This is the second book in the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. This book takes place a few generations after the first book, although because of longevity technology in medical science a handful of the original colonizing crew are still alive. The novel looks at Mars now in the beginning stages of terraforming as the local and colonial politics shape the various decisions being made planet-wide. Earth is in a kind of turmoil because of overpopulation, stagnant economic growth, and political strife. Mars on the other hand clearly remains as a disputed colonial territory, but because of the emerging Martian cultures (based in various Earth cultures and colonial expeditions, but also shaped by the experiences on Mars), especially as they relate to the Martians who were born on Mars there’s an increased distance and tension between Earth and Mars.
The novel follows a few separate threads of narrative that circle around each other at times, blend in at other times. We have the Underground colony, the “losers” of the revolution that occurs in the first book. We have Art, a talented diplomat and strategist who is sent to Mars to look for ways to unite the planet in political and economic ways. We have a handful of other scientists who are also looking to continue their lives.
What becomes clear throughout the novel is that Mars is in a caught between state, a perfect setting for the middle of a trilogy. It’s caught between planetary cultures, it’s caught between dangerous colonization and the freedom of a fully terraformed planet, and it’s caught between generations of Martians. The novel remains, like a lot of Robinson novels, long, a little tedious, and brilliant.