Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars — still amazing 30 years later

Okay, so finally, more than thirty years after it was published, I got around to reading Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, the first book in an epic trilogy about the first attempt to colonize Mars. I've really loved several of his books, particularly Aurora, from 2015 but Red Mars is the one that put KSR on the map. Here's a little blurb from Amazon:

Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel • Discover the novel that launched one of science fiction's most beloved, acclaimed, and awarded trilogies: Kim Stanley Robinson's masterly near-future chronicle of interplanetary colonization.

Yes, Red Mars is full of KSR's usual hard sci-fi — tons of wonky, detailed passages layout exactly how the science and the tech would work. The world building, the depth of research involved in portraying an authentic-feeling Martian colony is uber-impressive and kind of staggering (although a little tedious at times.) As always, I love a movie or book where the scientists are the heroes. (Andromeda Strain made a huge impression on me as a kid — that was the first time I was aware that nerds are more likely to save the Earth than caped crusaders.)

But what surprised me, and the great insight of the book, is the emphasis on the human. The team, a multinational group of one hundred scientists, experience far fewer technical failures and outright disasters than a reader would expect — after all, disasters are exciting. 

Instead, what really makes this book tick is the idea that humans are humans — they are going to have their jealousies and their egos, personalities will clash. And most importantly, even if they all operate in good faith, they are going to bring very different ideas about how a new society should be organized. After all, it's a rare chance to build from scratch. The debates are intense and thoughtful. Should Mission Control back on Earth be in charge or have no say at all? Should they be attempting to terraform the planet, even if it means despoiling what it's been for billions of years? What sort of economy makes sense? Will people form cliques based on country of origin? Scientific skill set? Political outlook? Gender? What happens if people won't follow the rules and the nearest cop is 140,000,000 miles away?

Without giving anything away, it becomes apparent that as more and more settlers show up and huge corporations vie to exploit the resources, conflicts are inevitable; no matter how hard we try, we are very likely to move all of Earth's problems up to Mars. 

This is grown-up sci-fi at its best — I highly recommend if you haven't read it.