Fame has an intriguing effect on tragedy. The opening of part 7, “Guns under the Table”, sees the news of John Boone’s assassination spreading over Mars, each paragraph taking up a new perspective. This opening italic subchapter uses personal pronouns, focusing on the “we” and the “I” more than the omniscient third person narrative. Using this personal narration, Kim Stanely Robinson makes a commentary on how fame can make a man move from celebrity into martyrdom and legend.
Four consecutive paragraphs deal with the colonists of Mars learning of the news that John Boone has been killed, each beginning with “we were in” (384). Each paragraph takes up a new perspective, moving between narrators all over Mars as they tell their story about how they learned of their celebrity’s death. The whole ordeal mimics a “where were you when you learned JFK died” or more recently the September 11 attacks, though the World Trade Centers were still standing at the time of this book’s publication. John Boone, whether hated or loved, was known by everyone on Mars as this subchapter shows his death being instilled as a great tragedy in Martian life.
Within these stories, however, is a movement from celebrity into the status of a martyr and/or a legend. All of the “we”s tell about incredible things happening all over Mars: the sky going dark, meteors falling, lightning shattering his portrait, or even the power going out that sustained plant life in Underhill. It seems everyone has a tall tale to tell when it comes to how they received the dramatic news of his death. John Boone can no longer die like a normal human, he is The First Man on Mars, the first murder on mars, and so his death has to carry an impact that makes not only those who knew him to mourn but for Mars itself to mourn his loss.
The tail end of this subchapter tells a Martian version of the story of Paul Bunyan – an American legend. The story tells of how Paul Bunyan and another legend – Big Man – create the current Martian landscapes with their bodies as they punch, spit, and shit the surface of Mars. The story ends with Bunyan being slammed into Mars and dying, with the bacteria eating away at his bones. “Every one of those little bacteria said I am Paul Bunyan,” ends the Martian legend of Paul Bunyan, a parallel to the public reaction to John Boone’s passing. Like Paul Bunyan, John Boone has become part of the Martian landscape – a legendary Martian figure – that every colonist looks towards and feels connected to as without The First Man on Mars, there would be no Mars for them to follow to.