2) Moving Mars, by Greg Bear
This Nebula winner is the autobiography of Casseia Majumdar, Martian stateswoman, who is at the heart of an independence struggle that ends up with the entire planet escaping not just politically but physically from the rest of the solar system. All kinds of resonances in here from sf’s history – the three that came immediately to mind were Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, also his Red Planet and Asimov’s very early short story, “The Weapon Too Deadly To Use”. Plus the deadly nano-bots coming to life and devastating the human settlements, though a classic and almost cliched image of sf, were done very well here.
I really enjoyed this book and I’m rather surprised I hadn’t heard more about it from others. In particular, the main hard sf element of the plot, the acquisition by a relatively weak political player (the Martian government) of what is effectively a weapon of mass destruction, seemed to me awfully relevant to contemporary politics, if anything rather more so than when the book was first published in 1993. I guess that Bear’s vision of a revolutionary human society on Mars is less grandiose (though I think no less ambitious) than Kim Stanley Robinson’s massive trilogy which was coming out at around the same time, and perhaps his portrayal of how the political process appears to insiders – which I felt was realistic and well-informed – was insufficiently romanticised to leave a lasting impression in people’s memories.
I raised my eyebrows at first when Casseia was appointed to senior government office before the age of thirty (in earth years); but I had lunch yesterday with a prime minister (admittedly of a small and not-quite-independent European country) who was first appointed to that job when he was 28, and the circumstances described seemed to me to make the scenario just about plausible. And, of course, great stories are often told about unusual events.
Moving Mars scores very well on the sensawunda scale, better indeed than most Nebula winners. I felt it also worked well on the human level, with Casseia’s decisions and mistakes, both political and personal, convincingly portrayed. I have had my complaints about some past Nebula winners, but this one was a good call.