Monday, 6 August 2012
Curiosity on Mars
I didn’t particularly time my re-reading of Kim Stanley Robinson’s stunning Mars trilogy – Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), Blue Mars (1996) - to coincide with the arrival of NASA’s rover Curiosity on the red planet’s surface this morning, but still, I’m glad it’s worked out that way. I like to toy with the notion of William Morris, at around 160 years old (as he easily might have been if he had received the gerontological treatment developed on Mars in the course of the trilogy itself), reading the work when it first came out. What would he have made of it, what pleasures would it have held for him?
His passion for Icelandic lavascapes would surely have sensitised him to the awesome geology of Robinson’s Mars, but it is as the author of chapter XVII of News from Nowhere – ‘How the Change Came’ – that Morris might most strongly have responded to the trilogy in its great effort of political (quite as much as scientific) thought, as will any contemporary reader of Morris who thrills to the narrative energy of the English revolutionary process between 1890 and 1952-54 in that chapter.
The first Mars rebellion against transnational capitalist domination from Earth goes down in blood and violence in 2061. ‘Next time you have a revolution you’d better try some other way’, Kasei angrily tells the First Hundred at the end of that disaster, and the second and third volumes then narrate the slow, complex, decentred process whereby an underground movement gradually rebuilds itself and painfully struggles towards new, more adequate models of revolutionary action, which do indeed succeed second time round from 2127 onwards. So if an older Leninist model of revolution no longer seems apt to our own complex postmodern societies, and yet we do not want to remain trapped between the reformism of social-democracy and spasmodic revolt (last August’s riots, the Occupy movement), then we will need to attend carefully to the thought-experiments which Robinson is conducting on his fictional red planet. For the author of the Mars trilogy is indeed a worthy successor to William Morris as a deep thinker about systemic social change.