In the previous article we saw all kinds of things inspired by the Red/Green/Blue Marstrilogy. In this post we will focus on just illustrations. We have covered in the past artwork by Ludovic Celle (twice) and Carlos NCT. Here are some other artists.
There are of course literally dozens of illustrators that have depicted the colonization of Mars, here I will display the ones that have explicitly mentioned KSR's Mars trilogy as an inspiration -- and it doesn't just stop at landscapes!
Dutch designer Frans Blok, a big fan of the Mars trilogy for many years, has created a wiremesh 3D model of the First Hundred's ship, the Ares:
Frans even used it to create a mock trailer for a blockbuster movie adaptation of Red Mars! (updated version - older version here)
Vancouver artist Travis Smith illustrated some scenes from Red Mars and did what few others have attempted: put a face on specific beloved characters! Are they how you imagined them? Here is an interview with him at Gizmodo. Here they are, with Travis' descriptions:
Maya on the Ares - From the chapter, ‘The Voyage Out’, an emotional moment in the Ares’ bubble dome. Here for Maya is reflecting on her goal and everything that she has done to achieve it.
Nadia in Underhill - The early days of construction in ‘The Crucible’. Here Nadia is listening to Louis Armstrong amidst the chaos of construction. Her character is reserved, so I imagined this movement as almost subconscious, her character is experiencing one of the happiest moments of her life.
Boone arriving in Burroughs - From ‘Falling into History’, John Boone visits Burroughs in order to meet UN bureaucrat Helmut Bronski. He is wearing a garment mentioned in the books (not specifically worn by Boone, but implied), a jacket made from a reflective copper-foil looking material that affords some radiation protection.
Closer view of Burroughs. The advertisements are a mixture of transnational and consumer companies. My assumption being that Burroughs is the one place on the planet a person might find a Tim Hortons or Starbucks coffee as it is one of the few settlement approaching the size of a city. The larger portions of the city would be revealed in the next 'shot' as the camera perspective would show something approximating Boone's view of the Valley Mesas beyond.
Chalmers on the Escarpment - Chalmers broods following the murder of his friend and rival Boone in the chapter ‘Guns Under the Table’. He has joined Zyek’s mining co-op, caught in a storm, he is on his own out on the Great Escarpment.
You can get a Mars trilogy feel from some of his other Mars art: domed cities, climbers up Olympus Mons, and more.
Last but not least -- Wellington NZ artist William Bennett, who did plenty of Red Mars designs a few years ago. And I do mean plenty! This might make this page heavier, but I wanted to display all 33 images here! There's a great level of detail -- you can display each image individually to read some comments. In some cases he has taken inspiration from the books and added some of his own ideas and concepts (such as logos of real-world companies).
The First Hundred training base in Antarctica:
Assembly of the Ares in Earth orbit:
First colonizers' habitats:
Guns (because why not):
Trucks and other vehicles:
Space elevator and Clarke base:
Martian consumer products (Philip K Dick would like this):
That's all for now! Suffice to say there's plenty of interest for a visual interpretation of these novels. One can imagine the above being artwork commissioned to be the basis for a feature film or television series adaptation of the novels... Personally, I like the design aspect but I wonder whether an adaptation can make the themes of the novels justice.
The trilogy is now over twenty years old and its legacy is far and wide. Here is a review putting it in context of other science fiction literature that have looked at Mars, another together with other novels that deal with terraforming, and another together with novels of space colonization. The whole trilogy and Red Mars in particular comes up often in book clubs and book discussions and general book recommendations -- even by actor Tom Hanks! or by explorers that cross the Pacific Ocean! See some reddit discussions about it here, here and here, and join an entire sub-reddit dedicated to the trilogy!
The trilogy has inspired people from all walks of life, scientists and artists both. The following is only a sample...
First, music inspired by.
Viriditas (!) is a progressive rock band from Hampshire whose first album, called "Red Mars" (2018), entirely focuses on that first volume. Lively atmosphere, prog rock guitars, choruses and lyrics that refer directly to events and characters of the book -- like Frank Chalmers' role in killing John Boone! We know that Stan is a fan (remember "The Soundtrack" section in The Martians?). Viriditas' second album is under production and will be called..."Green Mars"!
