FogCon Homework: Reading Red Mars and Six-Gun Snow White

I’m stoked to be attending FogCon this weekend, where Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne M. Valente will be honored guests. In preparation for the excitement, I’ve been doing some homework to mentally prepare by reading Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente. Joanna Russ will be the Honored Ghost, so I am currently rereading The Female Man.

I’ve also semi-recently read and reviewed Valente’s Palimpsest and Robinson’s 2312.

While both authors write very different kinds of books, they each present richly detailed universes.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Mars is the perfect blend of hard scifi combined with interesting characters and thrilling developments for me. The story involves the first exploration and colonization of Mars and is told from the POVs of several of the first 100 to live there. The diverse group’s divergent ideologies and perceptions of the planet result in tension, debate, and infighting, until it becomes clear that there are greater dangers coming from Earth.

Some of the characters are a bit annoying. I was not particularly fond of Frank, for example, who seemed both brutal and selfish. However, I loved Nadia and Arkady, who ended up being my favorite characters. Nadia was wonderful for her immense practicality and balances stance on things, loving the work of building and construction and solving problems. And within this practicality, there is also a passion that allows her to fall in love with Mars. Arkady is almost hilarious in his overzealous beliefs and is rarely practical, but there’s something about his over-exuberance that is charming.

Due to the varying points of view, assumptions are set up about each of the characters and events, which are then slowly unraveled later. It makes the story multi-faceted and fascinating. Though the novel is ended, the story of Mars and the first 100 is not finished, and I find myself craving the sequel to find out the end of their stories

Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente

One of the many things I love about Valente is how she handles fairy tales. A lot of times, the fairy tale tone gets lost in the retelling. Valente takes that tone and makes it thrive with her rich, lyrical writing style. Six-Gun Snow White not only keeps the original fairy tale alive in unique and surprising ways, but weaves it in with the styling of western dime novels and American folklore.

Snow White is an great character, able to shoot straighter and drink harder than any man around. She’s sharp and frowning and bitter. She rides hard and lives hard and asks for no grace or kindness from anyone.

The novel explores the complex weaving of mother and daughter relationships, with the absence of her biological mother, the cruel, bitter love with nails and beatings of her stepmother, and the hard, honest love of her seven adoptive mother-friends she meets in the woods, each an outcast and just as stone hard as Snow herself.

Six-Gun Snow White is short and a quick read with vignette-like chapters, making the overall plotting sparse as a fairytale would be. My one complaint would be that I wish this was a bit longer, as I’m not entirely satisfied with the ending, which is unexpected as well as both ambiguous and not. I’m not really sure how I feel about the ending, as I’m not sure if the final tone actually fits with the overall novel. However, the book as a whole was a fantastic experience.