I start by saying that Red Mars has been, by far, the most interesting and engaging read of the semester for me, primarily because I have a sort of weakness, I guess you could say, with imagination. I must find myself grounded in “the real” or “the possible.” Red Mars, in many ways, has made me engage in a very real set of political and hierarchical value systems that the other science fiction books have not been able to do. Plus, the characters seem tangible and realistic, which I feel should be at the heart of any well-written story. If an author can’t emotionally connect the reader to the characters, something very, very important is lost.
What I would like to discuss in this post is historical reverence—and perhaps arrogance—to the historicity of America’s hierarchical value system. As is the case with most organizations, unique respect and attention is given to the “firsts.” In America, we reverence people like Cristoforo Colombo, our revered explorer; the pilgrims who founded the first colonies; and the Forefathers who established the Constitution. Red Mars similarly establishes the lives of the first 100, who are shown in what is a future history of the colonization of Mars, those to later be recognized as the pilgrims of a new planet. Red Mars, however, functionally demonstrates and exploits character flaws within these first 100, flaws that are shaped by political history, language, and personality. While in recent years, perhaps, the character blemishes of persons Americans have worshipped now for over two centuries—like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Christopher Columbus—have come forth (about the way they treated slaves, their sex lives, and their political pitfalls), ignorance is preferred. When we make statements like “that’s unconstitutional!” we are falling into the hierarchical bandwagon that assumes a document created 230 years ago meets our current needs. The reverence we place on people and documents tends to be founded in a modern arrogance of the accomplishments of these historical persons. I believe Red Mars is able to effectively show the arrogance that is built from historical people and traditions. America, especially, is shown as the arrogant nation—one that has grown to see itself as the world leader, the archetype for all to adhere to. English is shown as the language used to “accommodate the Americans,” purportedly because Americans are unwilling to learn other languages. American characteristics are said to be “big, loud, maniacally energetic, confident, and restless.” In other words, bombastic. But, America is also presented as a country of sheep, followers who blindly—and egocentrically—follow the traditions of what has worked in the past. Even, for example, the “Puritan streak in Americans, that sense that sex was wrong and something that men had to trick women into.” Red Mars shows, I believe, an incredible perspective into the way which our future histories are written by the pilgrims of today.
The question is then, of course, raised: who are the pilgrims, the metaphorical colonizers of today? Who is it that Americans will be calling the “first 100” 100 years from now? Certainly, the forefathers fall into that description, but I’m talking about modern political, economic, and social figures—people like Obama—that are perhaps, in their own way, shaping the way we will perceive the shaping of a country, a people, and a planet that people will revere years down the road. What are their flaws and what will they lead us into? What have people like Henry Ford done, after all, in this past century and what might be different if they were shaped by different “first 100s” of their time?