Next, London-based Mariano Capezzani's fresh 2020 album of electronic music, "Areophany", also entirely inspired by the world of the trilogy! It is an upbeat and inspiring trek of discovery of Mars. His earlier album, "Ares" (2019), also felt very inspired by KSR -- he calls it "the soundtrack for the exploration and colonization of Mars" and here he passionately explains the process of composing it, track by track!
Then there's "Acheron" (2016) by Lausanne-based SHALT -- an EP of clubbing music that was inspired by the Mars trilogy, "taking on the theme of artificial life extension and the issues (class, physiology, ecology, etc.) that crop up with it"! (interview)
How about games?
It was discussed among fans for years and in 2016 it took the world by storm: "Terraforming Mars" by the Swede Jacob Fryxelius, a board game very much inspired by KSR's Mars trilogy! A strategy game where you are collecting resources to terraform the planet, aiming for the levels of oxygen, temperature and water to sustain a biosphere. It is still ranked among the very top among people who know these things and has received five expansions since then (a review here). Following its success, a video game version was released in 2018 (a review here).
But there's more Mars trilogy-like video games!
In 2016, "TerraGenesis" was released; a game for mobile devices, players choose factions and settle planets (real solar system planets included) and set out to terraform them by manipulating real science-based biophysical parameters, with industrial processes or bioengineering (dedicated wiki).
In 2018, "Surviving Mars" was released; players are tasked with working with a space agency, building infrastructure, and managing resources to expand your colony into a full city, à la SimCity, inspired by "positive sci-fi" like KSR's (interview).
KSR might have based the trilogy on science from the 1970s and 1980s but the science in it still holds very well. Here is an article looking at the science of Red Mars, particularly its geological and planetary formation aspects.
However, since the 1990s there have been several developments: scientific findings from the robotic probes and a harder look at what it would take to sustain a colony on Mars, practically, logistically, psychologically. The discovery of toxic chemicals on the Martian topsoil (perchlorates) in particular has limited prospects of easily producing food on-site; together with solar and stellar radiation, they would even kill bacteria, as per this Scientific Reports article (popular science article about it here).
Then there's the issue of there not being sufficient CO2 on Mars to increase temperature and pressure sufficiently -- similar to Chris McKay calculations in the 1990s, this Nature Astronomy article calculates how much is available and how much would be needed and comes short, "stranding" any colony under a dome at best instead of out in the open (popular science article about it here, and video here).
Instead, studies now focus on how to make the best use of the materials locally present. For instance, this study published in Nature Astronomy looked at using layers of silica aerogel to create a shielding from radiation, increase temperature and allow for plant growth; first using imported material, then producing it on-site (popular science article about it here and here).
Mars habitability can even make the subject of a research project for university students -- see for example this group from Valencia, Spain, that developed Mars-adapted organisms and organisms relevant for terraforming, using synthetic biology and genetic engineering!
This Gizmodo article summarizes the main issues that scale down earlier dreams of a strong, blossoming independent Martian colony: psychological impacts, health issues from gravity effects to radiation effects to the unknowns of gestation in such an environment, soil toxicity, low temperatures and energy self-sufficiency, the large industrial effort needed to start terraforming... Many now conclude that, for the foreseeable future, we are a single-planet species and that "there is no planet B" to place bets on (see: Aurora).
There was a recent exhibition at London's Design Museum, "Moving to Mars", that tried to imagine many aspects of future inhabitation of Mars -- with technologies and practices that could be relevant for living on Earth as well, such as food production close to habitable spaces, circular economy and 3D printing (interview, visit article).
In 2021, there will be another Mars exhibition, in Barcelona's CCCB, "Mars: The Red Mirror", looking at the imaginary around Mars from a multitude of disciplines -- and should also feature KSR himself!
From art to science back to art.
In photographer Allison Davies' "Outerland", "a solitary interplanetary wanderer is lost in the spectacular vistas of alien worlds" -- very reminiscent of Ann Clayborne exploring Mars.
Miss those discussions between Maya and Sax about the colours of the Martian sunsets? Here's space illustrator Ron Miller's vision on what the weather on Mars might look like, with discussions of wind, dust and dry ice...
Science writer Robert Walkerimagines different outcomes of Mars colonization. Continuing on the Red/Green/Blue theme, he proposes a multitude of Mars colours based on the presence of dry ice, photosynthetic life, etc.
