Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy and the Leopoldian Land Ethic *.
[...] and as it yo-yoed back and forth it loomed before them in all its immense potential: tabula rasa, blank slate. A blank red slate. Anything was possible, anything could happen--in that sense they were, in just these last few days, perfectly free. Free of the past, free of the future, weightless in their own warm air, floating like spirits about to invest a material world. (Red Mars 85)
SET ON BARREN MARS, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy speculates about what paradigms the planet's fictional settlers will inscribe on the "blank red slate." Anything is possible for the group of one hundred chosen to establish the first Martian colony. Their sense of freedom from past political constraints and from future Terran political regulation sets up the utopian potential of the new settlement. And Robinson uses all 1900-plus pages of his trilogy to illustrate the challenges of moving beyond a history spawned on Earth and toward a future, Martian history generated by utopian social, political, scientific, and ecological ideas.
The settlers' hopes are indeed utopian in the etymological sense that utopia is always impossible and always existing nowhere. Before the group even lands on Mars, "rival cliques" develop and arguments become "frequent, and vehement" (Red Mars 73, 75). As Maya Katarina Toitovna, the settlement's leader of the Russian contingent, reflects, "Interest groups, micropolitics--they really were fragmenting. One hundred people only, and yet they were too large a community to cohere!" (76). These arguments include Phyllis Boyle's defense of Christianity against John Boone's rational, scientific logic; Arkady Bogdanov's insistence that the architecture of the settlement be redesigned to suggest equality rather than hierarchy; and, more generally, the group's disagreements over their job assignments once the Mars colony is established. In short, and to borrow one of the many technological metaphors in Red Mars, "the international nature of the equipment meant that there were inevitable mismatches of size and function" (108). (1)
Though we may read the first few chapters of Red Mars as fictions about the unlikelihood of materializing utopian visions of new histories, new presents, and new futures, Robinson is not sending the message that utopia is hopeless. Rather, as William Dynes notes, "the Mars series evokes a utopian call for community: of wholeness within the self, within interpersonal relationships, within political and economic entities, within the species itself" (151). In fact, in an interview with Bud Foote, Robinson states, "Utopia has to be rescued as a word, to mean 'working towards a more egalitarian society, a global society.' Which means at every point defending it, going to the mat for the term and for the concept of Utopia" (56). "Working towards" is the key expression, here. Robinson's trilogy focuses on the reasons our current paradigms make this brand of critical utopia difficult to achieve and on the things we can do to move toward it more effectively. (2) In other words, Robinson uses his Mars trilogy not to advance a cynical view of humanity and of humanity's inability to improve the conditions of life, but to show us the difficulties inherent in any attempt to do so and to model ways of moving closer to a critical utopian society.
Robinson's concerns include interpersonal relationships, intercultural relationships, political ideologies, and economic systems. Each of these concerns, as well as many others in the trilogy, merit scholarly attention. But my focus in this paper is on Robinson's interest in environmental issues --more specifically, on the ways in which the Mars books call to mind Aldo Leopold's critically utopian vision of a land ethic. I suggest that Red Mars (1993), Green Mars (1994), and Blue Mars (1996) work together to envision a contemporary rendering of Leopold's "Land Ethic," as defined in his 1949 book A Sand County Almanac. Kim Stanley Robinson gives us a range of perspectives regarding human relationships to the land, from treating the land as an economic resource to leaving the land in its primal state. By the end of Blue Mars, the final book in the trilogy, we realize that it is our responsibility to synthesize the environmentally sound and unsound viewpoints that Robinson provides in his critical--indeed, eco-critical--utopian series in order to construct a viable model for ecological sustainability and an egalitarian relationship between all of nature's components.
Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic
Leopold begins his discussion of the land ethic by defining ethic. Any ethic "has its origin in the tendency of interdependent individuals or groups to evolve modes of co-operation" (238). He refers to The Golden Rule and democracy as ethical systems that, in the former case, "integrate the individual to society," and in the latter case, "integrate social organization to the individual" (238). Noticing such tendencies between individuals and between groups to evolve these modes of cooperation, Leopold then questions the absence of the land in modern society's ethical paradigms. He complains that while traditional ethics emphasize the obligations humans hold for each other, no ethic as yet--in 1949--encouraged principled cooperation with the land. By definition, then, "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land" (239).
To arrive at such an ethic involves fundamental changes in the way we view the land, for "No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions" (246). Among these changes, land can no longer be seen only for its economic value. Even justifying conservation on economic grounds is a bad idea, for "most members of the land community have no economic value" (246). While it may be productive for saving economically useful species or landscapes, justifying conservation on economic grounds still fails to change the utilitarian view of the natural environment into the scientific and philosophical views that Leopold feels are necessary for a new ethical system to emerge. An economic view of the environment also does not consider the complexity of natural systems. Any attempt to govern ecology based on its use value tends to overlook those "unusable" components that are essential to the health of the whole system.
This leads to another fundamental change that Leopold advocates: to approach ecology with the aim of understanding the complexity of the environment and what makes the environment healthy. Leopold's central image for discussing a healthy environment is "a tangle of chains so complex as to seem disorderly, yet the stability of the system proves it to be a highly organized structure. Its functioning depends on the co-operation and competition of its diverse parts" (252-53). Developing an understanding of this complexity--developing an ecological consciousness--involves acknowledging that many human alterations of ecological systems result in violent releases of the land's energy that destabilize the environment, making it sick. Not only do the changes humans make to the land often cause environmental problems, they also "[steer] the course of history," as Leopold demonstrates by referring to the settlement of the Mississippi valley. (3) For Leopold scholar James I. McClintock, "History, whether in terms of losses or gains, is understood as humans acting within, not outside or above nature" (30). Cultivating an ecological consciousness, then, requires developing a scientific understanding of the complexity of land and opening up our histories to the idea of ecology.
