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Green Mars

I have this terrible habit of reading series in the wrong order.

It started with Robertson Davies. I picked up a copy of The Lyre of Orpheus and was halfway through it before I understood that there were earlier books. So I read the trilogy backwards, moving next to What’s Bred in the Bone and finally to The Rebel Angels.

The interesting thing is that, with good series, you get just as much tension and anticipation reading backwards as you do reading forwards — only it’s tension/anticipation about what has already transpired, rather than what’s going to transpire. Of course, anyone who’s seen either Memento or Pinter’s Betrayal won’t really be surprised by this. (John Irving says that he writes his novels backwards.)

Anyway, it’s happened again. In preparation for Clarion, I picked up Stan Robinson’s Green Mars. Now, okay, it wasn’t my intention to do the backwards-sideways thing again (it never is), I just wasn’t paying proper attention, and Green Mars intrigued me more than Red or Blue. As a title. *shrugs* (Had I known what the "Red" in "Red Mars" stood for, I’d’ve probably been more attracted to it.)

But the same holds true for KSR as for Davies. Reading the second book in a trilogy invokes possibly a greater sense of resonance and longing for the past than if you’ve read the first one. In the case of the Mars Trilogy, Green begins a few decades after the end of Red, and the references back to Red are many and tantalizing. But it’s done so well that I have, in my imagination, a pretty firm sketch of the plot and characters of Red, and what the thematic and political issues in it were.

What I like best about this book is its characterization. I can visualize each of the many POV characters with clarity; I can imagine what they’d say in a conversation with me. That’s especially true of the characters who are also in Red, which is surprising, since one might imagine that the author would rely on the reader’s memories of the first book. Not so here.

KSR also has very tight control over his pacing, setting you up beautifully for the moments of high drama.

The only thing that bothers me about GM is the tendency for the science-talk to go on a bit. I love SF, but I don’t usually read it in order to have a science lesson. I want to know just enough of the science to move the characters and plot along. Heinlein sometimes fell into the trap of lecturing on the theory (and, much as I love him, so does Greg Egan). In GM some of the bogging-down is deliberate, because one of the POV characters is a scientist who tends to focus on evidence and theory to the exclusion of people and politics, to his cost, so when you’re in his POV you get bogged down too. But I think, on the whole, that about half of the pure biology, geology, botany, hydro-engineering, etc. could have been cut without significant loss.

I wonder how typical I am in this regard. My own first truly bogged-down-scientifically story was also the first story I sold. I like the "S" in "SF", but I want it to be a device or a backdrop rather than one of the central themes or characters.

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