Epic future histories make for some of my favorite reading, and Kim Stanley Robinson’s chronicle of Man’s initial colonization of Mars satisfies this itch entirely.
In Robinson’s universe, no single hero can control events on a massive scale: those with the hubris to try are swept away in the political and elemental forces created by their own short-sighted predictions. To be mildly pretentious for a moment, I would argue that he stands in philosophical opposition to Atlas Shrugged, not only in dismantling elitism, but through the intentional muddling of moral and ethical positions. There are better and worse characters, but the best are divided over painfully valid yet intrinsically opposed viewpoints. Not just one or two, but four or five or six.
Robinson’s writing varies in quality, or perhaps the wavering standards are meant to reflect the intellectual and emotional abilities of the rotating cast of third-person narrators. Mars, however, remains the focal point, and Robinson hits peak eloquence when describing the geological features and cataclysms of the planet. Prominent landmarks of the Martian terrain such as Elysium, the Tharsis Bulge, and the Valles Marineris fill such a central role that the plot feels no more than an excuse to allow the reader to witness the tremendous glory of a surreal and changing planet.
If you don’t want to travel to Mars by the end of this novel, you’ve missed the point.