Leopold's land ethic thus involves reworking paradigms of economics, education, and history. Leopold wants to re-vision the land as valuable not as commodity but as community. He wants to educate individuals about the complexity of the land and about how human alterations of this complexity often infect the environment with instability. Finally, he wants to examine the historical importance of the natural environment. We must ceaselessly interrogate "the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and servant versus land the collective organism" (260-61). At the root of Leopold's land ethic is a critical utopian vision that recognizes "the land ethic as a product of social evolution," "an intellectual as well as emotional process" (263). This is why in this paper I parallel Leopold's vision with what Kim Stanley Robinson produces in his Mars trilogy. Both writers underscore the economic, political, social, and historical complexity of the evolution of environmentally ethical ways of knowing and being.
As McClintock notes in his book Nature's Kindred Spirits, "Rhetorically, Leopold manages to clothe his argument in language that blurs distinctions between scientific, social, and spiritual realms, thus appealing to his audience's longed-for reconciliation between science, social conduct, and spiritual belief" (35). At the heart of McClintock's advocacy of Leopold's land ethic, then, is his realization that an ecological consciousness bridges the gap between the is/ought problem, which places scientific "facts" in opposition to social and religious values. McClintock asserts, "One need not turn to mysticism and against science to defend a land ethic" (44). By the same token, one need not turn to science and against "fiction" to establish a better model of environmental ethics. Rather, the land ethic involves a both/and view of the is/ought problem. Leopold's land ethic is itself a recursive ecological system of ideas involving economic, philosophical, and scientific discourse, which only in dialog can bring about eco-critical utopian paradigms.
The Mars Trilogy and the Economically Based Land Relation
Turning now to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, I suggest that the books dramatize the interplay of economics, philosophy, science, and history that is central to Leopold's land ethic. By critiquing the economic view of the land held by transnational and metanational corporations, demonstrating the complexity of ecological systems, emphasizing the mystical side of the land ethic, and contrasting opposing views of science, Robinson's books promote a critical synthesis of ideas, leading to an ecological consciousness and a view of the land as part of the community.
In an interview, Robinson says, "science fiction is an enjambment of facts and values in a way that our culture desperately needs right now. The fact-value problem is specifically relevant to today's world, because we have a culture that is making developments and cultural changes without much regard for the underlying values that are going to be thereby expressed" (53). Science fiction, for Robinson, is a literary genre that allows readers to see the connections between science-based facts and the cultural values expressed in fiction. This being the case, SF like the Mars trilogy is most appropriate for taking on environmental issues, issues that involve conflicts of both facts and values. What Robinson attempts in his three books, though, is not to make a case either for a fact-based land ethic or for a value-based land ethic, but to show how both fact and value need to be parts of our ecological consciousness.
The subject through which Robinson explores the land ethic is the terraforming of Mars, the alteration of the Martian surface to allow for life. By making terraformation the focus of his fiction, Robinson directly confronts issues that apply to Earth's environment; for the alteration of environments is necessary for human civilization. In terraforming Mars, as in "terraforming" Earth, though, there exist a range of perspectives about the degree to which we should alter the land for human habitation. For Robinson, this range includes contrasting economic and scientific models, mystical perceptions of the environment, and dueling conceptions of stewardship, all of which he explores in the Mars books.
Like Aldo Leopold, Robinson spends much time implicating traditional economic systems for disallowing a viable land ethic or land-human symbiosis. Though we learn early in Red Mars that the Mars settlement team of one hundred scientists has hopes of beginning a small scientific research station, later, in the chapter entitled "The Crucible," we are introduced to the motives of those higher powers responsible for sending these scientists: to terraform Mars rapidly. As UNOMA (the U.N. Office for Martian Affairs) approves the terraformation of Mars, Earth's own environmental protection policies break down as a previously protected Antarctica starts being mined and drilled for its oil. The parallel between the terraforming of Mars and the treatment of Antarctica is indeed deliberate on Robinson's part; for as an ecologically conscious science fiction writer he wants to suggest that as "'the last clean place on Earth is gone,'" an issue he explores in depth in his book Antarctica, so the next clean place, Mars, is becoming the victim of the same economic motives (251). To relate terraforming Mars to the destruction of Antarctica is thus to foreshadow the ultimate motive that UNOMA has for altering the planet--to mine its resources--and to suggest the destructiveness of an economically based land relation.
By the end of "The Crucible" and through the early parts of the next chapter, "Falling into History," we learn that the scientific motives of the first settlers have succumbed to hyper-capitalist intentions. Though many of the first one hundred are pleased with UNOMA's decision to support terraformation, it is the subsequent intrusion of transnational corporate interests that instigates many of these settlers to revolt later in Red Mars. The first sign of this intrusion is when the German millionaire and UNOMA bureaucrat Helmut Bronski violates a Mars treaty by allowing Armscor, a transnational organization, to begin prospecting on Mars. As John Boone, the settlement's symbolic father, observes the heavy mining operations at Bradbury Point, his thoughts suggest an environmentalist's distress over a relationship to the land based solely on economic motives:
John shook his head. That afternoon they drove for an hour back to the habitat, past raw pits and slag heaps, toward the distant plume of the refineries on the other sides of the habitat mesa. He was used to seeing the land torn up for building purposes, but this ... It was amazing what a few hundred people could do. [...] wreaking such havoc just to strip away metals, destined for Earth's insatiable demand. (276-77)
Though by this point in the book Mars has only recently been settled, the developing industrial landscape already reflects the contaminated atmosphere of a world being torn apart by greedy capitalists.
