Spoilers through the first seven parts of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars in this post; if you want to spoil beyond that with references to any of the subsequent novels, please label your comments accordingly. I’ll post information about the next book club later today.
It’s incredibly easy to see Ann Clayborn as an extremist, someone with severe psychological problems (I’m always annoyed that Michel reveals that she was abused as a child, because it seems so incredibly simplistic and reductionist), someone who refuses to face reality. But I think Kim Stanley Robinson does something wise in ending Red Mars with the one person who can most genuinely mourn not just the people killed in Mars’ first war, but can grieve for Mars itself, for lost possibilities, for beauty that’s going to vanish. Terraforming is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have costs that are worth acknowledging.
The way Robinson makes this work is to show us that Ann knows who she is, what others think of her. “Some mistakes you can never make good,” Ann thinks after Coyote and Kasei save her little remaining band of the First Hundred after they become fugitivies. “Her mistake had been in coming to Mars in the first place, and then falling in love with it. Falling in love with a place everyone else wanted to destroy. Outside the rover, the planet was being changed forever.” But it’s not just that Ann knows that she’s alone, that she knows that in this specific situation, with her vision of her planet dying and her son potentially dead, she’s behaving like a zombie. It’s that Robinson puts her grief in context, especially when Frank dies, in part because Ann falls asleep at the wheel. Whereas Ann’s initially withdrawn, immobile, unable to speak, Maya is, typically, volcanic in her reaction to her lover’s death: “Sax went over and dug into the medicine chest, and walked over to her and crouched by her side. ‘Here, Maya, do you want a sedative?’ And she uncoiled and dashed the pills from his hand, ‘No!’ she screamed, ‘they’re my feelings, they’re my men, do you think I’m a coward, do you think I would want to be a zombie like you!’ She collapsed into helpless, involuntary, racking sobs.” Ann’s grieving for a whole planet, not a single person, but Robinson forces her to keep moving, to keep loving Mars: he won’t let her, or her perspective, succuumb.
Interestingly, even as this installment of the novel finally gives us a first-person perspective on the debate between Ann and Sax, on the fundamental disagreement that will become an ancient divide and the cause of many heroic efforts to bridge it, it offers the hints of their essential similarity. Ann’s the one who understands that Sax would be shocked that she concealed scientific data from him in the interests of keeping Mars Red: “Concealing data—he was shocked, she could tell. He couldn’t imagine any reason good enough to conceal data. Perhaps this was the root of their inability to understand each other. Value systems based on entirely different assumptions. Completely different kinds of science.” But even as they disagree on ends and methods, Ann is the one who can see that Sax isn’t a pure scientist, who understands what Maya can’t see, that Sax isn’t anesthetized, he’s the opposite:
Sax she at least understood. He was trying to hide it from her, but it was clear he was excited by what was happening. That calm dead exterior had always masked a passionate nature, and she had always known it. Now he was high-colored as if he had a fever, and he never met her eye; he knew that she knew what he felt. She despised his shirking inability to confront her, even if it did arise from some kind of consideration for her. And the way he stayed always busy at his screen—he never actually looked out the low floor windows of the rover, to see the flood with his own eyes. The cameras have a better view, he would say mildly when Michel urged him to have a look.
The question is what’s more important: their temperaments, or their scientific methods? The seeds of their eventual reconciliation, of the reconciliation to a shared vision of a future for Mars are there in that rover, in their flight from the transnats, in Ann’s catastrophe and Sax’s triumph: “And so, in this moment of the storm, Ann Clayborne exerted herself. She stood up, she went to the table. She picked up Sax’s plate, Sax who had first drawn her out; and then Nadia’s and Simon’s. She carried the plates over to their little magnesium sink. And as she cleaned the dishes, she felt her stiff throat move; she croaked out her part of the conversation, and helped, with her little strand, to weave the human illusion.” Even on Mars, human needs stay the same. It’s why terraforming, and Ann’s defeat, are inevitable. And it’s why I’m glad Kim Stanley Robinson forces us to be have like humans, too, and recognize the legitimacy of her grief, the heroism of her decision to carry on. We should never become so enamored with the future that we forget the value of the past.