Study Guide

Red Mars Man and the Natural World

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Man and the Natural World

Let's pluralize this theme and make it worlds—in Red Mars we're dealing with two planets, after all. Mars and Earth form a dichotomy. That is, they oppose one another but are useful for comparison. Granted, a fraction of a fraction of the novel occurs on Earth, but we get an understanding of its condition all the same. Humanity's world is being ravaged by human greed, and on the ecological scale, it's about as stable as a twice-used tissue.

Mars, on the other hand, is an untapped, virgin environment. The drawback is that humanity isn't exactly cut out for existence on the rust-ridden bit of space rock. Between the two planets, readers receive a vivid picture of man and his relationship to nature on the cosmic scale. On the one hand, man is perhaps the only creature in the universe with the power to occupy and alter a planet to fit his needs. On the other, the planet both occupies and alters us at the same time—and, of course, there's that whole question of whether altering a planet for our own use is ethical.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. Mars isn't habitable by humans in the slightest. So how do you see the novel using the rusted planet as grounds for an environmental message? Do you agree with the novel's view on environmentalism? Why or why not?
  2. In what way do you think Mars represents Earth? Use specific examples of Mars from the text and explain how they compare and contrast to Earth.
  3. Picture this: you're a new Martian emigrant. At the spaceport, you're being recruited by members of the Red and Green parties. Which side do you pick: keep Mars pristine or terraform it? Support your answer with evidence from the text and your own reasoning.

Chew on This

Ann Clayborne may be the most prominent character representing the theme of environmentalism, but it is Hiroko who's got it right.

The novel's version of Earth is left very un-science fiction-y to drive home its environmentalist theme.