Robinson's reflections on the capitalist economy and its effects on the environment do not end with John's observation of the Armscor mining project --the "gold rush," as John later calls it (284). One of the most awful (in both senses of the word) technologies created in Red Mars is the space elevator, which extends from the surface of the planet far into space and allows the various ores being mined from Mars to be shipped efficiently to Earth. As Phyllis Boyle, the primary visionary of the space elevator, explains,
"It will also be possible to use the cable's rotation as a slingshot; objects released from the ballast asteroid toward Earth will be using the power of Mars's rotation as their push, and will have an energy-free high-speed takeoff. It's a clean, efficient, extraordinarily cheap method, both for lifting bulk into space and for accelerating it toward Earth. And given the recent discoveries of strategic metals, which are becoming ever more scarce on Earth, a cheap lift and push like this is literally invaluable. It creates the possibility of an exchange that wasn't economically viable before; it will be a critical component of the Martian economy, the keystone of its industry." (306-07) (4)
Important in Phyllis's defense of the proposed elevator is her argument for an economically based land relation, one that Robinson, like Leopold, questions. Though Phyllis promotes the elevator's cleanliness and its low energy use, her assurance is odd after reading John's observation thirty pages earlier of the "raw pits," "slag heaps," and "distant plume[s]" that litter the Martian landscape and that are the results of the mining that Phyllis sees as key to the developing Martian economy. Furthermore, Phyllis's promotion of the space elevator is even more awkward if we consider her awareness that Earth's own supply of metals is dwindling. Indeed, this economic view of the land lacks a land ethic. The philosophy of "Minimize expenses, maximize profits" excludes both the expenses the land suffers and the non-economic profits of maintaining a healthy ecosystem (442).
Eco-Economics: Toward a Land Ethic
Robinson presents a model of economics that counters the hyper-capitalism ravaging the Martian surface: eco-economics. Thought up by the biological team of Vladimir Taneev and Marina Tokareva, eco-economics places value on individuals according to their biological contributions to the ecosystem: "'Everyone should make their living, so to speak, based on a calculation of their real contribution to the human ecology'" (298). Though Vlad and Marina's eco-economics does not and cannot specifically consider the land of Mars as part of the community--for, the Martian surface is not yet habitable in Red Mars and the human community lives underneath large tents--it is the ecological consciousness inherent in eco-economics that makes it applicable to the land ethic developing in the trilogy. Eco-economics posits, as Robert Markley notes, that "Restricting consumption becomes a far more effective means to increase one's value to the system than accelerating production because production invariably strains scarce resources" (776). In imagining such a system, Vlad and Marina envision a human-land symbiosis based on the imperative to include land in the community.
Robinson thus establishes a tension between the capitalist view of land as an economic resource and a conscientious view of land as a part of the community. As one component in the dialogue that ultimately leads to the land ethic of the Mars books, this tension continues through the three books and is resolved in Blue Mars. In a manner reminiscent of Leopold, Robinson shows how the rapid alterations of the Martian surface--particularly the heating of the atmosphere and the subsequent melting of the ice in Mars's thick permafrost layers--have caused environmental instability or sickness. The action at the end of Red Mars takes place among avalanches and floods, Leopold's "penalties of violence" (255). Furthermore, as in Red Mars, the environmental violence of Green Mars is also prefaced by Phyllis's faith in an economically based land relation: "'All the stockpiled metals from the last forty years are ready to enter the Terran market, and that's going to stimulate the entire two-world economy unbelievably. We'll see more production out of Earth now, and more investment here, more emigration too'" (183). Soon after Phyllis says this, Sax Russell, a scientist whose view of the land becomes central to the ethic of the trilogy, reflects on the negative effects of the rapid changes to the Martian environment: "Mass wasting was causing many landslides a day, and fatalities and unexplained disappearances were not at all uncommon. Cross-country travel was dangerous. Canyons and fresh craters were no longer safe places to locate a town, or even to spend a night" (217). Here, Robinson again questions the economic view of the land by drawing attention to Leopold's penalties of violence. In Red Mars he describes the polluted landscape and the effects of this economically motivated contamination, and in Green Mars he continues to show how the altered landscape has erupted with sickness and instability, mostly the result of capitalist interference.
The eco-economic model of land relations becomes, for Robinson, the most viable model for limiting the influence of capitalist institutions on the fragile Martian environment. Having finally gained independence from Earth's metanational corporations, the leaders of Mars in Blue Mars organize a congress to establish an official Martian government. Because Mars is a completely new social, political, economic, and environmental situation, it is difficult for these leaders to turn to historical models for help in creating their political system. Indeed, as Carl Abbott notes, one tenet of Robinson's utopian vision is to be "fully aware of the traps in seeing history as sets of analogies, which mislead us as often as they help," to let history describe itself through a dialectical process of ceaseless political communication (par 13). Despite all the possible conflicts inherent in trying to form a new system, though, the issue that provokes the most debate is land-use, an environmental concern. While much of this debate revolves around the terraforming of Mars--the Red/Green debate--the debate over land-use also involves finding an economic system that stresses not the monetary value of the land, as does capitalism, but the importance of a land-human community. Phyllis defends capitalism in both Red Mars and Green Mars, and her sentiments are repeated in Blue Mars by another character, Antar.
