I’m about halfway through Red Mars now and it is just thrilling to be back in this fictional world again. Does KSR put a foot wrong in the whole 2000 pages of the trilogy? I think not. It’s simply a masterpiece.
But in addition to the pure enjoyment of it, I find myself mulling over a possibility: What about teaching an interdisciplinary course built around these books? It would be a way to explore, among other things,
- the distinctive social value of SF
- environmental politics
- the economics and politics of colonialism
- the future prospects of internationalism
- the nature of science and the Oppenheimer Principle
- aesthetics and human perceptions of value
- geology and areology
- robotics and automation in manufacturing
- designing politics from Square One (or what looks to some like Square One)
And that’s just a short list! So, friends, I have three questions.
First, does that sound like a useful and/or fun course?
Second, have I neglected any key themes in the trilogy?
And third, what might be some ancillary texts to assign? For instance, to help us about the ways that SF enables political thought, I might want at least some students to read Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed; on the possibilities of Martian colonization I might suggest Robert Zubrin’s The Case for Mars on the questions of what science is and what its ultimate values are, I might assign Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.
But I’m not sure what I might assign on the hard-science side. I’d love to find a book on robotics that is technically detailed but has some of the panache of Neal Stephenson’s famous report on undersea cables and international communication, “Mother Earth Mother Board,” but that might be too much to ask for. I’d love to find an introduction to geology that had some of the clarity and power of John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World but at one-tenth the length. Any help would be much appreciated.