Who Got It Right (Q&A question, author review)
Hal Clement did get it right all the time (with one notable exception, for which he pleaded forgiveness in a later foreword - when can a sailboat move faster than the wind: broad reach - running at a right angle to the wind. (The sail would still need constant trimming, velocity related angle of attack.) Hal Clement is no Andy Weir. A few unrealistic premises are allowed. A typical setting would be a weirdo type exo-planet. Permissible but strange. Mesklin novel: a flying classroom visits a high-G world. Iceworld: a core family (terrestrial) engages in tobacco smuggling with aliens, their rather inept Yakuza class. (Timeline: Great Depression to Eisenhower Years). Curious notions abound. The circulatory system of the aliens shunts liquid sulfur. It takes all kinds of ichor. Earth is at first perceived as a frozen wasteland. The more recent "Half-Life" novel is set on Titan and deals with bio-engineering (title pun).
Kim Stanley Robinson. That one will take longer. KSR gets his physics right and the poetry is great (Walden and nature related) but the Brecht related insights into deep history are questionable, even as the provided roadmap for a post industrial future, regardless of the provided vistas, which are sweeping enough. For the sake of leverage: the Mars colonists make Brecht's 'Caucasian Chalk Circle' (written in exile in 1944) everything but their national anthem (Hamlet is certainly less en vogue) after they have shaken off the shackles of earth based multi-nationals. It is either 'Oklahoma!' (1943) or 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle'.
Brecht's play is reputedly based on a 14th century Chinese novel. More palpable influence, the big skedaddle in 1921 (who will make it into Wrangel held territory, who not). In particular the anecdote of the grand piano that was packed into the last train to leave town (some deserving fellow refugees were denied seats). Brecht enhancement, the pompous bourgeois/kulak/church-going ci-devant (all timelines are mixed up in this musical medley), his better half, forgets the first born son, destined for leadership, but salvages various suitcases full of precious, Paris made apparel. The 'chalk circle' in the title refers to the ensuing tug-of-war . The people versus the nobility. The object of the contest is the neonate who is placed in the chalk circle. Preordained outcome, parental custody rights should go to the more deserving party. Some Scriptural overtones (Book of Kings II, Salomon).
The forerunner of the play was the 'The Augsburgian Chalk Circle'. Set against a backdrop of weak central power (exactly what fascism was not) and religious warfare in the 17th century. The play pokes again fun at the well-to-do but ignores the fact that all were bled. The 'oligarchs' first (the free cities were regarded as concentrated source of wealth, ready for plucking, the peasantry only after that had played itself out). The only winners were entrepreneurial warlords (autochthonous as well as introduced). Technical term, in present day lingo: a system exploit. It is hard to do this fact justice if you are beholden to class warfare scripts.
Brown shirts, in the play it becomes iron shirts, were a reality in the 30ties, even as organized hooliganism. The reality of 1944 was manpower shortage and solidarity in misery. Bearing on the political struggles of independent Mars in the 23rd century, I pass. The play does not even discuss underground shelters. The notion that White Russian emigres should parachute into the no man's land between a retreating Wehrmacht and advancing Red Army troops and try to set up shop there is more than surreal. Most emigres would probably have preferred to parachute directly into an active volcano. Some playwrights make time flow backwards for reasons better ignored.
The Swiss banking system figures prominently in Mars trilogy. Stripped of all transcendental trimmings, the Swiss, having invested little into the initial colonization venture, are among the first to recognize the insurgents. The moral is unclear. It is implied that Swiss banks are a completely different kind of animal, in no way beholden to BlackRock principles. What can be conceded, some potential customers rate a free cup of java, others, particularly if they behave like Martian plenipotentiaries, a free walking tour on a nearby glacier (in the occurrence, the 'Jungfraujoch' - whatever is at hand).
Likewise contrived, earth based multi-nationals have to rely on spies to keep taps on advanced aircraft production on Ares. We do things better. Same ploy as in 'Shaman', where the 'hot' issue is snowshoes. Baseline, spiritual Cro-Magnons against materialistic throwbacks. (The 'Shaman' novel is set in a time when the Thames was still a contributory to the Rhine, the big U-turn. A North-Sea outlet was blocked by formidable glaciers. - Incidentally, a golf caddy script. A prisoner of war, prospective shaman, has to hand the Northern priests/chieftains various surgical and not so surgical instruments during arcane power ceremonies. He is allowed to eavesdrop on high level gossip - the right season for sea lion clubbing, we are left with only a two years supply of blubber... He should have been able to make a fortune at any local commodities market.)
The Mars trilogy contains a dichotomy. KSR wants to keep Mars exclusive. 5 star Swiss hotel rating and rarefied Davos air only. No riffraff, no shanty towns near space elevators. This time we do it right. He also tries to incorporated the mandatory amount of freedom fighting. Armstrong to Houston, we are Free Luna know, see my crossbow, buzz off. Compromise: the protagonist, technically one of the protagonists, round-robin set up, bears a name which would make any Dalai Lama blush with envy.
The Mars trilogy of KSR may be heads and shoulders above purely sentimental Mars scripts (say Ray Bradbury's). To compare apples with apples: it should be lined up with alternative military fiction. A lot of writers are spot on when it comes to the description of historic weapon systems.
Others authors who tried their hand at hard sf: Larry Niven (flawed ring worlds), Karl Schroeder (centrifugal universes), Charles Sheffield (space elevators, in Arthur C. Clarke's footsteps), Robert L.Forward (propulsion by mirrors), Geoffrey A. Landis (Mars crossings).