Study Guide

Frank Chalmers in Red Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Frank Chalmers

We first meet Frank Chalmers while he's plotting the murder of his best friend, John Boone. And we think to ourselves, ah, he's an Iago-style villain. Jolly good. We're so glad we got that sorted out so quickly.

But not so fast. Frank has certainly got his issues—he has got a temper on him like nobody's business, and his superiority complex is a fierce one. But out-and-out villain? We're not so sure he quite fits the bill.

Old School

Arkady, John, and many of the other First Hundred view Mars as a blank slate: a fresh land that will allow them to break away from Earth and reconstruct their lives as they see fit. Not so for Frank. He still thinks the old ways of doing things are the only ways.

As such, he believes that a separation from Earth is impossible. We see this when we are first introduced to Frank. John is giving a speech, telling the audience how their life on Mars has made them different beings, but Frank just thinks the speech is "[a]ll lies" (1.2.1). Not like, some lies—all.

We also see this world view of Frank's in how he deals with the nations of Earth and the Mars Treaty. Whereas John and Arkady try to ignore Earth's requests, Frank realizes such ignorance will only cause UNOMA to attack Mars. Using all of his political clout and tricks, Frank manages to write the Mars Treat in a way he feels makes everyone happy, including Mars.

Of course, the transnats completely break the treaty and start ransacking Mars, forcing Frank to fight them politically. But, hey, it's the thought that counts, Franky boy.

But the telling evidence of Frank's inability to separate himself from the old way of doing things is his admission of the fact. When Arkady suggests to Frank that they can live free of the transnationals and UNOMA, Frank just says, "It's impossible […]. We're part of the world, we can't escape it" (7.5.82). For Arkady, Earth is a world that only appears as a star in the night sky, but for Frank, it's the human world we're all a part of because we're human.

Revenge of the Martian Philosopher

Okay, but if Frank isn't a villain, then how do we explain the whole, you know, murder thing? Well, we're not saying what he did was moral, but there is a possibility that Frank believes he was in the right. No seriously. Here's how:

You might have noticed that Frank references two philosophers several times in the novel: Friedrich Nietzsche and Niccolo Machiavelli. (If you missed them, then we've got your back—just click on over to our "Allusions" section for a quick peek at those mentions.) Anyway, if you accept the moral philosophies of these two, then Frank might have been in the right to have John murdered.

Machiavelli is famous for writing The Prince, a how-to guide of the art of leadership. Long story short? Leadership is all about power, with not so much regard for the whole morality and ethics bit. As for Nietzsche, in Beyond Good and Evil, morality comes from what he calls the "will to power." It is, then, relative to power. Of course, with both Machiavelli and Nietzsche we're super simplifying things, but you catch our drift.

Chances are Frank refers to these two because he's familiar with them, and also because he's influenced by their ideas. After running a mental "cost/benefit analysis" (6.5.50), he could have thought the murder of John Boone necessary for the good of Mars. He then might have rationalized his behavior as moral by way of these two philosophers' philosophies. If it's good for Mars, in other words, it isn't bad.

In fact, Frank's words to his reflection—"It's a matter of will" (6.2.1)—eerily echoes Nietzsche's very own wording.

Death of a Martian Man

But does Frank really believe it himself? Maybe, maybe not.

He never confesses his responsibility for John's death to Maya, but when he wonders if he should or not, his "heart beat[s] inside him like a child trying to escape" (7.5.130). He also mentions that "he had been fond of Nietzsche" (7.5.75)—notice the past tense. It's never made more explicit than this, though, whether Frank ultimately changes his mind about the necessity of his hand in John's murder.

We'll say this, though: it's unlikely that a true follower of Machiavelli—and to a lesser extent Nietzsche—would have sacrificed himself in the way Frank does at the novel's conclusion. So Frank's change of heart, then, may be expressed more in action than words.

Or so we'd like to think, anyway.