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  • "The Scientist as Hero"Representing Climate Science as Politics in the Mars Trilogy
  • Brent Ryan Bellamy (bio)

Science is Politics by Other Means.

Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson's 1990s utopian feat, the Mars trilogy, represents science and scientists at a planetary remove from Earth. Starting with the colonization of Mars, the trilogy tracks science and technoculture as they are harnessed to remake the red planet in Earth's image. In so doing, it follows the work of science in three distinct contexts. First is the planetary-settler science of the "First Hundred" and the early climate science of Martian terraforming; then follows a kind of corporate science harnessed to produce space elevators and solar mirrors, element and mineral capture from asteroids, and dome-habitat construction; finally, a postrevolutionary science emerges, a matter of research for its own sake.1 Though the trilogy certainly satisfies a rigid definition of science fiction ("it has to be about science"), Fredric Jameson claims that it can only ever offer a representation of science.2 Plato makes a parallel point about war in Homer; as realistic as it sounds, one cannot learn how to be a great general by reading the Iliad. And yet such representations have the ability to make vivid the embedded character of science (or war) in the political and economic spheres. "Science is politics by other means"—Robinson's riff on Carl von Clausewitz's oft-cited phrase, and Foucault's reversal of it, provides a glimpse of the way beyond restrictive relationships between technological and energic path dependency and the pursuit of knowledge.3 Here, the meaning of "science is politics by other means" can be seen in the way Robinson [End Page 156] uses science as a narratological conceit in the trilogy: it makes available the geological history of Mars, it offers a unique toolset for human survival on an uninhabitable planet, and it shapes the creation of a self-determined existence beyond capital's instrumentalizing logic.

Rather than its framing of science, critics of the Mars trilogy focus on its revolutionary aspects and its modeling of democratic process. In "Tumults of Utopia," K. Daniel Cho focuses on revolution; in "The Theoretical Foundation of Utopian Radical Democracy in Kim Stanley Robinson's Blue Mars," William J. Burling looks to the Mars trilogy as a utopian model for what he calls radical democracy; in "Multiple Perspectives in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Series," William Dynes Notes that, as with 1976 Viking Orbiter images of a so-called face on Mars, readers may see what they want to see in the politics of the trilogy.4 In "Reduced Ecologies," Ursula Heise argues that science fiction uses biological scarcity as a framework to understand which "environmental conditions shape human ethics and social organisation," as well as the extent to which "humans themselves shape these conditions."5 Robinson frames science against a number of different political backdrops, including revolution and ecological struggle. I am more interested here in what the various experiments, discoveries, conferences, and breakthroughs reveal about the place of scientific endeavours vis-à-vis the utopian and ideological dimensions of the novels than what they say about actual science itself or than the story they tell of colonizing, settling, terraforming, and politically seizing the red planet. The way the trilogy treats science, at any given moment, reveals much about the relation of knowledge production to the mode of production, the political aspirations of the population, and the climate of the planet. In particular, this article asks what the limitations placed on science and scientists in the trilogy reveal about the bonds on the scientific imagination in the real world and how such relationships have structured the dominant discourse of climate change in the new century as one to be debated rather than acted on with haste.

Though the Anthropocene is a phrase never uttered in the Mars trilogy—these books preceded discussions of the Anthropocene by more than a decade—they are still entirely about the post-Holocene epoch.6 The trilogy imagines massive sea level rise taking place back on Earth, making this story world version of Earth contemporary with the current moment of ecological crisis. This...


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pp. 156-177
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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