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The Red Mars trilogy is a series of novels by sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson, named after the first novel in the series. The series explores the settlement and subsequent terraforming of Mars. Spanning nearly two hundred years, the series is known for it's accurate science, complex characters, a realistic[1] portrayal of politics and economics, and for it's ultimately optimistic tone, shading towards a utopia rather than a Dystopia.

The first novel, Red Mars itself, depicts the initial settlement of the first Martian colonies. The "First Hundred", the initial group of colonists tasked with settling the planet, establish themselves and begin altering the environment. The colonists are almost immediately divided over arguments about how independent they should remain from Earth as well, as how much terraforming they should do. This crystalizes into two major movements: the "Reds", who want to keep Mars in it's natural state, and the "Greens" who want to terraform it to be ultimately Earth-like. The novel ends after a violent and unsuccessful revolt on the part of the Reds is put down, leading to Mars being taken over by a consortium of large Earth corporations and ushering in an age of mass immigration.

Green Mars depicts the fallout of the failed revolt, resulting in an underground seperatist movement who's struggle for political freedom from Earth forms the bulk of the plot. Against this political backdrop, the massive influx of immigrants and the increase of Earth corporate meddling strain Martian society, and the terraforming process begins to proceed at a runaway pace as Mars begins to literally turn green (thus the title of the novel).

Blue Mars is about the political aftermath of the independence struggle, with Mars becoming a fully independent entity from Earth. After a natural global disaster on Earth threatens to destablize the overpopulated and polluted planet, Mars is placed in the unexpected role of being a savior to Earth. In the background, the colonization of the rest of the solar system is explored, and the continuing effects of longevity treatment on both society as a whole and the individuals using it is further explored.

There's also a companion collection of short stories, The Martians. Some of the stories are set within the same universe and explore more of the ideas only hinted at in the novels, while other explore Alternate Continuities.

Tropes featured include:

  • Alternate Continuity: Two bookend short stories in The Martians feature an alternative timeline that diverges from the backstory of Red Mars. The divergence occurs in the pre-colonization "social experiment" in Antarctica where psychologist Michel Duval, who is evaluating the program from the inside, decides that the First Hundred would be incapable of surviving, psychologically, in the conditions they would face in the early years on Mars. So the mission is scrubbed and retasked as one of exploration instead of colonization. Mars is eventually colonized at a later date and the War of 2061 from the end of the first novel never happens.
  • Anyone Can Die: The book begins with the assassination of the first man on Mars (in a Flash Forward) and the ball keeps rolling after that.
    • In fact, of the four people named on the back cover of Red Mars, three end up dying by the end of first book (though the last actually makes it all the way to the end of the trilogy).
  • Berserk Button: You can murder engineer Nadia Chernyshevski's one true love. You can hunt her and her friends like animals. But when you start destroying infrastructure, she will blow up your moon base. Including the moon it is on.
  • Colony Drop: The first Martian Space Elevator is attacked and severed, dropping onto Mars and wrapping all the way around it twice (it's every bit as apocalyptic as it seems).
    • Also, in a more straight example, Phobos is dropped out of orbit and destroyed.
  • Cool Train: A train on Phobos is used to keep the workers there adjusted to Martian gravity; the gravity on Phobos is so low that the train is simply run around Phobos at a high speed, with workers literally standing upside down on the ceiling of the train experiencing the centrifugal force.
  • Crazy Prepared: Sax in Green Mars. Once the revolution finally breaks out, it turns out he had spent the preceding years preparing for a number of large-scale contingencies, including making possible the open-air evacuation of an entire city by having raised the oxygen levels in the atmosphere and making tens of thousands of carbon dioxide filter masks.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Subverted. The idea is proposed to set up thousands of windmill-powered heaters to warm the Martian atmosphere. It's obvious to any climate scientist that even millions of such heaters could never have an appreciable effect. However, it turns out that this was just a Red Herring and it was actually part of a plot to seed the planet with incubators for genetically-engineered bacteria that would assist in the terraforming process.
  • Earth-That-Was: Earth is rapidly approaching overpopulation and it's promoting mass emigration to try and stop it. It stops working at all once Mars becomes independent (and wasn't really working before that, as Earth's population is growing faster than they can ship them into space).
    • However, it does get (slightly) better by the time we see it close-up in Blue Mars.
  • The Fog of Ages: In Blue Mars it becomes clear that this is a possible side-effect of the longevity treatment, as the extremely long-lived main characters begin to forget things they did when they were in their 100's. Eventually a cure for this is found that not only reverses the effect but also reinforces all the previous memories the person has, including memories from their childhood they normally didn't remember anyway.
  • Gray and Gray Morality: There are no truly "bad" organizations/movements in the series. For most of the first and second novels, the "transnats" (later called "metanats") and portrayed as bad purely because the characters in the story perceived them to be this way, but later on a character from on of the transnats, Art, shows that things are much more varied and complex than previously assumed. Conversely, there are no true "good" guys; one of the main characters has another main character assassinated at the beginning of Red Mars, and is shown to be a rather Machievellian persona, but later is shown to be a deep and complex person, considered a hero by some. People previously portrayed as decent human beings in one narrator's Point of View suddenly become villainous in another characters's POV.
  • Incest Is Relative: In Green Mars, we learn that all the children in the Martian Underground colony are technically half-siblings, as Hiroko is all their mother and all their fathers come from the sperm samples of all the male First Hundred colonists. Coyote calls Hiroko out on creating an "incest camp" but Hiroko in her capacity as Mother Goddess figure has no problem with this.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Perhaps unduly influenced by the paranoia about Japan's economic successes that was prevalent at the time of writing, the Japanese are described as the closest things to aliens mankind is ever likely to encounter (albeit by a character who's not meant to be entirely sympathetic), a sentiment embodied in the personage of the enigmatic (and probably insane) "Queen" Hiroko.
  • Kill It with Fire: How do you get rid of anti-terraforming "Red" terrorists? Why, pump their domed "tents" full of pure oxygen and set them on fire!
  • Lego Genetics: Later in the series, people splice animal genes into their DNA in the process of getting longevity treatments.
    • One character is shown getting some leopard genese splice in so that she can have leopard spots on her skin, while another character gets some of the polar bear's cold-adaptation genes to help him live on Mars more easily.
  • Meaningful Name: Most obviously with Ann Clayborne, the chief proponent of leaving Mars in its rocky unterraformed state. Also with Saxifrage Russell - "Saxifrage" is a plant who's name means "Rock Breaker", which is ironic considering his pro-terraforming views. Specifically lampshaded when Ann points out the meaning and significance of their names to Sax.
  • Mega Corp: The "Transnat" (Trans-national, meaning they're not limited to just one country) and "Metanat" (Meta-national, meaning that they are so powerful that they control countries and may as well be de-facto countries themselves) corporations.
  • Mercurial Base: In Blue Mars, the settlement on Mercury itself follows this pattern (and is also another Cool Train).
  • Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Way down the hard end. Robinson definitely shows his work.
  • Mundane Dogmatic: None of the technological advances in the series require any great leaps, and for the most part, are just extrapolations of things that we already have today.
  • Never Found the Body: Hiroko Ai goes missing in Green Mars, and her disappearance remains a mysterious for the rest of the series. Due to her status in the Martian Underground, this eventually becomes a Shrouded in Myth situation, with various tall-tales about her springing up in the Martian culture. Despite continual rumors of sightings, she's never seen again in the novels, except for one vague and possibly hallucinated encounter by a main character.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: The folk tales of "Big Man" and his occasional interaction with Paul Bunyan.
  • Population Control: The invention and widespread use of a "longevity treatment" that vastly increases lifespan spurs discussions of this. Discussed in Green Mars via the infamous "three quarters of a child" plan, but never actually implemented.
    • Eventually, most nations on Earth are forced to adopt a two-child-per-couple law until the oldest people finally start dying off at around age 200-250.
  • Purple Prose: One of the stories in The Martians, entitled "Purple Mars."
  • Tall Tale: People on Mars still tell stories of Paul Bunyan, but they make him out as a Trickster Archetype creator figure, not unlike Raven in Native American mythology. This is an In-Universe illustration of how tall tales can evolve into mythology.
  • The Red Planet: Obviously. The series is considered quite seminal to the Mars sub-genre of sci-fi.
  • Took a Level In Badass: Saxifrage Russell goes from a meek and apolitical scientist at the beginning of the series to the most realistic sort of Mad Scientist you can imagine after being abducted and interrogated by the Secret Police. He plays a significant role in the second revolution, occasionally referred to as "General Sax".
  • Shown Their Work: And how!
  • Space Elevator: Mars gets one first; by the end of the trilogy, Earth also has several.
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: Queen Hiroko has several children, most notably John's son, Kasei, who were created by impregnating herself with DNA samples from unwitting males of the First Hundred.
  • Terraforming: A central focus of the trilogy. The series is considered a realistic potrayal of what terraforming Mars would take (albiet extremely optimistic and in a short period of time, relatively speaking).
  • There Are No Therapists: Played with; there is a therapist, but he ends up being the one who needs therapy. Apparently they should've sent two therapists.
  • Triang Relations: The Vlad/Ursula/Marina threesome, and the John/Frank/Maya threesome until John dies (that's not a spoiler. It happens within the first twenty pages).
  • Tsundere: Maya, who at least has the excuse that she actually is bipolar.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: Red Mars leads up to a failed rebellion against Earth; Green Mars is about a successful one. Blue Mars features a war that, while brief, is primarily resolved through what amounts to hugging.
  • Zeppelins from Another World - airships are the main form of air travel on Mars, right from the beginning.
  • Zero-G Spot: This happens frequently on the initial voyage to Mars. One of the Russian characters also apparenty experimented with many forms of zero-G sex while on Novy Mir.
  1. Your Mileage May Vary