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“The Scientist as Hero”: Representing Climate Science as Politics in the Mars Trilogy

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Kim Stanley Robinson's 1990s utopian feat, the Mars trilogy, represents science and scientists at a planetary remove from Earth. Starting with the colonization of Mars, the trilogy tracks science and technoculture as they are harnessed to remake the red planet in Earth's image. In so doing, it follows the work of science in three distinct contexts. First is the planetary-settler science of the "First Hundred" and the early climate science of Martian terraforming; then follows a kind of corporate science harnessed to produce space elevators and solar mirrors, element and mineral capture from asteroids, and dome-habitat construction; finally, a postrevolutionary science emerges, a matter of research for its own sake. Though the trilogy certainly satisfies a rigid definition of science fiction ("it has to be about science"), Fredric Jameson claims that it can only ever offer a representation of science. Plato makes a parallel point about war in Homer; as realistic as it sounds, one cannot learn how to be a great general by reading the Iliad. And yet such representations have the ability to make vivid the embedded character of science (or war) in the political and economic spheres. "Science is politics by other means"—Robinson's riff on Carl von Clausewitz's oft-cited phrase, and Foucault's reversal of it, provides a glimpse of the way beyond restrictive relationships between technological and energic path dependency and the pursuit of knowledge. Here, the meaning of "science is politics by other means" can be seen in the way Robinson uses science as a narratological conceit in the trilogy: it makes available the geological history of Mars, it offers a unique toolset for human survival on an uninhabitable planet, and it shapes the creation of a self-determined existence beyond capital's instrumentalizing logic.

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There could be no better way to describe the world of Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic story of Mars’s colonization, the Mars trilogy, than Marx and Engels’s famous line on modernity, “All that is solid melts into air” (1978b, 476). The mission to Mars begins with the intention of appropriating the planet’s natural resources to feed a futuristic system of capitalism, which Robinson first describes as transnational and later as metanational. But while still aboard the spaceship Ares, the first expeditionary team, nicknamed the First Hundred, eschew their United Nations charter in order to turn their mission into an opportunity to reenvision what life itself is or can be. A singular vision, however, does not exist, and without recourse to the oppressive but unifying UN charter, harmony never materializes, leaving the First Hundred completely fragmented and atomized. Every member is thus free to pursue their own particular vision of that elusive new life with equal legitimacy: Frank through his career, Phyllis through her space elevator project, Arkady through his militant rejection of Earth, Hiroko through her religion, Nadia through her engineering work, Ann through her areography, Sax through his terraforming, and so on. In many ways, the emergent Martian colony is a “small-scale model. Easier to understand” (Robinson 1996, 148), of what Theodor Adorno described as “a society whose unity resides in its not being unified” (69). The most utopian of these projects understands that the “point is not to make another Earth. Not another Alaska or Tibet, not a Vermont nor a Venice, not even an Antarctica. The point is to make something new and strange, something Martian” (Robinson 1994, 2). To see the possibility of reinventing life on Mars as predicated not on reforming dysfunctional aspects of Earth but on creating a hitherto nonexistent world corresponds very well with what Marx and Engels understood to be at issue in the struggle to overcome the capitalist mode of production: “For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation, not the smoothing over of class antagonisms but the abolition of classes, not the improvement of existing society but the foundation of a new one” (1978a, 505). For the concept of the mode of production is far from an economic category; “it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part” (Marx 1978, 150, original emphasis). Mars and Earth ably represent two modes of production, as they are obviously more than economic systems; they are entire worlds, constituting two distinct and definite modes of life. Revolution is the process for creating this new mode of life, and by their participation in that process, the fragmented First Hundred coalesces into a genuine Martian collective. An interesting feature of the Mars trilogy is that revolution recurs throughout, appearing in each installment, each time taking on a different, more alien, form. In Red Mars, revolution appears in its most recognizable form as a violent revolt led by the vanguard, Arkady Bogdanov and his faction, which has the opposite effect of increasing and intensifying the intransigent Terran presence. In Green Mars, revolution is reconceptualized with a constellation of metaphors borrowed from physical science, agriculture, and economics: “Phase change, integrated pest management, selective disemployment” (1994, 580). Finally, in Blue Mars, revolution takes on a totally unfamiliar form as it is likened to “a choir in counterpoint, singing a great fugue” (1996, 746). In history as in the trilogy, revolution is not without its defects. Marx, of course, was keenly aware that the revolutionary method he was inheriting from the bourgeois overthrow of feudalism was deeply flawed. For Marx, the coming socialist revolution would bear no re semblance to the foregoing bourgeois revolution. Socialist ideals would still be achieved through revolution but only after the method had undergone a complete and total overhaul. Kojin Karatani explains it in these words: Marx thought that the socialist revolution would be possible only in the most advanced country, England, because socialism was supposed to be possible only in the stage where bourgeois society was fully ripe, ripe enough to decompose. Nonetheless, in reality it could...
