When it comes to sci-fi, the kinds of novels I enjoy most present a believable future. Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars fits the bill. First published in 1993, Red Mars is still timely, perhaps even more so today. Red Mars begins after some of the first human expeditions to Mars, starting with the first group of permanent colonists, a multi-national group of 100 scientists. The novel is epic in scope, tracing the history of Mars for several decades.
On the plus side, Robinson's literary feat in Red Mars is admirable. The details he provides and weaves into the story, from the small-scale technical details of interplanetary travel and the logistics of Mars colonization, to the large-scale early stages of terraforming and tracing Martian geography, reveal a stunning background and commitment to realism. I think current technology would make most of what he writes in the early part of the book, regarding travel to Mars and the first stages of colonization, completely doable. And the latter stages, using robotic tools and nanotechnology, is surely not that far-fetched. There were times that I thought he made things seems a little too easy, but it is fiction after all.
On the negative side, the novel dragged on for me. It's less than 600 pages, but sometimes it felt like twice that. The decades-long time span and the lack of a narrative thread made me lose interest. I started this book with the intention of reading the whole trilogy (He followed Red Mars with Green Mars and Blue Mars.), but I'm not sure I could last through the next two. I am curious about the continued terraforming process, and about what sort of political relationship develops between Mars and Earth. But there are too many other books I want to read. . . .
Robinson builds a believable future for mankind on Mars. I could see at least the beginnings of his vision being realized in my lifetime. He anticipates scientific, technological, sociological, psychological, logistical, and political problems and ramifications of the colonization and exploration of Mars. In most cases, the descriptions and solutions are eminently believable. In that sense, this is great sci-fi. But in the broader sense, I found Red Mars to be long and dull.