Friday, 11 March 2016

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

I just don't even know where to start with this book. There are so many parts of it that aggravated me nearly to the point of distraction, and then there would be a part that was pretty good, and then there would be frustration again, and sometimes I'd want to tear characters out of the book and throttle them. Is it really that bad? Or is it just that I am far too aggravated by what is really a defining feature of many of Robinson's characters in many of his books?

I finally found a way to sum up how his characters drive me nuts - for so many of them, it's like they've never read fiction. They have no capacity for empathy, no real recognition of other people as people, no idea that a middle ground might even be a conceptual possibility.

It's largely although not exclusively, his women characters, and I would enlarge this to include 2312 as well as the three books in this trilogy. They're so mono-focused, often selfish, but even if not, so utterly incapable to seeing other people as people most of the time that it's literally stressful to read. Their points of view are the only points of view, and everyone else is, not wrong, but sort of...not real. Or real only in the sense of being an implacable inhuman obstacle.

It's least excusable in this book for Ann Clayborne. Ann has always been infuriatingly monomaniacal, with an idee fixe about a mile wide, and she constitutionally can't agree with anyone - even if they're on her side. Where this book goes really off the rails for me is a scene near the beginning where her psychiatrist, in a casual conversation with a mutual friend, tells the mutual friend, that oh, it's because she was abused as a child.

I mean...what? A) that's just a stupid insulting pat answer that's thrown out casually - oh, you can ignore her, because she's like this because she was abused. And b) for her PSYCHIATRIST to be the one to tell someone else, not because the other person needed to know, just, you know, because it came up in conversation?

It's insulting, it's aggravating, and I almost threw the book across the room.

It's also frustrating that when she "mellows," we no longer get any scenes from her point of view. It's all from Sax.

Then there's Jackie, and Zo, and Maya, not to mention all the other women who can't see anyone around them as real in the other two books. There are a couple of male characters in earlier books with the same obsessiveness, but it really does seem to be a female trait in many of Robinson's books. Not all his women, but enough.

All of these people, all of them, they need to sit down and read some fiction, and realize that every issue does not need to be argued in the key of shrill.

Other than that, this book skims over decades and decades, occasionally alighting, but it really is a bird's eye view that swoops down to individual characters every once in a while. There were sections I enjoyed a great deal, sections that drove me to distraction, and some that just bored it. It's such a mishmash, and I don't know how to put it all together.

Except to say that I think maybe KSR and I are on shaky grounds. Our viewpoints may just be too different for a compatible author/reader relationship. However, unlike most of his characters, I'm willing to give it one more shot, see if the cynicism gets easier to bear.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees


  1. Re your assessment of what's wrong with this author's women characters -- "mono-obssessed" and "selfish"-- I'm glad I'm not the only one who's noticed-- right now I'm in the middle of reading "2312", and that's EXACTLY how I feel about Swann, the female protagonist in that story-- although I find the author's world-building (or in this case, solar-system-wide colony-building) very well-done and interesting, I can't STAND Swann-- I find her to be VERY selfish and emotionally-immature-- she comes off more like a sulky "emo" teen (who's like those annoying "performance artists" who think that their self-destructive "radical" ranting and behavior counts as some kind of political-statement "art") even though she's allegedly an "older" and long-lived (because of futuristic life-extending procedures) well-established designer of space-terraria and other bio-projects-- I just didn't buy her at all, and her pouty immature temper-tantrums towards people who were trying to help her, like Wahram, just made me dislike her even more. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for rooting for flawed and initially dislikeable characters if they're done RIGHT (look at the initially dispicable and selfish Thomas Barrow on "Downton Abbey"-- who would EVER have thought that we'd be on his side and weeping for his redemptive change of heart by the last season of the show? That's great writing!), can often be redeemed or at least made more sympathetic through some vulnerable and human quality, but I'm not getting that from this story, even though she's "allegedly" softening and deigning to admit that she "loves her toad" after finally having sex with Warham-- gee, that's so "generous" of her! But too little too late, the scene comes off as false, like a young teen girl who's only in a temporary good mood once she's gotten something SHE'S wanted, but it's probably only a matter of time before she reverts to her selfish and self-absorbed self-- and judging by your review of this book, it sounds like ALL of Robinson's female characters are, depressingly, drawn the same way. Even though I think he seems to be very good at descriptive future world-building, which was enough to keep me reading "2312" despite my intense dislike of Swann, I think I will definitely skip his other books-- I can only tolerate horribly selfish characters for so long before I get fed up (like the over-used trend of complete-dick antiheroes on tv these days-- enough's enough-- can we PLEASE go back to REAL heroes and strong female characters who AREN'T bitches-- like the very cool retro-heroine, Agent Peggy Carter?)

    1. It was reading this book after 2312 that made me realize that it wasn't just these characters being irritating over three books, it was just something he did. It does make it hard to convince myself to read another!