At the end of the chapter entitled "A New Constitution," Antar claims that the eco-economic model of the Martian economy "'is a radical and unprecedented intrusion of government into business'" (141). Unconvinced, Vladimir outlines the eco-economic system, which provides the equal rights and self-rule that the hierarchical structure of capitalism cannot. Environmentally, such a true democracy also requires a view of the land that opposes capitalist paradigms. Evoking the ecotopian fictions of Ernest Callenbach and Marge Piercy, Vladimir states, "'the world is something we all steward together'" (144). Important in the eco-economic model, then, is its synthesis of socialist elements--workers owning the means of production and "'hiring capital rather than the other way around," for example--with ecological elements (147). Stewardship becomes everyone's responsibility, and environmental courts "have the power to review all laws passed by the congress for their impact on the Martian environment, and have the right to veto such laws without appeal if their environmental impact is judged unconstitutional" (Martians 268). Ultimately, the eco-economic model is voted in. The new Martian system addresses one of Leopold's paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen. Martian civilization becomes a biotic citizenry through a new economic paradigm that values a land-human symbiosis.
Spiritual Aspects of the Land Ethic
Besides portraying characters who support an eco-economy, the Mars trilogy further dramatizes Leopold's ideas by focusing on the religious aspects of environmental thought. In this sense, Robinson, like Leopold, approaches ecology at once through the social science of politics and economics and through the more speculative world of myth. And nowhere is Robinson's interest in the possibilities of mysticism more evident than in his character Hiroko Ai, "the Japanese prodigy of biosphere design" (Red Mars 32). As Aldo Leopold asks for "an intense consciousness of land," so Hiroko Ai provides this consciousness (261).
Saying things like "'Mars will tell us what it wants and then we'll have to do it, Hiroko is the most religious ecological thinker in the Mars books (Red Mars 115). Hiroko's "areophany" is "a kind of landscape religion, a consciousness of Mars as a physical space suffused with kami, which was the spiritual energy or power that rested in the land itself" (Red Mars 229). As the critic William Dynes observes, "The focus of the areophany is a celebration of interdependency with the planet rather than an exploitation of it" (160). Hiroko's "viriditas'" encourages followers of the areophany to foster the positive feelings of ecological connectedness by spreading life everywhere. Initiated into this areophany, Michel Duval, a French psychologist, must eat dirt in a ritual with other members of Hiroko's group. "'This is your initiation into the areophany, the celebration of the body of Mars,'" Hiroko says to Michel, "'Welcome to it. We worship this world. We intend to make a place for ourselves here, a place that is beautiful in a new Martian way, a way never seen on Earth'" (Red Mars 230). That Hiroko's followers eat dirt is symbolic of the connection between humanity and land that Leopold advocates.
Green Mars opens with Hiroko teaching the first generation Martian children about viriditas. On the beach with the children, she says,
"Look at the pattern this seashell makes. The dappled whorl, curving inward to infinity. That's the shape of the universe itself. There's a constant pressure, pushing toward pattern. A tendency in matter to evolve into ever more complex forms. It's a kind of pattern gravity, a holy greening power we call viriditas, and it is the driving force in the cosmos. Life, you see. Like these sand fleas and limpets and krill--although these krill in particular are dead, and helping the fleas. Like all of us. [...] And because we are alive, the universe must be said to be alive. We are its consciousness as well as our own. We rise out of the cosmos and we see its mesh of patterns, and it strikes us as beautiful. And that feeling is the most important thing in all the universe." (9)
Thus, Hiroko becomes the ecological philosopher-educator of the Mars trilogy. Her brand of education, though, is rooted not in political ideology, but in religion. (5) She is a philosopher whose ideas are necessary to prompt thoughts of Martian independence and ultimately of ecological connectedness. Markley states, "it is the moral force of [Hiroko's] lived-philosophy of viriditas that brings together the scattered groups of the underground in a loose confederation and that eventually provides the rationale and moral authority of independence" (784).
When Hiroko is forced to leave Sabishii, the capital city of the underground groups who are organizing a revolution against the powerful corporate entities that run Mars, she disappears for the rest of the trilogy, either slain with her closest followers or else choosing voluntary exile. Her presence continues, though, in the form of mythology: Sax Russell believes she rescues him from a cold death in Blue Mars, and her son Nirgal hears rumors that she is in England, in Elysium, Mars, and somewhere in the Uranian system. At the end of Blue Mars, we even experience a Hiroko sighting: "Down the beach an old Asian woman was surf-fishing" (760). Accordingly, Hiroko's mystical presence in the Mars books balances with Robinson's close attention to economics. If as McClintock notes, Aldo Leopold's "'The Land Ethic' essay mythically combines philosophy, religion, science, and political ideology," then Robinson's attention to political ideology and religion positions his trilogy as a contemporary, science-fictional incarnation of the ideas Leopold advocated decades ago (34).
Synthesizing Conceptions of the Land-Human Relationship
Tracing the conflict between the economically based land relation and the eco-economic model of economics in the Mars trilogy gives us insight into one aspect of the ecotopian land ethic that Robinson advocates: the need for conceiving an economic system that encourages environmentally sustainable behavior. And Robinson's presentation of Hiroko Ai as a mystical "Mother-Goddess of the Earth" with a deeply religious view of the connections between land and human life contributes further to the land ethic of the three books. The land ethic advocated by Robinson's trilogy, though, involves further concepts of ecology that the author sees as crucial to developing ecological sustainability, namely, the ways in which we view our relationship with the land. Robinson conceptualizes a viable model of this relationship throughout the trilogy by establishing an extended debate between the philosophical "Red" worldview and the scientific "Green" worldview.