On to videos:
Aron Bothman's "The Red Witch" is a great little short film mixing stop-motion animation and CG and some hand-drawn animation. It follows "A geologist on Mars fights alone to uncover the planet's secrets before the green of terraforming covers it forever" and yes, that's exactly Ann Clayborne!
The video clip to Jamie xx's song "Gosh" looks like a very photorealistic rendering of the Mars trilogy! It was made by Erik Wernquist, whose previous video on the exploration of the solar system, "Wanderers", was covered on this site previously -- it was also inspired by the likes of KSR and appealed to the sense of awe and hope of this human adventure!
National Geographic's docudrama series "Mars" has no third season planned, but you can see their earlier documentary on the terraforming of Mars, "Mars: Making the New Earth", on YouTube.
In this odd Covid summer, what else can one do -- apart from waiting for KSR's next, The Ministry for the Future, that is? You might be interested by this compilation of links and artwork related to a story where things got worse due to a virus before things got better: The Years of Rice and Salt.
Did you know that TYORAS is one of the works of literature that is or has been aboard the International Space Station? I don't know though if an astronaut brought it there temporarily or if some paperback copy is still orbiting above your head every 90 minutes.
Comic artist Everett Pattersonset out to make one illustration per book of the novel -- here are the six that he actually published!
1. Awake to Emptiness
2. The Haj in the Heart
3. Ocean Continents
4. The Alchemist
5. Warp and Weft (missing!)
6. Widow Kang
7. The Age of Great Progress
For some more TYORAS-inspired art, here are some square paintings by Emily Poole.
For those into video games: a scenario based on TYORAS for Civilization 3 -- with the Mamluks, Hodenosaunee, Travancore and more!
"Alkebu-lan, 1260 AH": here is "a map of an Africa that was or could have been if history would have played out a bit differently" by artist Nicolaj Jesper Cyon -- a work of art with meticulous research that very much fits the world of TYORAS.
How about some music? This UK-based post-rock band chose the name for themselves: Years of Rice and Salt! (no longer existing?) Different style -- Minneapolis-based metal band Former Worlds was inspired by TYORAS' concept of a jati tribe being reincarnated (and by some novels of Ursula LeGuin!) for their first full album "Iterations of Time"!
And of course, you can head over to Matt and Hilary's KSR podcast that is advancing in its coverage of TYORAS, book by book -- currently on book 8 of 10!
Established in 2025, the purpose of the new organization was simple: To advocate for the world’s future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future. It soon became known as the Ministry for the Future, and this is its story.
From legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a vision of climate change unlike any ever imagined.
Told entirely through fictional eye-witness accounts, The Ministry For The Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, the story of how climate change will affect us all over the decades to come.
Its setting is not a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us – and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face.
It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written.
The cover was revealed in a KSR interview with Newsweek. HQ image here; cover design by Lauren Panepinto. A silhouette inside the structure of an airship, a tunnel at the end of which the sky is beautiful, hope and struggle: "light at the end of the tunnel—the possibility of getting into a new open field of possibilities".
In some ways I guess you could say that The Ministry for the Future is describing a new few decades that if enacted by the world community, would possibly dodge the bad parts of the futures I wrote about in New York 2140 and 2312. In all three books some people are trying to do things to get people into a better balance with Earth’s biosphere, but the earlier we start doing that in a big way, the less remediation and catching up we’ll have to do.
So the new book has the most intense focus on what we could do right now, and it plays off the creation of the Paris Agreement, which was a major event in world history.
KSR teases the topics to be covered in the new novel in his new monthly column in Bloomberg Green (of all places!). And the solutions are specific, concrete, immediately applicable. First, on the role of central banks in mobilizing resources for climate change adaptation and mitigation: Making the Fed’s Money Printer Go Brrrr for the Planet:
We have to save the biosphere from catastrophic heating. We also have a market that won’t invest enough in this project. So governments need to do it, by way of creating new money specifically targeted to pay for rapid decarbonization. You can think of this proposal as “carbon quantitative easing,” in tribute to the quantitative easing undertaken by central banks in the teeth of the 2008 recession.
Never make the mistake of thinking “efficient” is synonymous with “good.” All kinds of bad things can be achieved efficiently. Efficiency just means the most results with the least waste, so whether it’s good or not depends entirely on the desired goal. If the goal is prosperous people living in balance with a healthy biosphere, then a Job Guarantee, targeted at rapid decarbonization, habitat restoration, regenerative agriculture, and similarly necessary work, might be the most efficient course. If anyone doubts this, one has to ask first, are they doubting the method’s efficiency or the primacy of the goal itself?
