The Greening of Mars is a science-fiction tale written by James Lovelock and Michael Allaby that tells the story of how humans colonised the Red Planet. What sets this ‘story’ apart from other novels in the same genre is how the exact processes of transforming the planet to a livable condition are richly detailed, using technologies that were perfectly viable at the time of publication (1984).
As well as describing the terraforming process itself in rich detail, the authors delve into the subsequent effects of these actions over two generations covering environmental, sociopolitical and geological themes. Therefore there are certainly no loose ends which often frustrate readers in the sci-fi genre.
Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis is a prominent theme throughout, as are the challenges of living on a world with deprived oxygen and how society reacts to these pressures. Likewise the book also describes the differences between Earth-dwellers, referred to as ‘Terrans’, and Martians to add a wonderful sense human perspective on the colonisation. This is done in such detail that, despite the wide lack of named characters, it is difficult not to sympathise with the poor Terrans on their voyage, swaying with space-sickness in their hammocks!
Any literature that discusses futurology is bound to appear dated in the passing of time, The Greening of Mars is no exception to this. It is unsurprising to see references to the Soviet Union and nuclear warfare as the issues of the day as book was published during the Cold War period, however some of the geopolitical events that lead to the initial rockets being sent to Mars now seem slightly far-fetched. Furthermore the opening chapters reel off exact year dates in the 1970’s and 1980’s then merely describe ‘future’ events using vague timescales, which instantly gives the book a rather dated feel.
Moreover maintaining a balance between science and fiction in such a technical undertaking is bound to be a challenge, indeed certain sections of the book are perhaps a little heavy-handed in their scientific explanation. For instance the chapter ‘Status Quo‘ is not recommended as casual post-work reading on the train, unless you are a biochemist of course!
Despite being a slightly dated novel in the present day, The Greening of Mars is a superb tale of how humans could potentially colonise mars, using a well-worked blend of technical detail with imagination to appeal to science-fiction fans and academics alike.
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