The debate between the Reds and the Greens, addressed throughout the Mars trilogy by pitting Ann Clayborne, a Red, against Sax Russell, a Green, begins as a debate between advocates of pure science and advocates of applied science. Supporting the former, Ann Clayborne wishes to study Mars in its primal form: "'There's as much land on Mars as on Earth, with a unique geology and chemistry. The land has to be thoroughly studied before we can start changing it'" (Red Mars 39). Excited about the prospects of applying science to the Martian surface in a vast terraforming effort, Sax rebuts Ann's claim, saying, "'We'll change [the land] just by landing'" (40). With both positions posited so early in Red Mars, before we even know the ideological thrusts of the trilogy, we can perhaps accept both Ann's and Sax's positions as credible scientific outlooks. One simply wants to study Mars as a geologist would study rocks or plate tectonics; the other wants to experiment with an entirely new environment to see what can be done to make life there possible. As Bud Foote notes, "the appeals and the honesty and the beauty of both sides are presented with skill and passion," making it difficult to side with either attitude (61). And though Sax's support for terraforming--for using science as a tool of change--may for some science fiction readers foreshadow a fate similar to Victor Frankenstein's, it is at least qualified when Sax speculates that even human presence on Mars will alter the landscape. Without such a thoughtful, constructionist observation, we may think the terraforming effort is just as impulsive as Frankenstein's promethean effort to generate life in a stitched-up assemblage of human body parts.
Though the terraforming debate begins as a conflict between pure science and applied science, it quickly turns into a philosophical debate that involves a conflict of values. With Ann insisting that Mars "'is its own place'" and Sax insisting that the planet is "'dead,'" the pure science/ applied science debate develops into a contest between philosophical worldviews (Red Mars 40). Does Mars, or by extension the land, own itself as an individual owns herself or himself in a democratic or eco-economic state? Or, is Mars dead and valueless? Ann believes the former: the landscape has inherent beauty and worth. She claims that Sax's interventionist science is "'just playing around'"; to "'destroy a beautiful pure landscape'" is "'for nothing at all'" (177). Sax, on the other hand, believes "'The beauty of Mars exists in the human mind'" (177). He reduces Mars to "'a collection of atoms, no different than any other random speck of matter in the universe'" (177). The argument developing here involves a dichotomy between value and fact that as yet, and for many more pages of the Mars trilogy, shows no hope of resolution or of budding into some other worldview. Ann is ecocentric in believing "'We are not lords of the universe. We are one small part of it'" (179). Sax is anthropocentric in believing "'We are the consciousness of the universe'" (178). Is an ethic that maintains cooperation between humans and the land possible with such diametrically opposed beliefs? The rest of Robinson's trilogy serves to answer this question by ultimately working toward a Red/Green synthesis.
Very little happens in Red Mars to suggest this eventual synthesis between the Red and Green worldviews and a viable model of stewardship derived from both. On the contrary, we begin to see an increasing fragmentation between the Reds and the Greens as the Reds begin to sabotage Green attempts to terraform the land. Just as unproductively radical, the Greens approach terraforming like the transnational corporations approach mining-that is, putting no limits on their effort to get what they want out of the land. The key elements of the terraforming debate thus seem too radically divergent and inflexible to promise an eventual synthesis. Sax's terraforming effort--the "Russell program"--"plans to terraform the planet by all means possible, as fast as they could" (169). This view lacks a land ethic because, as Leopold would have it, science becomes the sharpener of man's sword, accommodating the desire to impose human knowledge on the world in order to change it for unsustainable human purposes. Likewise, Ann's "hands-off attitude" lacks a land ethic; for in its fervent defense of the land's natural right to remain in a primitive state, it excludes humanity's inclusion in the biotic community, and in fact, sees humans as expendable burdens on the ecosphere.
It is interesting to consider, here, the symbolic importance of an incident that occurs at the end of Red Mars. Driving with eight passengers to escape a massive flood made possible by the Green terraforming efforts and Red sabotage of the mighty space elevator, Ann is distracted by the spectacle of the Martian sky and gets the rover stuck on a boulder. Frank Chalmers, the leader of the American settlement team, attempts to free the car from the rock and dies in the effort. With this incident, Robinson suggests that the Red and Green worldviews are in themselves inadequate ethical paradigms. The flood that washes Frank away is the result of the careless effort to transform the Martian surface as fast as possible. By the same token, and on a more symbolic level, Frank dies because Ann gets stuck on a rock, something that as a Red geologist she loves so much and would defend to the death.
As Red Mars ends with a land ethic yet to be established, so does Green Mars begin with the same Red/Green tensions that pervade the earlier book. In fact, the distance between Ann and Sax is further established early in Green Mars. Ann continues her pure scientific studies of Martian geology or areology; and though she is hesitant to identify herself with the Reds--by now an extremist group--she vows to join them after observing "the planet [...] melting under her feet. Disintegrated. Reduced to mush in some Terran cartel's mining venture" (128). In this same chapter, "Long Runout," we also find Sax pursuing what he believes in--the terraforming effort. He joins a biotech company that is working to change the Martian surface.
Having so strongly established Ann and Sax's differences, Robinson then brings them together in Green Mars for what turns out to be a pivotal debate regarding the land ethic of the trilogy. In their conversation, Ann and Sax establish themselves as opposites when they admit their respective support of pure science and applied science. Sax reflects on Ann's position, identifying the ultimate conflict between him and Ann as one between divergent perceptions of what land is: "He knew she believed in some kind of intrinsic worth for the mineral reality of Mars; it was a version of what people called the land ethic, but without the land's biota. A rock ethic, one might say. Ecology without life" (145). Vowing to protect her "rock ethic," Ann declares that "'Red resistance'" will curtail Green attempts to terraform Mars (147). Sax asks, "'what's the point of that, now?'" and Ann replies, "'Mars. Just Mars. The place you've never known'" (147). It is this latter statement that Sax, and readers of the Mars books, must consider when attempting to view the land from Ann's radical perspective; for Leopold's land ethic requires foremost that the land be "known" a certain way, a way that the economically based land relation and applied science would fail to see without the critical input of more environmentally conscious worldviews.
Sax begins to consider Ann's position as he studies the Martian surface and develops his own sense of place and being within the Martian environment:
Looking down the wild cracked surface of the glacier, he found himself thinking of [Ann]. Every little berg and crevasse stood out as if he still had the 20x magnification on his faceplate, but with an infinite depth of field--every tint of ivory and pink in the pocketed surfaces, every mirror gleam of meltwater, the bumpy hillocks of the far horizon--everything was, for the moment, surgically clear and focused. And it occurred to him that this vision was not a matter of accident (the lensing of tears over his cornea, for instance) but the result of a new and growing conceptual understanding of the landscape. It was a kind of cognitive vision, and he could not help but remember Ann saying angrily to him, Mars is the place you have never seen. (189)
Sax's vision of the landscape displays qualities that are indeed "Red." Its focus on the details of the landscape demonstrates that Sax is becoming aware of Mars as more than a scientific experiment. Sax's "new and growing conceptual understanding of the landscape," however, does not resolve the complicated conflict of perception between him and Ann. For immediately after Sax's seemingly pure scientific observation, he also begins to understand the root cause of their conflict: "he was seeing a Mars he had never seen before. But the transformation had come by focusing for a matter of weeks on just those parts of the Martian landscape that Ann despised, the new life-forms" (190). The conflict is thus one of paradigms, of Sax valuing life and desiring to steward this life, and of Ann valuing the primal landscape and desiring to preserve the areology of the pre-colonial Mars. By themselves, neither of these paradigms is conducive to a sustainable land-human, or in this case, rock-biota ecology.
While Sax may be adopting elements of Ann's Redness--even admitting to Ann, "'We should have waited before we started [terraforming]. A few decades of study of the primal state'"--Ann has yet to accept Sax's views on the value of human life (414). She tries to commit suicide at the end of Red Mars, and in Green Mars she admits she is no longer taking the gerontological treatments that will significantly prolong her lifespan. Additionally, as the second Martian revolution is underway at the close of Green Mars, Ann sees the revolt "as a chance to wreck all terraforming efforts and to remove as many cities and people as possible from the planet, by direct assault if necessary" (581). Ann's "rock ethic" is admirable for its attention to the intrinsic worth of the landscape, but it fails as a viable land ethic, because it does not propose to solve the problem of maintaining a sustainable land-human symbiosis. Instead, it obscures any useful discussion of sustainability by resorting to radical actions, to killing off humans.
Green Mars is thus a book about Sax Russell's intellectual growth and Ann Clayborne's intellectual stagnancy. Ann's contribution to our own thoughts about the land ethic goes beyond simply showing the limits of epistemological inflexibility, though. She makes a point about the historical effects of terraforming that draws our attention to Aldo Leopold's thoughts on landscape and history. As Leopold calls attention to the plant succession of Kentucky and speculates about other possible historical scenarios growing from other possible landscapes, Ann argues that terraforming Mars can only prevent the planet from ever becoming independent of Terran hegemony and overpopulation--in short, of ever supporting a successful revolution: "'When the surface is viable [...] they'll be here by the billions. As long as we have to live in shelters, logistics will keep the population in the millions. And that's the size it needs to be if you want a successful revolution'" (363). (6) Ann's observation, here, is wholly Leopoldian in that she sees the changing landscape as intricately connected--ecologically connected--to the course of political history; and it is this sort of perception that Leopold wants. "Is history taught in this spirit?" Leopold asks; "It will be, once the concept of land as a community really penetrates our intellectual life" (243).
So though Ann seems to hinder the trilogy's development of a viable land-human relationship by refusing to see human life as part of the ecological community, her steadfast attention to the importance of the landscape is instrumental in causing Sax, and us as readers, to see the land in new ways. Her Red paradigms also influence the congress at Dorsa Brevia, which drafts a temporary Martian constitution. Work point six of the document states, "The Martian landscape itself has certain 'rights of place' which must be honored. The goal of our environmental alterations should therefore be minimalist and ecopoetic, reflecting the values of the areophany" (389). Though terraforming will go on, point six does reflect back on Ann's declaration early in Red Mars that the planet "'is its own place,'" and thus planetary changes will be subtle, localized, and uninfluenced by heavy industry--hence the terms "ecopoetic" and "the areophany."
The land ethic of the Mars trilogy becomes more apparent in Blue Mars as Ann and Sax move closer to a romantic union, a union that in a critically utopian way involves not a compromise or a negotiation between the two opposite individuals, but an "intermixture of red and green" (66). Indeed, it is primarily Sax's initiative to achieve this intermixture early in the book that leads to a new ecologically literate paradigm for both parties. He desires that Ann see "the beauty of the new biosphere," to "walk over the land, and let it speak for itself" (96). In this desire, Sax also wants to see the land as Ann does. And he does:
The primal planet, in all its sublime glory, red and rust, still as death; dead; altered through the years only by matter's chemical permutations, the immense slow life of geophysics. It was an odd concept--abiological life--but there it was, if one cared to see it, a kind of living, out there spinning, moving through the stars that burned, moving through the universe in its great systolic/diastolic movement, its one big breath, one might say. (97)
That Sax's thoughts are so imbued with alternative concepts of life suggests a major breakdown in the Red/Green opposition that has thus far pervaded the trilogy. Sax's revelation can be expressed as a syllogism: If life can be abiological, as Ann says and as Sax is beginning to understand, and if to be Green is to value life, then to be Green requires one to value those components of the land previously believed to be dead. The Red/Green binary falls apart under this new reasoning, and indeed a new paradigm, an intermixture, emerges.
But as Sax desires a new intellectual paradigm, so does Ann. Her drive to revision the Red's revolutionary methods--to avoid the conflict that has killed many Reds and Greens--draws from Green values of biological life. Certainly Ann still advocates preserving Mars's primal state, but her increased political activism, her shift from advocate of radicalism to advocate of less harmful revolutionary methods, suggests that she, like Sax, desires a more viable land-human symbiosis, one in which humanity also has inherent value. That Ann wants "'to stain that green until it turns some other color,'" in fact, demonstrates her and Sax's parallel intentions; for they are both searching for other colors, other views of the land-human relationship (272).
Though much of the remainder of Blue Mars is punctuated with moments where both Ann and Sax seem to revert to their respective positions, which attests to the difficulty of synthesizing such opposing viewpoints, the conclusion presents a component of the trilogy's land ethic. As Sax comes to believe that what is important is "Not nature, not culture: just Mars," he finally breaks down the Red/Green, land/culture opposition (679). In his revelation, "Sax felt he had come over the years to love what Ann loved in Mars; and now he wanted her to reciprocate, if possible" (680). Thus he seeks out Ann's company, and as in Green Mars he apologizes to Ann for supporting rapid terraforming, which by now has created blue oceans and green life on the formerly red, rocky planet: "'I made mistakes. [...] I didn't see the--the beauty until it was too late. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry'" (711). As Sax apologizes and advocates a halt to further terraforming efforts, Ann now imagines a future with human life that must be protected: "'Better to die thinking that you're going to miss a golden age, than to go out thinking that you had taken down your children's chances with you. That you'd left your descendants with all kinds of toxic long-term debts'" (728).
Ann and Sax's romantic union represents a union between Red and Green political positions that goes beyond mere compromise. The new paradigm is a combination of the two viewpoints, but it is a synthesized combination that ultimately becomes, as Ann states, "'something entirely new'" (730). In the final chapter--in fact, in the final paragraph of the trilogy--we are left with what ultimately becomes a key component of the Mars trilogy's land ethic. Appropriately, we see this new "Blue" ethic through Ann's eyes. Walking on the beach with a child, Ann reflects,
Nowhere on this world were people killing each other, nowhere were they desperate for shelter or food, nowhere were they scared for their kids. There was that to be said. The sand squeaked underfoot as she toed it. She looked more closely: dark grains of basalt, mixed with minute seashell fragments, and a variety of colorful pebbles, some of them no doubt brecciated fragments of the Hellas impact itself. She lifted her eyes to the hills west of the sea, black under the sun. The bones of things stuck out everywhere. Waves broke in swift lines on the beach, and she walked over the sand toward her friends, in the wind, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars. (761)
This Blue ethic involves for Ann an appreciation of human life, intermixed with a strong awareness of land. It allows Ann to reflect on the value of humanity while she also reflects on the value of the environment that surrounds her. The Blue ethic represents a symbiosis between humans and the land that moves beyond a Red/Green, either/or binary. Instead, it places humanity and the land--the biological and the abiological--together as necessary components of a living ecology.
Conclusion: A Land-Human Community
Contrary to what Ernest J. Yanarella has argued, the "polyphony of subject-positions" in the Mars books does not act "as an authorial ruse to exonerate Robinson of the apparent responsibility for choosing or determining the outcome of the terraforming controversy and the fate of the Martian experiment" (280). Rather, Robinson's multi-positional narrative approach attests to his desire to move closer to utopia by encouraging readers to synthesize continually a complex array of political positions. One such array of positions, as this paper has argued, involves a multiplicity of economic, philosophical, scientific, and historical perceptions of the land. The Mars trilogy, as a series more about Earth than about Mars, requests that we work toward developing an ethic that places the environment and humans within the same community. In fact, we must not draw traditional distinctions between life and land. Instead, it is crucial that we shift our ontological paradigms to include the being of the land, to see community not in anthropocentric terms, but as a complex ecology of ideas, of people, and of places. Certainly, ecotopia--utopia--is such an ever-evolving, ecological state.
According to J. Baird Callicott, "what [Leopold] wishes us to conclude is (i) that we are members of a human community (now grown from the savage clan to the 'family of Man,' and in reference to which we have evolved ethical limitations upon our conduct), (ii) that we are also members of a biotic, or land, or ecological community, and (iii) that accordingly, we should evolve or assume environmental ethical limitations upon our conduct" (67). In the Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson wishes us to envision something similar. The utopia that he strives for through his science fiction places political, religious, philosophical, and scientific ideas into a crucible. And as John Boone becomes the "utopian social engineer" within Red Mars by synthesizing the paradigms of various settlement groups, so do we, as readers whose active participation is demanded by the Mars books, become utopian ecological engineers by reaching into Robinson's crucible and pulling out a fully synthesized vision of an eco-economic/areophonic/Blue, and altogether Leopoldian, land ethic (Franko 61).
* A version of this paper was presented at the 27th Annual Meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies in Orlando, Florida. A version also exists as a chapter in a thesis project entitled Speculating a Sustainable Future: Science Fiction and the Pedagogy of Ecological Literacy, available online at http://etd.fcla.edu/UF/UFE0000587/otto_e.pdf. I would like to thank Rebecca Totaro for her encouraging words at the SUS conference and Jim Wohlpart for his advice over the years. My thanks also go to Andrew Gordon, Sid Dobrin, and the anonymous reviewers of this paper for their helpful commentary, as well as to my wife Tricia for her constant support.
(1.) For more on the technological metaphors in Red Mars, see Bud Foote, "Notes" 62.
