This is science fiction with the emphasis on the “science”.
Robinson is either a polymath, able to weave countless obscure, genuine scientific concepts into his work, or he’s incredibly inventive, able to create plausible (though fictional) ideas into the narrative of his books.
Or maybe there’s a combination of the two at work.
For me his science (actual or imagined) tends to get in the way of story-flow. To others with a harder scientific leaning that is probably not a problem, but even though I have an aptitude for science (albeit not exercised for a while), as I read the book I long for more story and fewer scientific labels and references.
Apart from having familiarity with the many geological and botanical references used, it may be helpful to read the book with an atlas of Mars at hand. But then, I’d have to ask which places are genuine and which are fictional before trying to follow journeys along invented landmarks.
As I write this I’m about a quarter of the way through and on my second stint of reading it after already taking a few week’s break from the book. I’m being tempted to put it down again, but want to persevere for as long as I can. Hopefully I can finish it before the end of the year, but I suspect I’ll be turning to another book or two before I get there.
Along with the science, Robinson dives deeply into the likely politics of an earth suffering the stress of increasing population and decreasing resources, and a Mars with the potential to ease both. But who should make the decisions, who should be in control?
The nations who initiated the exploration and colonisation?
Or the commercial entities who have become more powerful and wealthy than nation states?
And what about the settlers, and subsequent generations of Mars residents, whose links with earth grow increasingly distant?
With this series (this is the second volume) Robinson demonstrated significant optimism in his timetable for the visiting and colonising of Mars. That optimism continues in the degree and speed of technological advancement portrayed in the books. To me the series’ main failing is giving its events dates, such as first man on Mars in 2020, and the beginning of colonisation in 2026.
The series could have been made more plausible by avoiding an out-dateable timeline.
Alongside this fictional account of man’s exploration and exploitation of Mars, I’ve been listening to NASA podcasts about the work being done in their space program with the intention of a crewed mission to the red planet. One of those podcasts in particular highlights the extreme difficulty of going to Mars, (Mars is hard, here’s why) that further emphasises the optimism of the author’s timetable.