought with it a DVD containing the works of Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and, yep, Kim Stanley Robinson. Robinson's contribution to this interstellar library is the text of his novel Green Mars and the cover art of Red Mars. Boo ya.

It's just a hunch, but if Robinson's work is good enough to send to aliens, well, it's probably good enough for you to read, too.

What is Red Mars About and Why Should I Care?

You should care about Red Mars because Mars isn't really Mars in the novel. It's Earth.

Say what?

Okay, literally speaking, it's Mars—but it's Earth metaphorically. Worry not, we'll explain further.

Robinson's novel is all about the transformation of Mars. The colonists sent aboard the Ares have one goal: make Mars hospitable enough for humans to one day occupy the planet. As you can imagine, this type of plot leads to all sorts of considerations on what makes a healthy environment, not to mention a bunch of ethical questions regarding the natural order of human life and liberty.

To further complicate matters, transnational corporations back on Earth—called transnats—are doing what corporations do. That is, they are trying to exploit Mars as a natural and social resource to further the three Ps: power, profit, and political influence. Since the politicians have their hands in the corporate honey pot, they aren't much help when it comes to putting a nix on capitalist colonialism.

So when we say that Mars is really Earth, we mean that the difficulties facing the First Hundred and the other Martian immigrants are the same problems we face on Earth today. Sure, the setting may be that distant rusty sphere floating across the night sky, but the problems, conflicts, and potential solutions on Mars are the same problems, conflicts, and potential solutions for Earth in the here and now.

Mars is a fictional playground in which Robinson can play with important political, social, and environmental issues, and can allow us, the readers, to consider new possibilities to our old 21st-century problems.

Red Mars Resources


Homeboy's Homepage
Kim Stanley Robinson's little piece of paradise on the digital landscape. Disclaimer: dedicated to Robinson, not run by him.

SFSite runs down Robinson's bibliography of tomes. So. Many. Pages.

Just Cruisin'
Cruise the surface of Mars with NASA and their robot geologists. Sorry, human geologists, but you're obsolete.

And Tropin'
TVtropes runs down all the tropes of the Mars trilogy. Our favorites: cool train, anyone can die, and LEGO genetics.

Tharsis Bulge Front Property
Want the lowdown on how terraforming Mars would work? Look no further.

And to Your Left, You'll See…
NASA gives us a tour of the great Mars landmarks.

Fun Facts
The lowdown on Big Red.

Articles and Interviews

A Belated Boing
Cory Doctorow—a sci-fi writer—finally gets around to clearing enough room in his schedule for Red Mars. He uses the word "agog" in his review, so you know it's good stuff.

National Space Review
The National Space Society gives its two cents on what Red Mars did right and wrong.

Straight from the Author's Mouth
Want to hear Robinson's thoughts? This is the link for you.

Blinded Me with Science
Ryan Anderson takes a look at the science in Red Mars nearly twenty years after its publication to see how it holds up. The short of it is: not too shabbily. The long of it? Well, you'll just have to read on for yourself.

A Spot in History
Eric Choi discusses the Mars trilogy's place in the history of books on terraforming the red space marble. As a bonus, he discusses its place in the literature of both science fiction and science fact, making for one fascinating read.

Go-to Guy
Christopher McKay was one of Robinson's main sources when it came to studying how to terraform Mars. In this article, McKay and Robert Zubrin discuss the technical requirements to terraforming Mars in real life. Warning: things can get a little, well, technical.


Capital Idea
Robinson discusses why post-capitalism is the way to go if we are going to value our planet and progeny. Mmm… the savory taste of controversy.

We Live in the Future Today
Robinson explains how Google and climate change are linked. Spoiler-free answer: in more ways than you think.

Interview Triad
All good things come in threes, so we present another Robinson interview. Here, he tells us how science fiction can make us better people and motivate us to save the environment.

We Are the Sci-Fi Novel
Robinson explains why he thinks we're living in a science fiction novel. Let him explain why and then revel in the glory of this fact.

Good Question
Why does Mars appear red in photos or in the night sky? Here's the answer (minus conspiracy theory).


A Solid Day's Entertainment
The unabridged audio book for Red Mars as read by Richard Ferrone. Just shy of twenty-four hours of reading out loud has got to be harsh on the vocals.

Music of the Spheres
Once upon a melodious time, Gustav Holst composed a seven-movement orchestral suite called The Planets. Guess which planet's theme is up first? Yep, "Mars, Bringer of War."

Don't get too comfortable—this is only a few minutes long. But if you want to hear the first few pages of Red Mars, then this should satisfy your curiosity.


Or Click One, Get One. Click on this link and get two covers for the price of one—featuring the first edition cover.

All of Don Dixon's Mars Trilogy covers. These have been cleaned of title information, so you can enjoy them in their glorious details.

The Man of the Hour
Or is that century? Centuries? Whatever the case, without further ado, here's Robinson.

God of War
Our celestial neighbor in all its red-hued glory.