Study Guide

Red Mars Greed

By Kim Stanley Robinson


"Our work will be more than making wages—it will be our art, our whole life. We will give it to each other, we will not buy it. Also there should be no signs of hierarchy. I don't even believe in the leader system we have now." (2.3.82)

Arkady's picture of a utopia is one lacking in capitalist economy and a level social hierarchy. He sure paints a pretty picture, but for some reason the idiom easier said than done pops into our heads while reading this.

"Bases built on Mars will belong to the countries that build them, for instance. We will be building American and Russian bases, according to this provision of the law. And that puts us right back into the nightmare of Terran law and Terran history. American and Russian businesses will have the right to exploit Mars, as long as the profits are somehow shared by all the nations signing the treaty." (2.4.126)

There's that magic word that informs us greed is involved in the above quote: "profits." Arkady hints at the relationship between politics and greed on Earth. In a word, they're bedfellows.

"I want to be out on it traveling over it always, to study it and live on it and learn it. But when I do that, I change it—I destroy what it is, what I love in it." (3.5.162)

Ann's greediness doesn't come with a price tag. But she does desire something so much it hurts: a pure and untainted Mars.

"Yes. And Armscor is one of the smallest of the transnationals, that is why we picked it. But it still has a bigger economy than any but the largest twenty countries. As the old multinationals coalesce into transnationals, you see, they really gather quite a bit of power, and they have influence in the General Assembly." (5.4.23)

All the transnats, even the smallest, wield two powerful social forces: power and greed. And they wield them to a tune that can make entire countries dance.

"The entire transnational executive class does nothing a computer couldn't do, and there are whole categories of parasitical jobs that add nothing to the system by an ecologic accounting. Advertising, stock brokerage, the whole apparatus for making money only from the manipulation of money—that is not only wasteful but corrupting, as all meaningful money values get distorted in such manipulation." (5.7.21)

So, what can we really add to this quote? "Parasitical jobs" kind of sums it up, doesn't it? Way to not pull any punches, Red Mars.

Earth was seriously depleted in many of the metals they were finding on Mars. There were fortunes to be made, enormous fortunes. And someone who owned a piece of the bridge over which every ounce of metal had to pass would make an enormous fortune as well, probably the greatest fortune of all. No wonder Phyllis and the rest of them looked like they were in church. (5.7.64)

The worship of money by the transnats is subtly thrown in with the words "like they were in church." Well… subtle compared to that last quote we cited at any rate.

"In any case, whole cultures were built around the idea of the gift, in Malaysia, in the American northwest, in many primitive cultures. In Arabia, we gave water, or coffee. Food and shelter. And whatever you were given, you did not expect to keep, but gave it back again in your turn, hopefully with interest. You worked to be able to give more than you received. Now we think that this can be the basis for a reverent economics."

"It's just what Vlad and Ursula said!" (5.7.102-103)

Two counterbalances to the transnat system are the gift-giving society of the Sufis and Vlad's eco-economics. Neither gets its chance to do its thing in Red Mars, but since both of the sequels have the same page length, we're thinking there's plenty of time later on.

"'Mars is not a nation but a world resource,'" Frank quoted heavily. "They're saying that the tiny fraction of humanity that lives here can't be allowed to control the resources, when the human material base as a whole is so deeply stressed." (7.4.26)

The irony, of course, is that only a fraction of humanity will truly profit from the resources: the transnat owners.

"[Phyllis is] responsible for a lot of this. Pulling in all those transnats with promises of every metal ever put to use—she figured she would be the queen of Mars with all those folks backing her." (7.4.57)

Well, we've heard of the Princess of Mars, but if you're going to go for royalty, might as well go for broke. Too bad she's making her society broke in the process.

[…] and to [Ann's] utter amazement it was her Simon, purple-faced and shouting at her, striking her still, his face soaking wet with tears—this her Simon, the quiet one, now yelling at her, "Why? Why? Damn you, you always do this, it's always just you you you, off in your own world, you are so selfish!" (8.2.147)

Ann's greed comes full circle, and when she loses her beloved red Mars, she attempts suicide. But when her greed conflicts with Simon's love (read: love = selfishness?), the sparks will fly. Battle sparks, mind you; not the love variety.