Moving Mars by Bear, Greg, 1993

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Moving Mars, by Greg Bear, is one the most well written and amazingly plotted political SF novels that I think has ever been written. Its the story of a colonial Martian culture with strong roots to its own world that is threatened and eventually attacked by a very powerful and cynical Earth. Its also the story of the political maturation and growth of one who becomes the grandmother of Martian culture, as well as the story of the development and application of the Theory of Everything. And on top of all of that, this book could easily serve as the exemplar in a class on world-building.

The major conflict in this novel is whether or not Mars should unify. At the beginning of the book Earth, which politically dominates an entity called The Triple (made up of Earth, its vassal state of The Moon, Mars and orbital Belt colonies), wants Mars to unify so that they can exploit its resources more easily and have a better chance at realizing "The Push," or interstellar colonization. As things were, Mars was governed by a series of blood-linked mini-governments called Binding Multiples ("BM"), each of which tried to fill in a vital industry or sector in a modern society. Many Martians fought against unification out of a fear that cultural identity would be lost in the transition, and ultimately won the first battle in that war after a university student attempt at civil disobedience goes horribly wrong. Casseia Majumdar, one of the students involved in the uprising, goes on from those years to enter into politics. The action of the book follows Casseia's maturity from a misguided student given to extreme and over-blown reaction to a highly experienced senior member of the Martian government who nevertheless is given to the same extreme reactions in her later years. Casseia and her mother-in-law after several years begin pushing for statist unity again, something Casseia fought earlier, but this time Earth's position has changed too. In the interim a Martian research group that was sponsored by a renegade Lunar BM on Mars called Cailetet (and funded secretly by Earth), had started to make serious headway into something called the Bell Continuum, an application of ultra-high level physics that would literally allow mankind to twist reality to do whatever is wished. At one point in the book Casseia effectively segregates Calietet BM and cuts off information flow to Earth, after which Earth believes Mars has made significant breakthroughs in the science. Earth moves to keep Mars weak and fractured out of a fear that if unified, Mars will have the resources to finish the research and will pose an extinction level threat to Earth. The conflict escalates and Earth strikes Mars a horrible blow in the opening days of a war. Casseia, as the president pro-tem on a near devastated Mars, however, shows true power by accessing the Bell Continuum and instantaneously transferring Deimos, one of its moons to Earth orbit and threatening to ram it into Earth. The war dies down for a time, until Earth has a chance to fill in the information gap between it and Mars, and then attacks again, this time in a war of genocide. Casseia, cut off from the rest of Mars, must make the decision whether to destroy Earth in an attempt to save Mars, and more importantly to get vengeance for generations of hostility and the war, or enact a plan to save Mars and spare Earth a mutually assured destruction.

The plot in this novel is amazing and alone makes this book worth the read, but the setting also is fantastic and worth the time it takes to digest slowly. Mars is sensibly cast as a cross between the colonial east coast United States of the 18th century and the expansionist west coast United States of the 19th century, with the technological know-how of the 22nd century. Bear does a very credible job of depicting colonial mentality, including an inferiority complex over the political power of Earth and the necessity of relying on it for high-tech products, sexual mores of a colonial society, political aspirations of a fractured group of small landowners, aversion to cultural evolution that is often found in a new society that has worked hard to get where it is, and much, much more. Significant time is also spent on archaeological evidence of a now extinct Martian ecosystem and aerology, all of which is relevant to the plot of the book. Casseia goes also to Earth for a political summit, and Bear gives vivid descriptions of a nano-transformed Earth that relies on a near-instantaneous communications standards that have completely transformed the Earth economy called "dataflow." Dataflow, nanotech, hydrogen power, AI and probably most importantly, psychological therapy have turned Earth into a utopia that is guarded viciously by supra national policy makers that become ever-more obscure as one moves up the ladder. By the time of the war not even Earth knows who is calling the shots anymore.

In all my SF reads, I can honestly say that I have never come across a novel that describes the politics of fear better than this novel does. The cultural clash is so well woven into the setting that it often feels like I'm reading a history book, and not a novel. I have not even mentioned the characters, which are equally as amazing. Bear's voice does ramp up the scientific jargon in many parts of the book, but he never leaves the reader scratching his or her head, save for one place, and a reading of his novella Heads will solve that. Bear ties all his threads together very well, and leaves none of the action, science or philosophy unexplained. This is another one that I cannot recommend to you enough to buy, read and keep.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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