Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Red Mars

One of my lasting favorite books is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. It tells the story of colonization and rebellion on a moon colony. This book is a good counterpoint to that one. It tells the story of colonization and rebellion on a Mars colony. Apart from the basic subject matter they could not be more different books. They both have a lot to say about the times they were written in. And how much our society has changed in those 30 odd years.

The role of government is pretty diffuse when you think about it. Despite all the hype, how much does the President actually affect your day to day life? the governor? even the mayor? You only really need government when you have a problem. The planning and zoning commission sounds like a dull, horrible job fit only for mindless drones; until your next door neighbor decides he wants to do stock car races in his circular driveway.

Red Mars is very much a study in leadership. The original 100 colonists don't have a government, they are "employees" or something similar. When there are a couple of thousand people on the planet, they have a treaty through the UN to regulate things, but still no government, and few problems. When there are close to a million people on the planet, the treaty is being ignored and many small groups start fighting and destroying things to protest, then the lack of a government is noticeable and at that point, nearly irredeemable.

How people organize themselves, look for leadership, and what happens when it all falls apart were examined very thoroughly. I enjoy reading books that feel like the author has thought long and hard about what they are going to say. I learn a lot, even though the basic facts are all fictional.

This book also had the most spectacular disaster scene I have ever read. Mars has a "beanstalk", a cable from a space station down to the ground. This is acceptable technology, I have read things describing how it would work. But I have never read a description of a possible catastrophic failure of one. It was very impressive. I found myself wishing they could make a movie of the book (which wouldn't happen I'm sure) just to have the visuals of a 38,000 km cord wrapping itself around the planet nearly twice.

Red Mars. Kim Stanley Robinson. Bantam. 1993

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