The Martians, Kim Stanley Robinson

Bantam Spectra, 1999, 336 pages, C$35.95 hc, ISBN 0-553-80117-1

All fans of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, please stand up and be counted. Now allow me to explain how the very number of you standing up constitutes an irresistible moneymaking opportunity.

By Science-Fiction standards, the Mars trilogy was an enormously successful work, both popularly, critically and financially. All the books of the series won either the Hugo or the Nebula award and the paperback editions of the book are all well into further printings. All books were bestsellers and have already attained something akin to classical status.

Which, of course, makes it irresistible for both publisher and author to milk out an little “extra”. The Martians is the first such extra, a 336-pages book that brings together several short pieces related to the Mars trilogy. You’ll find here a few short stories, essays, vignettes, poems…

The book starts with “Michel in Antarctica”, a pre-history of the Mars trilogy that ultimately veers in alternate history. This particular parallel world is further explored in “Michel in Provence”, though -unfortunately- no more.

Other pieces bring back the characters of the trilogy, often illuminating earlier actions, or simply presenting maybe outtakes from the original text. So we get “Maya and Desmond”, “Coyote Makes Trouble”, “Jackie on Zo”, “Keeping the Flame”, “Coyote Remembers” and “Sax Moments”.

The Martians reprints two of Robinson’s pre-Red Mars Mars stories, “Exploring Fossil Canyon” and the lengthy novella “Green Mars”. Both of these stories are part of an alternate mini-cycle further explored here with “Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars” (a slight, but fun story about Martian baseball), “What Matters” and “A Martian Romance”.

There are also a few unconnected short stories here and there, including “Saving Noctis Dam”, “Sexual Dismorphism” and “Enough is as Good as a Feast”. We get twice as many unconnected vignettes, some evocative and some decidedly less so.

There are also a few pieces commenting on the trilogy, whether it’s “The Constitution of Mars” (annotated), “The Sountrack”, selected poems (including one called “A Report on the First Recorded Case of Areophagy”) and a final poignant piece titled “Purple Mars”, where Robinson may describe his last day of work on the Mars trilogy.

The result is both more and less of what we expected. On one hand, it is a worthwhile companion to the Mars trilogy, presenting more of what made the trilogy so popular. On the other hand, it doesn’t present what would have been interesting to see in a companion volume: Non-fiction essays on the conception, the writing, the revision of the series. Original plans. Maps and drafts. More substantial side-stories. As such, it almost approaches the “let’s dump cut scenes in the marketplace” approach.

But really, The Martians couldn’t be anything but a disappointment for fans of the trilogy, knowing that this is pretty much the last of what Robinson has to say about the place. As such, it’s a fitting -if uneven- tribute. Non-fans already suspect that they shouldn’t begin here, but fans should be advised that The Martians is a decent sideshow to the main event.

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