Red Mars is the first novel in Robinson's science fiction trilogy on the colonization of Mars. There are several major topics that are addressed in Red Mars however they are less about science or technology than they are about society. These topics include issues like intolerance, economic instability, political conflict and environmental destruction. The major themes in this novel include the pursuit of a utopian society and the challenges of diversity.
Each of the topics is appropriate in illustrating these themes. For example, the clearly implausible hope of a creating a utopian society on Mars is undermined by clear examples of cultural, racial and religious conflict as well as the debates over what type of economy and political structure to establish, and whether to proceed with terraforming Mars or preserving its environment, all of which arise out of the inability to manage the diversity of its pioneering inhabitants.
The language of the novel exhibits its science fiction characteristics primarily in the scientific and technological terminology that is used throughout the novel but also in much of the imagery used to describe the settings surroundings. For example, in describing Mar's great northern dunes Robinson submits, "the sand was a charcoal color, tinged with purple and rose, a rich relief to the eye after all the red rubble of the south". On the planet's southern highlands, "wildly pocked in every direction, with the raw, primordial lunar look that saturation cratering always had".
There are a number of terms and concepts that contribute to a feeling of estrangement when reading the book. From the start, terms like Martian culture , piezoelectric plastic membrane , "frozen ball of oxidized rock" and references to the trip to Mars and a distant Earth work together to create a sense of alienation with the novel's setting, its characters and their purpose. Although the concept of reaching or even colonizing Mars might no longer be considered that far fetched or implausible, the scientific and technological devices necessary are yet to be conceived or fully developed. The fact that the author does not strive to introduce new or largely contrived science and technology however, makes many of the technologies as they are employed in the novel clearly stuff of science fiction but nevertheless familiar, which eventually contributes to achieving a better orientation with the novel's plot and setting.