Not bad. Can definitely see that the writer is a leftist. Contains much "hard scifi" content--thick descriptions of topography, geography, meteorology, minerals, genetics, engineering--that stuff is difficult for me to read closely. The text is not, however, as some have complained, simply a long exploration narrative or scientific treatise, focusing only on the picayune findings of lab-coated poindexters; those complainers must have stopped reading in the third section, which is heavy on the scientific explorer thematic, but which recedes thereafter, even if it never completely disappears.
The volume opens with an assassination, but that's merely a prolepsis. By the time the chronological narrative catches up to the opening bit, we're more than half done with the book. I've never been sure, in general, what to make of that part of the narrative that chronologically occurs after the prolepsis. It's almost like the flashforward makes us focus on its moment, rendering the story that follows some sort of building-up to the out-of-sequence scene. That would make the prolepsis, kind of, the climax, and everything, chronologically, thereafter is falling action and denouement. It doesn't work like that here. The climax certainly comes chronologically after the prolepsis content (whether measured in terms of action & adventure or in terms of narrative & character development), even though the de facto function traditionally of the prolepsis is to make us deemphasize the stuff thereafter as potentially inconsequential lagniappe. So, yeah, it's bizarre, and I don't know what to make of it. The conflict that leads to the prolepsis scene is oddly handled; its direct causes aren't really at issue at all otherwise, and the indirect causes seem to be swept under the rug.
The book shines in the interactions between the various factions and personalities in the colonization. Some slick presentations of various items, such as a critique of the MMPI, a combination of Greimasian semiotics with Galenic medicine, plenty of left theory discussion, and engagement with islamic doctrine.
Plenty of cool things for the thoughtful reader--for instance: "that's a large part of what economics is--people arbitrarily, or as a matter of taste, assigning numerical values to non-numerical things. And then pretending that they haven't just made the numbers up, which they have. Economics is like astrology in that sense, except economics serves to justify the current power structure, and so it has a lot of fervent believers among the powerful" (269). Or: "History is not evolution! It is a false analogy! Evolution is a matter of environment and chance, acting over millions of years. But history is a matter of environment and choice, acting within lifetimes, and sometimes within years, or months, or days! History is Lamarckian!" (80) and "To be twenty-first-century scientists on Mars, in fact, but at the same time living within nineteenth-century social systems, based on seventeenth-century ideologies. It's absurd, it's crazy [...] it's unscientific. And so I say that among all the many things we transform on Mars, ourselves and our social reality should be among them. We must terraform not only Mars, but ourselves" (81). Or: "That's what transnational capitalism means--we're all colonies now" (356). Or: "As with many religious fundamentalists, business for her was part of the religion" (406).
Text contains not only one but two of the coolest moments of neo-luddite revolutionary sabotage that I've seen--completely badass and plausible within the scope of the setting and story. A few slick touches of awareness regarding simulations & simulacra, as well as the requisite anxiety-of-influence references to previous relevant moments in the subgenre of space colonization, but with careful ideological distancing from other mass culture products.
The narrative generally presents the perspective of revolutionists, whereas the fascists are fairly obvious in their retrograde opinions (those characters who sympathize with transnational corporate investment, 'course); it's not quite black-and-white, but it's tendentious enough to be predictable, with the narration focused on the environmentalists and anarchists. I dig all that, but it may annoy rightwingers (or de facto rightwingers--i.e., those readers who think of themselves as neutral and independent and apolitical and who therefore can't stomach books wherein the author's political opinions are presented--these are themselves political positions covertly held by such readers (as the text expressly notes) including the impossible requirement that an author be apolitical or nonpolitical or depoliticized in the writing--it's silliness, but common enough even among self-professed enlightened types). Some deft touches here and there regarding the law--it's not a legal thriller, but those details are important to the narrative.
Recommended for orgiastic areophanists, perfect liberals starving very liberally, and dead men threatened with hanging.