The structure of Red Mars is in eight parts, with each one using a different viewpoint character (with two of them repeating earlier viewpoints). They cover about 35 years of the early colonization, settlement, and early terraforming of Mars.

The descriptions of the climate and conditions on Mars are probably the best there’s been (I haven’t done extensive reading of fictional portrayals of Mars…), and is obviously one of the primary purposes of the novel. Several of the characters spend time wandering around the surface of Mars, so there’s descriptions of several parts of the surface, though not enough to really give it a ‘travelogue’ feel.

The characters themselves range all over, and the differing viewpoints do a lot to show the strengths and weaknesses of several, though some important ones never do get fleshed out. Most of them aren’t really thrilling reads however, with Nadia being the main likeable character in the lot, mostly because early on she’s having a lot of fun building things and being perpetual troubleshooter.

The colonization aspect runs into trouble though. The initial ship arrives, and they land in the midst of lots of supplies that had been shipped and landed by remote ahead of time. And then… they start uncrating and using the supplies to improvise a basic settlement, and figure out what everyone is going to do. There is no way that the first few months would not have an extremely detailed plan of what was to be done, and what the initial settlement layout would be. Sure, there would be unexpected problems that arise and have to be improvised around, but that would be within the confines of a plan to get everyone into working living arrangements, instead of arriving, and then debating problems with radiation exposure.

Earth is never shown up-close in the novel, but its made clear that the political situation is disintegrating. Presumably, things were well enough in 2026 that a major effort could be made for one hundred people and a lot of equipment to be sent to Mars. But there’s talk of things going downhill from the start. By the end, apparently Earth is having major problems, and Mars is the ‘new frontier’, where people are being sent in horrible conditions to mine for resources.

At this point we’re closer to the beginning date of the novel than 1992 when it was written. I’ll note that it’s also part of an early ’90s trend to see business taking over everything by accumulating more power than most governments in the near future. Of course, here it is assumed to be manufacturing and aerospace that form the core of the ‘transnationals’, instead of the communication and media conglomerates that tend to be on top today. In another couple decades, it’ll probably be something else ‘on top’ of the business world.

Overall, its an ambitious book, that delivers well on the focus of its ambitions, and I can see why it got the Hugo and Nebula, but it falls short in places, making it merely an okay read.