Any resemblance to policy packages for a just transition to a low-carbon world, to many variants of the so-called Green New Deal, are not fortuitous. On the occasion of a public assembly in New York City last November organized by Columbia University's Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture, KSR wrote a piece on the Green New Deal -- the House Resolution itself, sponsored by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, and the idea, or ideas, of a Green New Deal as a tool to steer our efforts as a civilization towards justice and sustainability.
The writers of H. Res. 109 are to be congratulated. It’s notable that [...] they have decided to make human justice and equity major parts of the climate change mitigation project. [...] the seemingly permanent systemic injustice of American society, and the increasing inequality of the last few decades, are acknowledged and also tightly bound to both the explanation of the climate problem and the prescriptions for solutions.
[...] It’s thus possible to imagine a ‘successful’ but nevertheless dystopian response to climate change, in which democracy and people more generally are not trusted to be adequate to the emergency, and authoritarian or totalitarian governments must then attack the problem of technology transfer using ordinary people as shock troops to be sacrificed for a higher cause. [...] Against this bad scenario, the writers of H. Res. 109 have taken great pains to emphasize that any truly successful coping with the climate emergency will have to regard everyone involved as equally important.
Meanwhile! A few things have been going on that have made reality look even more like a science fiction novel! Kim Stanley Robinson wrote an essay for The New Yorker, "The Coronavirus is Rewriting our Imaginations", on how this coronavirus epidemic is changing our relationship to the future and how such a pause to rethink things and act in coordination is welcome.
For the past few decades, we’ve been called upon to act, and have been acting in a way that will be scrutinized by our descendants. Now we feel it.
We’re now confronting a miniature version of the tragedy of the time horizon. We’ve decided to sacrifice over these months so that, in the future, people won’t suffer as much as they would otherwise. In this case, the time horizon is so short that we are the future people. It’s harder to come to grips with the fact that we’re living in a long-term crisis that will not end in our lifetimes. But it’s meaningful to notice that, all together, we are capable of learning to extend our care further along the time horizon.
My younger son works in a grocery store and is now one of the front-line workers who keep civilization running. My son is now my hero: this is a good feeling. I think the same of all the people still working now for the sake of the rest of us. If we all keep thinking this way, the new structure of feeling will be better than the one that’s dominated for the past forty years.
The year 2020 will bring another Kim Stanley Robinson novel! The Ministry for the Future, a novel where we struggle and steer the anthropocene towards a good direction, is scheduled to be published in the fall by Orbit.
But before we reach that date, there's another KSR publication first! KSR is the Guest of Honor at this week's Boskone 57 convention, and he brings with him a book specially for the convention that he will present on Saturday, by the New England SF Association Press: Stan's Kitchen: A Robinson Reader:
In this book, Stan offers you a rare treat, a selection of his favorite pieces of his own writing, which offers a unique view into important ideas within many of his areas of interest. Stan has chosen examples of his entertaining fiction, including a band disaster, an exploration of the idea of whether Vinland existed or not, how a curveball might work on Mars, and his final Mars story.
Also included are insightful and wide-ranging essays on Gene Wolfe, Cecelia Holland, Joanna Russ, Stanislaw Lem, George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, and Chip Delany that should make you want to run out to find and read more of their works.
You’ll read of some of his optimistic and naturalistic visions of our world in essays on predicting the future, on utopias and dystopias, on his Antarctic adventures, on hiking experiences in the wild, and on the fight to name a mountain. This personal collection of prose and poetry is the next best thing to sitting in Stan’s kitchen, sharing a cup of coffee and conversation with the master.
A nice collection of pieces that Stan has written for articles that have appeared in press or online, along with extracts from his novels and short stories! I see things from The Martians, The Years of Rice and Salt, Shaman, and more. The NESFA Press page has the full contents. The lovely cover illustration by Tom Killion is pictured above.
A couple of high profile interviews to kick off the year, both well worth the read:
KSR was interviewed by the New Statesman: "What the hell do we write now?". With the climate emergency becoming a more and more important issue, what can a novelist do? and what can a science fiction writer in particular do? and what does it mean to be a "pragmatic optimist" today?
