As I rarely discard a book, it should thus come as no surprise that I have overflowing shelves of novels I’ve once read, enjoyed, savoured and then swore up-and-down-back-and-forth that I was going to re-read someday. Alas, it is someday. I’m spending whole of 2016 revisiting my book collection, digging back into books I read once, but that I haven’t read (or listened to) in at least four years. So, we’re about to find out what was worth reading… twice.
I was trying to explain Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson to someone the other day and it dawned on me: this book isn’t about Mars. It takes place on Mars. Mars is the setting and the cause and nearly-almost-but-not-quite a character in the novel. And Mars is the second word in the title. But this book isn’t about Mars. Mars is a big red Macguffin.
Okay. Almost, maybe… might be, and if I stretch the definition of a Macguffin.
You know what a Macguffin is of course. It’s a plot device: something that is central to the story, something that drives the story forward, but something that could be replaced with something similar and the story wouldn’t substantially change. For example, you could replace Mars in Red Mars with, say, an underwater potato village and the story could virtually remain the same. Just substitute all the martian references out for potato references, and all the space references would get replaced with aquatic references and there you have it: Underwater Potato, a story of science clashing with politics at the fringes of human exploration.
Worth a Second Read?
I liked Red Mars on my second read through (and, by the way, I’m not rating books for this year’s project as I’m only re-reading stuff I remember liking), but I liked it only really after I realized that the book wasn’t really about Mars. Oh, there was a ton of Mars stuff, but it never really felt like proper, science-y Mars stuff. It always felt conveniently easy, except when it wasn’t, which was usually at the convenience of the plot.
But then Red Mars isn’t a book about Mars, it a book about modern revolution. It’s about culture. It’s about frontiers and exploration and the clash of modern economic powers with the basic and fundamental need for humanity to explore and that the powers and efforts that help us do that have ulterior motives around profit and culture and religion and things that cannot necessarily be measured, but can be fought over.
I read the last couple chapters tonight, and –sadly– long ago I had also read the sequel, so this one ended abruptly and before I anticipated it ending. I almost want to read the next two: Green Mars and Blue Mars. Or, maybe that will be my reading project for next year. Sequels and other books by the same authors.