(2.) In Scraps of the Untainted Sky, Tom Moylan distinguishes the "critical utopia" from utopia in general. Critical utopias, emerging with the activist movements of Post-World War II America, "challenged any tendency toward [the] narrowly conceived and enforced utopianism" of earlier utopian fantasies of perfection (83). Robinson's Mars trilogy is of this critical utopian genre, for it refuses to locate faultlessness in any one of its characters' political positions, and instead makes as its project a constant "working towards" the ever-evolving state of utopia. Indeed, as I argue later, the trilogy becomes an eco-critical utopia as it engages Aldo Leopold's land ethic, which involves the type of recursive and interdisciplinary knowledge-building system that marks critical utopianism.
(3.) "Consider," Leopold states, "the settlement of the Mississippi valley. In the years following the Revolution, three groups were contending for its control: the native Indian, the French and English traders, and the American settlers. Historians wonder what would have happened if the English at Detroit had thrown a little more weight into the Indian side of those tipsy scales which decided the outcome of the colonial migration into the cane-lands of Kentucky. It is time now to ponder the fact that the cane-lands, when subjected to the particular mixture of forces represented by the cow, plow, fire, and axe of the pioneer, became bluegrass. What if the plant succession inherent in this dark and bloody ground had, under the impact of those forces, given us some worthless sedge, shrub, or weed? Would Boone and Kenton have held out? Would there have been any overflow into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri? Any Louisiana Purchase? Any transcontinental union of new states? Any Civil War?" (241).
(4.) In this passage, and elsewhere throughout Red Mars and Green Mars, there is also an implicit critique of Christianity; for Phyllis Boyle believes "'God gave us this planet to make in our image, to create a new Eden,'" while at the same time she becomes the foremost advocate of the space elevator and of the capitalist intentions behind it (Red Mars 171).
(5.) Dynes rightly warns readers that Hiroko's areophany suffers from a "narrowness of vision" (160). To develop Dynes's claim, Hiroko does present a dogmatic veneration for abstract values that is similar to the Kakaze, a radical anti-terraforming group. While the parallel may seem extreme, it is significant that as the Kakaze vehemently pursues Red ideology, Hiroko's group religiously pursues the areophany, frequently escaping political involvement by isolating themselves in the Martian south. And indeed, Red ideology and the areophany are both value-laden conceptual positions that disregard recursive modes of building a viable land-human symbiosis. Nevertheless, as I will argue later, it is in a synthesis of the Mars trilogy's various ecological paradigms that we construct the books' ultimate environmental message. So while we must be critical of the areophany's negatives, we must focus on what its ideas contribute to ecological thought.
(6.) Ann's contention stands in contrast to the earlier politico-scientific opinion of Arkady Bogdanov, who claimed that terraforming Mars would usher in a new era of human freedom, rather than of increased population and corporate control. As Arkady argues:
"We have come to Mars for good. We are going to make not only our homes and our food, but also our water and the very air we breathe--all on a planet that has none of these things. We can do this because we have technology to manipulate matter right down to the molecular level. This is an extraordinary ability, think of it! And yet some of us here can accept transforming the entire physical reality of this planet, without doing a single thing to change our selves, or the way we live. [...] We must terraform not only Mars, but ourselves." (Red Mars 89)
Here, as Yanarella notes, Arkady "sees in a terraformed Mars the possibility of a new beginning for the anarchist dream of a decentralized, egalitarian society" (275). Ann's position emerges in Green Mars after we understand the impossibility of Arkady's vision; thus her critical view of the landscape and political history is more valid. Nevertheless, both Ann and Arkady's visions are grounded in a Leopoldian awareness of the landscape as a key influence on human culture. Both are thus pedagogical, in a Leopoldian sense.
Abbott, Carl. "Falling into History: The Imagined Wests of Kim Stanley Robinson in the 'Three Californias' and Mars Trilogy." Western Historical Quarterly 34.1 (2003): 49 pars. 16 Sep. 2003 <http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/whq/34.1/abbott.html>.
Callicott, J. Baird. In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Albany: State U of New York P, 1989.
Dynes, William. "Multiple Perspectives in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Series." Extrapolation 42.2 (Summer 2001): 150-64.
Foote, Bud. "Notes on Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars." Science-Fiction Studies 21.1 (March 1994): 61-66.
Franko, Carol. "The Density of Utopian Destiny in Robinson's Red Mars." Extrapolation 38.1 (Spring 1997): 57-65.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac, With Essays on Conservation from Round River. 1949. New York: Ballantine, 1966.
Markley, Robert. "Falling into Theory: Simulation, Terraformation, and Eco-Economics in Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian Trilogy." Modern Fiction Studies 43.3 (Fall 1997): 773-99.
McClintock, James I. Nature's Kindred Spirits: Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Crutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1994.
Moylan, Tom. Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia. Boulder: Westview, 2000.
Robinson, Kim Stanley. Red Mars. New York: Bantam, 1993.
--. Interview. "A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson." By Bud Foote. Science-Fiction Studies 21.1 (March 1994): 51-60.
--. Green Mars. New York: Bantam, 1994.
--. Blue Mars. New York: Bantam, 1996.
--. Antarctica. New York: Bantam, 1998.
--. The Martians. New York: Bantam, 1999.
Yanarella, Ernest J. The Cross, the Plow, and the Skyline: Contemporary Science Fiction and the Ecological Imagination. Parkland: Brown Walker, 2001.
Eric Otto is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English at the University of Florida and part-time instructor of literature in Florida Gulf Coast University. He received a B.A. in Liberal Studies-English from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2000 and an M.A. in English from the University of Florida in 2002. His dissertation research focuses on the intersection between contemporary American science fiction and environmentalist thought.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2003|
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