“What the hell do we write at this point in history?” he asks. “My utopia has reached this low bar: if we avoid a mass extinction event, then, ‘Yay! Leave it at that.’” [...]
“There’s what I call the technocrat class, a kind of HG Wells scientific meritocracy, and it’s for them to advise the political class: this will work, this won’t work, try that,” he says.
Failing to consult the technocrats can lead to “lunatic” suggestions, Robinson has found. The radical left’s position of leaving the remaining wilderness entirely alone won’t work, he argues, as climate change requires management. Yet interventions suggested by technophiles, such as sucking carbon out of the atmosphere with hi-tech “vacuum cleaners”, are equally problematic.
Robinson favours actions with multiple benefits, from growing more forests, to supporting women’s rights around the world and making agriculture “a carbon-negative business”.
How do you think the government’s or the public’s views of climate change have shifted since you wrote that book?
It has changed enormously and in a good direction. It is very encouraging. If I had made up the Paris Agreement [an international climate accord signed in 2016 from which the Trump administration has subsequently withdrawn the U.S.] in a science-fiction story 10 years before it happened, which I did not, everyone would have just laughed at me as a utopian, but that really happened.
There is more awareness of climate change as the overriding issue of our time. If we don’t deal with it, we’re inhorrific trouble. If we do deal with it, all kinds of other good will happen from dealing with it. That is almost a night-and-day situation from 15 years ago.
For more KSR writings: University of Minnesota Press has released An Ecotopian Lexicon by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy (editors), looking at new words and concepts to describe our new anthropocenic situation, and it contains a Foreword by Robinson. See also here for an interview with Schneider-Mayerson.
Also, the Three Californiasor Orange Countytrilogy is getting a re-release by Tor Essentials! The omnibus of some of KSR's first novels pile up to some 800 pages. The Wild Shore, The Gold Coast, Pacific Edge -- three possible futures for California and the world, ranging from the reconstruction of civilization in a post-nuclear war world, to the techno-urban Star Wars dystopia, to the long way towards an eco-utopia.
In an interview with Slate, KSR reminisces about writing the trilogy and his career-spanning effort to write novels that try to combine realism and utopia.
I began thinking of myself as a poet in the Snyder tradition before I discovered the science fiction.
The result [Pacific Edge] was so bizarre that I was dissatisfied on a number of levels, and I thought if you were going to do a utopia properly, it would need to be global, it would need to be historical. So The Mars Trilogy comes out of my dissatisfactions with the constraints I had set on myself with Pacific Edge.
Utopias are like blueprints and novels are like soap operas.
You can read an extract from The Gold Coast here -- written in the 1980s, when the Cold War was still a thing, it is still very prescient in many things and 2020 readers won't find the automated cars highway jungle too exotic.
In news around KSR:
University of Illinois Press has released their latest book on their Modern Masters of Science Fiction series, edited by Gary K. Wolfe: Robert Markley's Kim Stanley Robinson! The study covers Robinson's early career wit hthe Three Californias all the way to recent works Aurora and New York 2140.
Award-winning epics like the Mars trilogy and groundbreaking alternative histories like The Days of Rice and Salt have brought Kim Stanley Robinson to the forefront of contemporary science fiction. Mixing subject matter from a dizzying number of fields with his own complex ecological and philosophical concerns, Robinson explores how humanity might pursue utopian social action as a strategy for its own survival.
Robert Markley examines the works of an author engaged with the fundamental question of how we—as individuals, as a civilization, and as a species—might go forward. By building stories on huge time scales, Robinson lays out the scientific and human processes that fuel humanity's struggle toward a more just and environmentally stable world or system of worlds. His works invite readers to contemplate how to achieve, and live in, these numerous possible futures. They also challenge us to see that SF's literary, cultural, and philosophical significance have made it the preeminent literary genre for examining where we stand today in human and planetary history.
Robert Markley is Trowbridge Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His recent books include The Far East and the English Imagination, 1600-1730 and Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination.
Finally, Matt and Hilary's Marooned! on Mars podcast has covered in perceptive and tireless detail the entirety of the Mars trilogy's collection of apocrypha, The Martians! What a feat, three novels and a companion volume in fifty one episodes. Up next: coverage of Aurora should start soon.
We close with a photo that is Ministry for the Future-related!...