If the previous two books in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (reviewed here) are hard science fiction building towards the climax of a livable Mars, then the final book in the series, Blue Mars, is something of a meandering let-down. Robinson clearly had in mind the goal of getting somewhere, but he didn’t quite know what to do when he got there.
And that’s in a sense the plot. In the previous books, Mars was terraformed to the point livability and a genetic treatment was discovered which prolonged human life apparently indefinitely. Blue Mars asks the question “now what?” Humanity (personified by the characters from the first two books, the remaining “first hundred” colonists) has achieved everything it wanted to and now isn’t sure what to do with itself. Sure, the people in the book want to solve the mystery of the memory loss that the incredibly aged suffer, as well as the inexplicable sudden decline that leads to death after two centuries (give or take) for those who have had the genetic treatment. But in terms of big-picture answers to the question of “why”, general platitudes are the best we get.
in a sense, this is because of the materialistic worldview the characters in the book embrace. For example, in attempting to explain the mystery of the origins of life in a largely non-life universe, a scientist
“was maintaining that viriditas had been a threadlike force in the Big Bang, a complex border phenomenon functioning between forces and particles, and radiating outward from the Big Bang as a mere potentiality until second-generation planetary systems had collected the full array of heavier elements, at which point life had sprung forth, bursting in ‘little bangs’ at the end of each thread of viriditas. There had been none to many threads, and they had been uniformly distributed through the universe, following the galactic clumping and partly shaping it; so that each little bang at the end of a thread was as far removed from the others as it was possible to be. Thus all the little islands were widely separated in timespace, making contact between any two islands was very unlikely simply because they were all late phenomena, and at a great distance form the rest; there hadn’t been time for contact.” (640)