Study Guide

Red Mars Science

By Kim Stanley Robinson


Everything is moving already. But to get something from the (moving) surface of the Earth into orbit around it, requires a minimum Δv of ten kilometers per second; to leave Earth's orbit and fly to Mars requires a minimum Δv of 3.6 kilometers per second; and to orbit Mars and land on it requires a Δv of about one kilometer per second. The hardest part is leaving Earth behind, for that is by far the deepest gravity well involved. (2.2.99)

Δv stands for Delta-v, or change in velocity. So now you know that. Yay. With that said, notice how the novel uses a scientific term like Δv to suggest something very human. In this case, the difficulty in leaving Earth is not simply a matter of velocity versus gravity well.

"You've got to admit Phyllis is right about that part—we don't understand the why of things at all." (2.3.31)

Science is designed to explain how things work, not why. The characters will have to deal with the why of life throughout the novel, so it's a good thing science hasn't answered that question. That would make for a very short novel.

"Now we are on our own, and I for one have no intention of repeating all of Earth's mistakes just because of conventional thinking. We are the first Martian colonists! We are scientists! It is our job to think things new, to make them new!" (2.3.89)

Science does create new stuff, but is it really science's job to make human society and culture new? Shouldn't that be, like, everyone's job? Either way, keep fighting the good fight, Arkady.

Science was many things, Nadia thought, including a weapon with which to hit other scientists. (3.5.15)

Don't let all that logic and reasoning fool you—science still has to use words and ideas to get its points across. And words can always be verbal sticks and stones for those who wield them.

"[Data collecting is] science, yes, and needed science too. But science is more than that. Science is part of a larger human enterprise, and that enterprise includes going to the stars, adapting to other planets, adapting them to us. Science is creation." (3.6123)

Sax's take on what science is supposed to do: create. Thing is, though, we've been waiting a quarter of a century for scientists to create a hoverboard, and here we stand, hoverboardless.

But Ann, John thought as he listened to them; would she want to find evidence of an oceanic past? It was a model that tended to lend moral support to the terraforming project, implying as it did that they were only restoring an earlier state of things. So probably she would not want to find any such evidence. (5.2.80)

You can take the science out of the human, but can you take the human out of the science? Here, John wonders just this when he questions whether Ann's desire to preserve Mars will ultimately get in the way of her scientific rationale.

"[…] errors in [cell] reproduction start to increase, and everything gets weaker. The immune system is one of the first to weaken, and then other tissues, and then finally something goes wrong, or the immune system gets overwhelmed by a disease, and that's it."

"And you're saying you can stop these errors?" (5.6.23-24)

Thanks to science, humans have been living longer and longer and longer. If this keeps up, we might just live longer than American Idol has been on the air. Seriously, when is that show going to just end?

"But we'll never know! They'll end up debating it for centuries to come, there'll be a journal devoted to that issue alone, but we'll never really know."

"If it's too close to tell, it's probably Terran," John said, grinning at the boy. "Anything that evolved separately from Terran life would give itself away in an instant."

"Probably," Ann said. (5.8.121-123)

Probably can be an awful word sometimes. Case in point: it can be pretty awful in science when you just can't really know. On the other hand, we imagine all those professors snagging tenure by writing essays for those journals think probably is just hunky-dory. And we do love us some professors.

"A return is being demanded for our island. We were not doing pure research, you see, but applied research. And with the discovery of strategic metals the application has become clear. And so it all comes back, and we have a return of ownership, and prices, and wages." (5.9.22)

Pure science = science for science's sake. Applied research = science for money's sake. The implication is that science stops becoming true science once a profit gets involved. Hey politics, you should be paying attention here, too.

Concealing data—[Sax] was shocked, she could tell. He couldn't imagine any reason good enough to conceal data. Perhaps this was the root of their inability to understand each other. Value systems based on entirely different assumptions. Completely different kinds of science. (8.2.78)

Different kinds of science? More like different kinds of philosophy. Science is great, but people will always be people. Wait, is that a good thing or not?