Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For me, Michele Duval represents the most alienated of the first 100. This French semiotician is homesick as he is the only of the first settlers to arrive in Mars precisely because he anticipates the emotional and psychological adjustments necessary for the transition. Also, Duval who participates out of a sense of intellectual responsibility that clearly conflicts with his personal motives. In Duval's mind, he arrives on Mars to "ameliorate the potential social and psychological dysfunction created through the election process" (White 579). Duval's attempt to classify the first 100 according to "stucturalist alchemy" of humours seems to be an oversimplified attempt to explain the realities of [trans]globalization that seems to be the underlying theme in Red Mars (Robinson 391).

It is in this context that we see Frank Chalmers wheeling and dealing his way through the politics of Mars. Now that I've completed the novel I can better relate to the Nixon-Kennedy/ Chalmers-Boone comparison, especially when we see how the two men relate to the opposite sex. For Boone, every performance is a heroic one. Even when he is engaged in sexual intercourse he is simultaneously piloting an airplane (294). Way to multitask, Boone.

This is an interesting malthusian turn considering the "draconian birth reduction acts" in the industrialized back on planet Earth coupled by the booming birth rates in the underdeveloped nations of Earth due to the lack of access to reproductive technologies. Population control and the equitable distribution of resources becomes an issue of greater and greater concern as the terraformation process continues. Indeed, the browning of humanity becomes a matter of extraplanetary concern as the following passage reveals:

"And living with the Arabs sharpened his sense of how alien they were too. Oh, they were part of the twenty-first century humanity, no doubt about it; they were sophisticated scientists and technicians, cocooned like everyone else in a protective shell of technology at every moment of their lives, and busy making and watching their own life movies. And yet they prayed three to six times a day, bowing toward Earth when it was the morning or evening star. And the reason their techno-caravans gave them such great and obviouse pleasure was because the caravans were an outward manifestation of this bending of the modern world to their ancient goals."

This bending represents the same concern for Chalmers as it does for Henry Kissinger. Somehow, even in the setting of outerspace, Euro-earthlings cannot seem to conceive of a future in which they are not in charge or piloting the ship, so to speak. Even when Chalmers contemplates the desert-like landscape of Mars, he seems to harbor bit of a resentment towards the Arabs for being more acclimated to the dry, arid environment.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Week 11: Red Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" presents a utopian system that seems the most realistic among all the novels assigned. Considering the way Martian colony narratives play in the popular imagination, this is not surprising. Real scientific arguments exist about the possibility of pursuing the goal of space colonization. Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine a future scenario in which humanity may face the ethical dilemma of expanding our presence across outer spheres in the wake of environmental and/or diplomatic catastrophe. Such an outcome would represent such a tremendous failure by the whole of society, it would be understandable that many people would resist a project of that nature.

It is for these reasons that in the opening chapter where Frank Chalmers behaves tacitly critical of John Boone's public address, I am immediately drawn in and want to understand more about Frank, who we soon learn is implicated in Boone's assassination. What's so interesting about what is revealed through how one character serves as the perfect foil for the other one, is how Boone's optimistically, though troublingly hegemonic world view pulls the audience right into a deeper meditation on the purposes of power -- think, manifest destiny. Clearly, the first man on Mars is named after Daniel Boone to invoke this parrallel. What is also clear has to do with the motivations of those (especially those who follow the first 100) are so divergent, yet incredibly commonplace -- duty, romance, power, greed, intellectual curiosity. It's a familiar story that has been defamiliarized in the context of this parodoxically stock setting, though alien landscape.

I will post more in the following hours, days, and week on this subject.