There will be spoilers through the first five sections of Red Mars in this post and in comments, so venture there at your peril if you’re concerned about that. If you want to spoil beyond those sections in comments, go ahead, but label spoilers as such. The first part of this book club appears here, the second here. For next week, let’s read “Guns Under the Table.”
For all that I don’t particularly enjoy spending time in Michel’s and John’s heads, these are two sections of the book that I think do a lovely job of laying out the central debates of the novel: how much can we change Mars? How much can we change ourselves? And once we’ve established these capacities, or maybe even beforehand, how much should we alter the planet or ourselves and our societies? What’s valuable? What should we let go? And what sort of unintended consequences will result when we succeed at engineering one factor in a way that radically changes all of our calculations.
Not only does it pose these questions quite well, but in laying them out, upsets our understandings of who’s on what side, who is a radical, and who is a conservative. Is Ann a conservative because she’s the purest Red out there? Or is she a revolutionary for being willing to accomodate her whole life to the preservation of a harsh, originalist Mars? Is Hiroko a revolutionary for running off to create her own society? Or a conservative for essentially abandoning engagement with the wider Mars? Is Nadia the architect of a new society, or a homesick Siberian recreating the trees of her memories? Once the power to do actual alchemical work, or to radically reengineer human DNA becomes routine, is doing that work esoteric, and mysterious, and powerful? Or does radical change itself become routine? To deal with everything posed in these sections, I’m going to divide the discussion into three sections: