Study Guide

Red Mars Tools and Tech

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Tools and Tech

If there's one person who knows the what's what on Mars, it's Nadia. We know this because the first thing she does when she gets there is gather some tools. Lots and lots of tools:

Backhoes, front loaders, bulldozers, tractors, graders, dump trucks, construction supplies and materials of every kind; air miners to filter and collect chemicals from the atmosphere; little factories to render these chemicals into other chemicals […]. (3.2.8)

And that list goes on. Seriously—Batman would be envious of all the cool tech she works with.

More importantly, though, with those tools, Nadia begins building the structures necessary for the colonists to survive and thrive on Mars. She helps build Underhill, greenhouses, factories, power reactors, and much more, and as the novel progresses, these base structures expand and multiply, growing in power and productivity. This growth leads to new ideas, needs, and discoveries—such as the need to ship materials off Mars on the cheap—which in turn leads to new tools being developed, such as the space elevator.

But it all begins with those first few tools Nadia manages to scrap together on that barren, alien landscape.

The Circle of (Human) Life

Like so many other things in Red Mars, tools and tech tie uniquely into the society and culture they are found in.

If you're a Neanderthal living seven hundred thousand years ago, your life, culture, and society revolve around the technology at your disposal—think: flint weapons and fire-making techniques. If you're living in the modern era, your culture is determined just as much by your society's unique tool set—we're talking computers, automobiles, and the light bulb.

Living on Mars in a science fiction novel? The same rules apply. And as the novel progresses, we witness a circular relationship develop between society, environment, and the available tool set.

At first, the colonists' technology only allows them to live underground in Underhill. But as they develop new tools to meet new challenges, they eventually start to live in the canyons of Mars—i.e., still underground but with a more impressive view of all that underground. They start building roads, growing their own food, mining their own materials, and even begin terraforming the environment.

This new relationship to the environment allows the colonist to focus on developing new technologies and tools like the gene longevity therapy and piezoelectric plastics. These technologies, in turn, change society and its relation to the environment, allowing for even more tools to be developed. And so on and so forth.

So tools in Red Mars aren't just things that allow someone to build something. They're an intricate part of the society. They give the society the ability to evolve, and in the process, evolve with the society.

On the other hand, can we say the same thing about all those bombs dropped during the revolution…? Hrm… we'll let you, ah, deconstruct that one.