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This essay examines two kinds of speculative fiction focused on the management of climate change: preparedness documents on climate change as a threat to national security, and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy (1993-96), a science fiction trilogy about the terraformation and colonization of Mars. Focusing on narrative scenarios and exercises that train officials to respond to natural disasters, this essay positions these preparedness documents as part of a system of affective management. They teach participants to cultivate a feeling of neutral detachment to stay calm and cool so that they can react automatically and repeatedly when disaster strikes. This emphasis on detachment and repetition reveals the political stakes of preparedness as a national security paradigm: to maintain the status quo by extending the always catastrophic present into the future. The essay's second half turns to the Mars trilogy to argue that by emphasizing duration, or the heterogeneous lasting of time, the trilogy invites its readers to experience climate change as the intersection of various scales and compositions of time, both human and nonhuman. Demonstrating that the management of climate change is inseparable from an experience of it, the Mars books challenge preparedness by emphasizing ongoing change rather than the containment of a never-ending series of disasters.
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This introduction to the focus section on “Writing the Anthropocene” examines the challenges that the entry of our species into a new geological epoch poses for the humanities in general and for literary and media theory in particular. It proposes the hypothesis that the Anthropocene can best be understood as a form of writing, a process by which humankind inscribes permanent messages into the geological, climatological, and biochemical records of our planet and is forced, in turn, to study those records for messages pertaining to its future. It discusses the relationship of the Anthropocene to the wider discourse of posthumanism and also touches upon the importance of speculative realism as well as genres like the science-fiction novel to help us conceptualize our new condition. A brief summary of each of the ten essays in the focus section follows.
Article
California science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson has imagined the future of Southern California in three novels published 1984-1990, and the settlement of Mars in another trilogy published 1993-1996. In framing these narratives he worked in explicitly historical terms and incorporated themes and issues that characterize the "new western history" of the 1980s and 1990s, thus providing evidence of the resonance of that new historiography.
Article
: Makepeace Hatfield, the heroine of Marcel Theroux's 2009 novel Far North, is one of the last survivors of a Siberian settlement. Her father was an early settler: an American Quaker who fled a decadent world for a frontiersman's life. In the Siberian summer, he discovered fertile terrain, purple and brown, and water that "heaved with salmon," as Makepeace recalls. "Nothing I've known in the Far North resembles the land of ice that people expected him to find here."
If I Can Find One Good City I will Spare the Man': Realism and Utopia in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy
  • Fredric Jameson
Fredric Jameson, "'If I Can Find One Good City I will Spare the Man': Realism and Utopia in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, " in Archaeologies of the Future: Th e Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2005), 393-416. 3. "War is a mere continuation of policy by other means, " Carl von Clausewitz, On War (New York: Penguin, 1982), xxiv; "politics is the continuation of war by other means, " Michel Foucault, "Society Must Be Defended": Lectures at the College de France 1975-1976 (New York: Picador, 2003), 15.
Th e Mars trilogy reminds us, along the lines of Evans's argument, that if "science fi ctionality is thus not only about imagining our present as the past of some as-yet-undetermined future, " then "it is also about seeing our present as the future of a very particular history
  • Ursula K Heise
Ursula K. Heise, "Reduced Ecologies: Science Fiction and the Meaning of Biological Scarcity, " European Journal of English Studies 16, no. 2 (August 2012): 99-112, 111. 6. In "Nomenclature, Narrative, Novum, " Rebecca Evans argues that the Anthropocene itself should be treated as a term that operates with science fi ctionality. Th e Mars trilogy reminds us, along the lines of Evans's argument, that if "science fi ctionality is thus not only about imagining our present as the past of some as-yet-undetermined future, " then "it is also about seeing our present as the future of a very particular history. " Rebecca Evans, "Nomenclature, Narrative, and Novum: 'Th e Anthropocene' and/as Science Fiction, " Science Fiction Studies 45, no. 3 (November 2018): 484-99, 488.
