Sunday, April 12, 2009

Revolutionary road on Mars

I must say that when I first encountered Michel Duval and understood him to be a psychologist, well, like White I didn't quite dismiss him, but I set him apart from the other hard scientists. I have to say too that his willingness to go off with Hiroko without a struggle, without questioning her motives viz his position on Mars further undercut his ethos. This after his good work intervening in Maya's life, and giving us insight into the various personalities –what he calls humors (White 580). Nevertheless I not only liked, but agreed with his assessment of Maya's love life. She wants both John and Frank. She doesn't want to have to choose between the two of them. And when Frank tells her she cares only for herself, he is probably right. Blame it all on the intricacies of her upbringing, the place of the men in her life in Russia, and her new found power of sexuality becomes a tool she fashions and deploys for her own needs. No wonder the Egyptians refer to her and her kind as "bitches," and indeed, compared to the Arabic women, she seems that way.

The issue of Terraforming becomes so divisive for reasons I can't quite understand. Isn't the whole purpose of invading Mars to make it habitable? Or is it the approach to terraforming that the first 100 are at odds with? The constant complaints about the temperature, or ecology, etc, should, I think be taken care of through terraforming, a view Sax supports. Unfortunately, Ann Clayborne is of the view that mankind does not have the right to change entire planets therefore Mars should be left in its original state. Hiroko, on the other hand, wants change and she goes about to create her own kind of change through Areophany. Aha, the webs humans weave!

Without proper planning, it seems to me that Mars is taking on the very nature of Earth, that necessitated the exodus in the first place: overcrowding, poor or lack of services lead to disgruntled Martians who resort to sabotage, attacks, murder.

I liked Robinson's narrative style; while he had an omniscient narrator most of the story, his alternative protagonists/antagonists relationship help readers see the story unfold through different lenses. When Frank takes over the narration, we see his mind at work, we develop some sympathy for him when he takes on the Arabs, only for them to take him down. It may be his occasional self-deprecation that draws us to him, but that scene with Zeyk and his wife is quite humiliating. But, it helps usher in the idea of Utopia: Nazik proclaims that Mars is for the Muslim women "there is much that is changing here, changing fast. So that this is the next stage of the Islamic way. We are…The hadj to utopia" (420). I like Nazik. Zeyk may think he is putting on a show for Frank, but Nazik's sassiness displays an underlying power from within. The clearest way she does this is when she is looking for the correct word to describe her new found freedom, Zeyk drops the word utopia, but she doesn’t take it. She finds her own expression, "the Hadj to Utopia" (420).

I was quite intrigued by the culture wars, so to speak. Frank thinking he knew all there is to know about Arabic cult re and that he could therefore speak to it. Feeling a part of yet apart from simultaneously the Arabs and the Americans in Amex. In contrast to the Arab rovers, the occupants of the Amex seem uncouth, uncultured, and here without a cause.

Clearly, the conflicts in Red Mars are tied to the human and physical changes to Mars, in particular : to preserve Mars (Ann Clayborne) or not to by radically terraforming (Hiroko).
The other common cause for concern are the resources of Mars; the strained resources on Mars spur political and interpersonal tensions, which build up to a revolution. And with it comes destruction. The casualties: the space elevator along with several Martian cities.

Then of course there are the one hundred, the victims of anti-revolutionary forces associated with UNOMA. Those who survive assassination flee to the hidden colony in the polar ice cap.
The bottom line seems to be that humans cannot flee their history, their selves. They may have viewed Mars as an empty landscape, a clean slate, a tabular rasa on which to inscribe themselves, but they had baggage and they brought it along with them. Their true selves have always been with them be it in Russia, the US, Japan, Egypt, Japan, wherever it is they came from. They cannot suddenly discover who they are just because they are on Mars. Look at Maya; the Arabs and their relations to women; Fran, etc. As well, the theme of identity is explored but never settled, perhaps only to reveal how unstable identity can be. Look at Michel and his seduction.

Change is painful and it is costly. Mars will be transformed at a price. And that price is always already present in the people's history.

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