The protagonist is something that is in almost every novel, but Red Mars shirks the use of a single protagonist to the overarching story of the colonization of Mars. The first five parts of Red Mars jump from person to person within the original one hundred colonists, not allowing a single perspective to take charge of the narrative. There is no singular protagonist, only a sign that more than one person’s perspective is how Red Mars’s narrative and a society pushes forward.
I mostly want to write about this concept because this is an idea that I have been struggling with for a while, but has been more apparently in the opening of part five. John Boone is traveling from colony to colony, from workstation to workstation, just being famous and talking to people to see their perspective. The reader sees this chapter from his perspective, but he is often reflecting on the perspective of what others want from Mars. He jumps from the Japanese, to the Swiss, to Anne, to Sax, to Frank, and back to Maya. He believes that if he “visited one more settlement, talked to one more person, that he would somehow… get it” (pg. 284). This is the same struggle that I, as a reader, have faced while reading Red Mars, believing that with just the next part I will understand what John, Maya, Arkady, or Kim Stanley Robinson want or think should happen with Mars. However, the more I think about it I don’t believe that’s the point. I believe this shifting perspective is to show that a collective, a society, a colony of humans cannot rely on a single perspective to push a narrative. All of the original hundred within Red Mars are described by Boone as “single-minded” and their core group composed of mostly Americans and Russians (pg. 267). The “anarchistic” views of Arkady challenges these one track views of the major nations and their representatives, as he opens the floor to hear everyone’s perspective while still on the Ares. While Arkady certainly has his own singular goals, his mentioning of a multi-perspective approach to a new Martian society is what is being hinted at.
The factions that spring up challenge this idea, however. Many of these characters choose a side – including Arkady – in the push towards a new Mars. All factions, including the malleable Swiss, have their own views. The Swiss are even described to be “another impenetrable culture” by Frank during the first part of the novel (pg. 13). These contradictions and shifting perspectives complicates the narrative in more ways than meets the eye. Despite this, I believe that these shifts in perspectives allows for a broad view of Mars, and presents the reader with information and ideas about each faction to try to find a unified vision of Mars.