See also Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain
  • Adam Trexler
Adam Trexler, Anthropocene Fictions: Th e Novel in a Time of Climate Change (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015). See also Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain (New York: Harper Collins, 2004);
  • Kim Stanley
Kim Stanley Robinson, Fift y Degrees Below (New York: Spectra, 2005);
It's Not Climate Change-It's Everything Change
  • See Margaret Atwood
See Margaret Atwood, "It's Not Climate Change-It's Everything Change, " in Energy Humanities: An Anthology, ed. Dominic Boyer and Imre Szeman, 139-50 (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017);
Climate Fiction: Can Books Save the Planet?
  • J K Ullrich
J. K. Ullrich, "Climate Fiction: Can Books Save the Planet?" Atlantic, August 14, 2015, https:// www.theatlantic.com /entertainment /archive /2015 /08 /climate -fi ction -margaret -atwood -literature /400112/.
Th e former was a contemporary of Lenin and a science fi ction author of Red Star (1908)-also set on Marsand the latter wrote more than twenty-fi ve science fi ction works, each with his brother Boris
  • Erik M See
  • Naomi Conway
  • Oreskes
See, for instance, Erik M. Conway and Naomi Oreskes, Th e Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). 13. "'Don't call it dust!' Ann would complain. 'Th at's like calling dust gravel! Call it fi nes, they're fi nes. '" Robinson, Red Mars, 109, 204. 14. Robinson names Arkady Bogdanov for his ancestor Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928) and, presumably, for the elder Strugatsky brother Arkady (1925-1991). Th e former was a contemporary of Lenin and a science fi ction author of Red Star (1908)-also set on Marsand the latter wrote more than twenty-fi ve science fi ction works, each with his brother Boris, such as Roadside Picnic (1972). See Alexander Bogdanov, Red Star: Th e First Bolshevik Utopia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984);
Russell's is more elusively cultural in origin. I would place him in a long lineage of scientist heroes. American historian of medicine Charles E. Rosenberg notes the fi rst scientist hero of American fi ction as Sinclair Lewis's eponymous character Martin Arrowsmith from Arrowsmith (1925)
While Bogdanov's lineage is not diffi cult to trace, Russell's is more elusively cultural in origin. I would place him in a long lineage of scientist heroes. American historian of medicine Charles E. Rosenberg notes the fi rst scientist hero of American fi ction as Sinclair Lewis's eponymous character Martin Arrowsmith from Arrowsmith (1925). Rosenberg describes Arrowsmith as "a new kind of hero, one appropriate to twentieth century America, " and as "a hero not of deeds, but of the spirit. " Charles E. Rosenberg, No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Th ought (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 447. Arrowsmith follows a long line of scientist heroes that date back to the birth of science fi ction itself (however one dates it) to H. G. Wells's Th e Time Machine (1895) or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818). See Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith (New York: Signet Classics, 2008);
Fetuses that develop polyploidal characteristics die during labor or soon aft er
  • Green Robinson
  • Mars
Robinson, Green Mars, 185. Fetuses that develop polyploidal characteristics die during labor or soon aft er.
Here it is: they were like "an international array, arriving here and eff ectively quadrupling the meme strands, providing the adaptability to survive in this alien terrain despite all the stressinduced mutations
  • Green Robinson
  • Mars
Robinson, Green Mars, 185. I did not quote Russell's heroic simile above. Here it is: they were like "an international array, arriving here and eff ectively quadrupling the meme strands, providing the adaptability to survive in this alien terrain despite all the stressinduced mutations... " Robinson, Green Mars, 184-85.
Global South Studies: A Collective Publication with the Global South
  • See Stacey Balkan
See Stacey Balkan, "Anthropocene, " Global South Studies: A Collective Publication with the Global South, October 20, 2017, https:// globalsouthstudies.as.virginia.edu /key -concepts /anthropocene. 46. Robinson, Blue Mars, 188.
From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe
  • Y Peter
  • Paik
Peter Y. Paik, From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 19, 22.
Revolution in a Warming World: Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions
  • Andreas See
  • Malm
See Andreas Malm, "Revolution in a Warming World: Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions, " Socialist Register 2017: Rethinking Revolution 53 (2017): 120-42.