Moving Mars by Greg Bear
Moving Mars by Greg Bear
Tor, 1993, 500pp.
Regarding award-winning SF novels, that prolific fan of speculative fiction, William Shakespeare, once wrote in one of his ‘zines “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” I’ve often felt the same way, so I’m going to try to read a number of Hugo and Nebula winning novels this year to see whether they live up to the hype and are truly timeless works or whether their popularity was a flash in the pan the year they won.
First up (mainly because it was on my shelf and I’ve never read it) is Greg Bear’s Moving Mars which won the Nebula in 1994, as well as being nominated for the Locus Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. The title is pretty descriptive of the novel: it traces the political upheavals involved in the colonization of Mars that result in the planet being moved from its solar orbit.
OK, I can hear some of you diehards complaining about my having just giving a spoiler, but it’s the title of the book! And besides, the strength of the book — why it won the Nebula (or why I would have given it) has more to do with getting to that conclusion than the actual plot resolution.
In the Terran year 2171 (Mars year 53), the University of Mars Sinai is caught up in the power struggle between the new statist government and the decentralized BMs — binding multiples, the extended family syndicates. The statist government cancels the contracts of all the students, sending them home. Being like college students since the dawn of the university, they do what is natural to their make-up: they protest. Among the protesters is Casseia Majumdar and Charles Franklin, who meet for the first time during the protests.
After the protests, Charles and Casseia become lovers, but soon split and go their separate ways, Casseia to a career in politics and Charles to theoretical physics. Eventually, though, they meet again during Mars’s fight for independence and together they ensure that Mars will never be threatened by Earth again.
The power of the novel is not in the SFnal nature of the storyline — it’s actually not that thick in SFnal tropes (even though they end up moving Mars) — but in the political nature of the storyline. Moving Mars is a political novel about the power of sacrifice. The story is told in the first person by Casseia and follows her development from a self-centred college student to someone who is willing to sacrifice her security and even her life for the sake of Mars’s future.
While reading the novel, I felt it dragged quite a bit through the middle, but by the end, I could see what Bear was up to and why he made the choices he did. Although I had to work to get through the novel, I’m glad he did and don’t wish for him to have done it any differently. A second reading will probably bring greater enjoyment than the first.
So, in conclusion, I think Moving Mars has definitely stood up in the nearly two decades since its first publication. Even though there is a little flavor of datedness, Bear is dealing with issues that transcend time — the Big Ideas — and so the novel will continue to hold up, even when history has passed the era that Moving Mars deals with.