Frequently asked questions about Red, Green & Blue Mars

Q: Isn't the assumption that in less than two hundred years Mars can be turned into a nice place to raise your children, a little bit optimistic, or even the product of a childish fantasy?

A: That question is a difficult one to answer at this moment in time. Estimations about the time it would take to terraform Mars range from one second to infinity; a mid-range of more or less scientifically structured publications still vary from a few decades to many thousands of years.

Some people even think the concept of terraforming is complete nonsense, but my personal feeling is that if technology keeps developing like it did in the twentieth century it can't be too long before solettas, moholes, tented cities and manoevrable ice-asteroids become daily practice.

In a way, at this very moment we're already terraforming our own planet ( although unintentionally and beyond control)

Anyway, realistic or not, by staying on the optimistic side the story of Red, Green and Blue Mars remains on a time scale that's imaginable for us mortile human beings. With a little help from a medical breaktrough in the 2040's not only the main characters, but also the younger readers and maybe even the author himself can see it all happen in their own lifetime.

Q: Will Kim Stanley Robinson ever write a fourth part to Red, Green and Blue Mars?

A: Which color did you have in mind? White Mars (an ice-age)? Black Mars (after a nuclear war)? Brown Mars (a neo-fascist regime in Mangala)? Grey Mars (about how a terraformed world becomes boring)? All colors seem to have a more or less negative connotation, so it's unlikely Robinson will ever feel the need to expand his trilogy in that sense. That doesn't mean he cannot write an accompanying volume with short stories in which some of the characters from the Trilogy make their reappearance, and that's exactly what he did. "The Martians" was published in October 1999.

Q: Why are so many towns on Mars named after places on earth? Don't those new Martians have any fantasy?

A: It's not as bad as you think. Yes, names like Cairo and Odessa clearly reflect the origin of their founders, but with Nicosia the situation is already a bit more subtle. This town (with it's most likely nickname "Dallas") is built by an Arab-Swiss joint-venture, and Nicosia (on the island of Cyprus) is about halfway Bern and Mecca; maybe it's the place where the contracts are signed... If you think Sheffield is named after the industrial town in England, let me tell you it's name comes from Charles Sheffield, the science-fiction writer who is special-thanked by Robinson in all three of the books.

Other writers who, almost inevitably, find their name back on Mars are Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs; unfortunately both towns dissappear under the waters of the North Sea. Senzeni Na and Sabishii are Japanese names, the first one meaning "what have we done?" and the second one being about halfway "loneliness" and "stillness"

Some other names are derived from existing features of Mars, like Dorsa Brevia, Da Vinci, Nilokeras or Echus Overlook. The names of Zygote and Gamete both are related with the birth of a plant or an animal: a zygote is a kind of fetus in a more developed state, and a gamete either a sperm cell or an egg cell.

Q: Talking about Zygote and Gamete: whatever happened to Hiroko?

A: How would I know? I wasn't there during the assault on Sabishii; at best I will be there. Anyway, Hiroko's role in the trilogy is one of the more mysterious aspects of the three books. It's strange that, although being one of the most important persons in modern Martian history, she doesn't belong to the "core group" of characters, through the eyes of whom one or more chapters are seen. Maybe here's an interesting option for Robinson to write a sequel: "Hiroko's story-in her own words". I would also be interested to take a look in the minds of people like Phylis Boyle and Derek Hastings but I can imagine the author can't really identify with those villains.

Q: Did the First Hundred land on Mars on First January the first, or on another day in the year M-0?

A: The chance they landed on New Years Day is about 1 to 669, because I assume the beginning of the year was chosen in a way that months and seasons would relate to each other like they do on earth: December meaning cold and July meaning warm on the northern hemisphere. This theory is firmly supported by a line in Blue Mars that says Maya spend one of the Decembers in a beach village west of Odessa, located on the southern hemisphere.

There's, by the way, something strange about the chronology in the Mars-trilogy. Comparing the Martian and Terran timescales is quite complicated and confusing, because, as you might know, a Martian year is much longer than a Terran year, a day is just a little bit longer and minutes and hours have the same length. The best way to compare them is, strange though it seems, to say that one earthyear is 525600 minutes and one marsyear is 988113 minutes.

There's only one place in the three books where both scales come together, on the occasion of the relatively unimportant event of Maya's 130th birthday, on August 5, 2114 or 2nd November 4, M-44. However, if I put the two scales next to each other, like I did in an Autocad-drawing (you can have it if you're interested) the Martian scale starts in 2030 instead of 2027; also some other dates, like Nirgal's date of birth and the M-50 celebration, have this slight deviation. I have no explanation yet for this phenomenon, but I see a resemblance with the christian calendar, which is based on the birth of Jesus, even though he was born six years earlier.

One other thing I'd like to mention: saying that one M-year has 669 days is a simplifcation. It's actually 668.599 days, which means that four out of every ten years is one day shorter. Every year ending with 0, 2, 5 or 7 could be a leap year; it would seem fair to me to take this day off of one of the Februaries...

Q: Most of the heroes of the Mars-trilogy have already been born; any idea what they're doing at the moment?

A: Well, as you can easily calculate from the answer to the question before, Maya is currently 13 years old, so I suppose she's in highschool, just like John, who is 15. Frank, who is 21, lives in a room above a garage in Cambridge where he's studying engineering and astronomy at MIT. Vlad, the oldest of the First Hundred, is already 28 and currently finishing his medicine studies at Moscow University. Hiroko, at the other end of the scale, is only 3 years old and she's probably one of the most clever kids in a Tokio kindergarten. The rest is probably somewhere between kindergarten and graduation, and of course a lot of characters from Green and Blue, like Art, Peter, Nirgal and Zo, will have to wait decades untill they appear on the stage.