Recommended - Hugo Winner

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Robinson, Kim Stanley
book-date: 1996
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Don Dixon

Book= Fine
Dustjacket= Fine

1997 Hugo winner - Best Novel

Blue Mars - [extracts from a review in Locus June 1996]: "Robinson continues his pursuit of fundamental questions of governance, social cohesion, power, and authority. There are the crises of inventing a new and truly Martian form of government, of immigration from an Earth flooded with rising oceans and people, of continuing tensions between conservationist Reds and terraforming Greens. Meanwhile, Martian society continues to develop along its own evolutionary path, different from anything seen on Earth, affording glimpses at possibilities that are, if not quite utopian, certainly baby steps in that direction.

What is striking, though, is how closely this history-in-the-making is coupled to the personal stories of the viewpoint characters, particularly Sax Russell, Maya Toitovna, and Ann Clayborne. These 3 are all psychologically damaged - Sax physically (a result of torture and stroke), Maya and Ann in more usual ways (the former fiery, emotional, bipolar; the latter depressive, angry, obsessed.) The book starts and ends with Ann, bedeviled by depression and deep anger at the terraforming of her beloved rock world, and in between the passionate Maya struggles against mood swings exacerbated by her great age and the shocks of losing some of her oldest friends in the First Hundred. Sax is the pivotal figure in this triad. With his science-nerd background and restructured mind, he becomes a naturalist-poet-nerd, still fascinated by the physical world and its processes (always examining, analyzing, understanding), but now noticing how things feel as well, so that the experience of rational understanding is elevated into a kind of knowing-as-loving. And because his condition involves just enough disjunction between the reasoning and pre-rational parts of his mind to show their operations and contradictions, he also sees most feelingly the intractability of human nature, the frustrations and limitations of rationality in humans. As Sax travels across Mars, his new sensibility transforms his understanding of the barren landscape, investing it with meaning, and he wants to show this landscape to Ann, so that she can come to see the terraformed planet as he does, and to somehow allay the pain she feels at what he has done to it. It's an odd sort of love story, and it makes for some moving scenes... Despite their individual pains, though, everybody keeps working at whatever jobs they see important: Michel therapies his colleagues in the First Hundred; Maya and Nirgal take on Jackie's political organization; Nadia puts up with the distastful trivia of politics; and most of all, Sax keeps gathering and analyzing data, going after the problems they all face...

I'm not certain it's a perfect novel. The lack of a single overarching plot and avoidance of strong narrative tension make it seem longer than it is. Issues and conflicts are introduced, explained and elaborated, then left behind to be resolved offstage... But the pleasures of Blue Mars are not those of the chase - it requires patience, or at least a set of expectations different from those conditioned by the plot-driven SF romance... Like Sax Russell considering the parallels between the dynamics of weather and of politics or peering at the arctic ecosystem of a fellfield and finding it "the loveliest thing he had ever seen," Robinson is looking for that point where truth and beauty merge." [-Russell Letson]

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