Study Guide

Nadezhda Francine Chernyshevski, a.k.a. Nadia in Red Mars

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Nadezhda Francine Chernyshevski, a.k.a. Nadia

Not to be jerks, but we’re going to stick with calling this character by her nickname of Nadia—our Russian just isn't that good. That said, say hello to Nadia, a Russian engineer and a member of the First Hundred. On the Ares, she exists mostly in the background, but once the colonists get to Mars, she comes into her own in a big way.

Her technical know-how and engineering ingenuity are instrumental to the colonists during their first few years on Mars—she even builds Underhill, humanity's first Martian home. She's also Maya's best friend and Arkady's lover, so it's not all work and no play for her. And interestingly, despite being so important to the colonists' early efforts, she rarely takes part in any debates or political games, choosing instead to sit on the sidelines of such squabbles.

But if Nadia's not invested in the politics and debates at the heart of the novel, then why is she the point of view character for two of the novel's seven parts? Well, for starters, her engineering abilities give us an in-depth look at the ins and outs of life on Mars from a technical perspective, and we science fiction fans just love that kind of stuff. And there might be another reason or two…

Lead On, O Queen Eternal

So, we have this idea about Nadia we've been throwing around the Shmoop office, and we want to get your take on it. What do you think of the idea that the novel suggests that Nadia is the only character actually suited for a leadership role. Why do we say this? Because she's the character who wants to occupy leadership posts the least.

We know it sounds backward, but hear us out. Frank wants to be a leader so badly that he kills John for the chance, while Arkady wants to be the leader who leads everyone to a society with no leaders (if that makes any sense). Maya wants to be a leader because she fears people going their separate ways—she even feels she "fails" (2.4.150) the First Hundred because she can't keep them in concord.

Nadia, however, does not want to be a leader. Not at all.

When arguments rise, she busies herself with work. She doesn't lead any cause or promote any ideology other than using her skill set to make life better for those in her community. She also sees both sides of arguments, as evidenced by her ability to understand where both Ann and Sax are coming from in the Red/Green debate. As John says, she's a "universal solvent" (3.3.2)—she mixes with everyone.

But maybe because of this Nadia should be the leader. When the Martian revolution begins, the leader characters try desperately to resolve the situation—Frank goes all negotiator while Arkady leads a revolutionary army—but none of them fix the problem, and the situation only worsens.

But what does Nadia do? She leads by example. While at Peridier, she asks the survivors what their plans for reconstruction are, and they just shrug. As the novel points out:

It was hard to say how long they would have gone before they would have start in on the reconstruction themselves, but with Nadia there to point out what could be done, and drive them with a brief burst of withering scorn at their inactivity, they were soon under way. Nadia worked eighteen and twenty hours a day for a few days […]. (7.3.29)

By doing her job—by simply being an engineer in all her glory—Nadia leads the Peridier citizens toward improving their lives. While other characters philosophize or plan to improve Mars with sweeping legislature or revolutions, Nadia actually does it, one construction project at a time.

Granted, she can't solve all the problems, and you could argue dropping an entire moon onto the planet was a step back, but does any other character improve the lives of the Martian citizens more than her? We don't think so.

And that's why we think Nadia is the true leader of the novel, even if she never becomes a true leader. Nadia for the win.