Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary

It is with some trepidation that I commence a project long anticipated and oft delayed. The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is, in my view, one of the finest works of literature ever composed. I have read it three or four times from end to end, in a both formative and conversational process whereby progressively more layers of understanding burrow into my psyche.

The usual disclaimers apply. I don’t know how Mars settlement will actually progress, though I have written a few blogs about space-related topics, including a technical commentary on The Martian by Andy Weir. I have also had the privilege to converse with Stan on a few occasions but I cannot pretend that my interpretation of his work is authoritative or even particularly literate. The purpose of this project isn’t to critique the author’s scientific accuracy, who by his own admission is an English major, although his wife and many friends are scientists. The purpose is to contrast the compelling and hauntingly beautiful description of a living planet imagined more than 30 years ago with the explosion of new knowledge we’ve enjoyed in the intervening decades, and to add the context of present day efforts by SpaceX and others to actually make this impossible vision an everyday reality. Remember, the books were published in 1992, 1993, 1996, and 1999, largely predating Mars Pathfinder, MRO and the entire rover program.

This project is indebted to the Marooned On Mars podcast, who have recorded detailed literary commentaries on many of KSR’s books, beginning with the Mars Trilogy. Like the podcast, this blog will contain spoilers but unless otherwise noted, only for the chapter under discussion or previous chapters. It is my intention that people may read along with the books without fear!

Each chapter’s blog will also come with a downloadable .kml file to pinpoint physical locations discussed on Google Mars.

A note from Stan on technical sources:

The main sources were The Case For Mars conference papers, published by the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, and Martyn Fogg’s book Terraforming, and the NASA books on Mars, also Michael Carr’s book The Surface of Mars, a Viking era analysis— and the U. of Ariz. book MARS from 1992 or so, updating the Carr with further analyses.  Chris McKay’s work was important always.  Paul Birch’s crazy proposals were fun and helpful, I could never have been as crazy as him.

(Personal communication) Note that Carr’s work was based entirely on data from the Viking missions, launched in 1975.

I will update this preamble from time to time with links to awesome fan art or other documents. Please send me stuff I’ve missed.

Red Mars wikia
Mildly spoilery fan art
Spoilery narrative timeline analysis

Red Mars’ shaded relief map with some locations given.

Red Mars

Part 1: Festival Night

Part 2: The Voyage Out

Part 3: The Crucible

Part 4: Homesick

Part 5: Falling into History

Part 6: Guns Under the Table

Part 7: Senzeni Na

Part 8: Shikata Ga Nai

Green Mars

Part 1: Aeroformation

Part 2: The Ambassador

Part 3: Long Runout

Part 4: The Scientist as Hero

Part 5: Homeless

Part 6: Tariqat

Part 7: What Is to Be Done?

Part 8: Social Engineering

Part 9: The Spur of the Moment

Part 10: Phase Change

Blue Mars

Part 1: Peacock Mountain

Part 2: Areophany

Part 3: A New Constitution

Part 4: Green Earth

Part 5: Home At Last

Part 6: Ann In The Outback

Part 7: Making Things Work

Part 8: The Green and the White

Part 9: Natural History

Part 10: Werteswandel

Part 11: Viriditas

Part 12: It Goes So Fast

Part 13: Experimental Procedures

Part 14: Phoenix Lake

The Martians (Yes, this trilogy actually has four books)

Chapter 1: Michel in Antarctica

Chapter 2: Exploring Fossil Canyon

Chapter 3: Archaea Plot

Chapter 4: The Way the Land Spoke to Us

Chapter 5: Maya and Desmond

Chapter 6: Four Teleological Trails

Chapter 7: Discovering Life

Chapter 8: Coyote Makes Trouble

Chapter 9: Michel in Provence

Chapter 10: Green Mars

Chapter 11: Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars

Chapter 12: Salt and Fresh

Chapter 13: The Constitution of Mars

Chapter 14: Some Worknotes and Commentary on the Constitution, by Charlotte Dorsa Brevia

Chapter 15: Jackie on Zo

Chapter 16: Keeping the Flame

Chapter 17: Saving Noctis Dam

Chapter 18: Big Man in Love

Chapter 19: An Argument for the Deployment of All Safe Terraforming Technologies

Chapter 20: Selected Abstracts from The Journal of Areological Studies

Chapter 21: Odessa

Chapter 22: Sexual Dimorphism

Chapter 23: Enough Is As Good As a Feast

Chapter 24: What Matters

Chapter 25: Coyote Remembers

Chapter 26: Sax Moments

Chapter 27: The Names of the Canals

Chapter 28: The Soundtrack

Chapter 29: A Martian Romance

Chapter 30: If Wang Wei Lived on Mars and Other Poems

Chapter 31: Purple Mars

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