Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Published : Orbit (2012)
Awards Won : Nebula Award
Awards Nominated : BSFA, Campbell, Clarke, Hugo, and Locus SF Awards

The Book :

“In 2312, humanity has moved beyond the Earth.  Through great feats of creativity and engineering, communities of spacers now live on planets, moons, and asteroids throughout the solar system.  While the spacers are busy building countless new societies and ways of life, Earth is still overflowing with people and held back by ingrained problems.

Swan Er Hong lives in the city of Terminator, which perpetually circles Mercury just ahead of the deadly sunrise.  An unexpected death of a relative, Alex, leaves Swan with many unanswered questions.  It seems she may be expected to join Alex’s friends, including the toad-like Fitz Wahram and the small Jean Genette, in continuing her work.  Apparently, some qubes (quantum computers) have been acting strangely lately, and the consequences could be deadly.” ~Allie 

It looks like I’m still managing to review one KSR title per year!  This one, as well as a few other upcoming reviews, won’t count for any of my 2014 challenges, since I mostly read the books in 2013.  Also, if you’re wondering what happened to the review of Never Let Me Go, that was designed for a series on WWEnd, so I will post just that one here after it makes it through the WWEnd blog queue.

My Thoughts :

In a lot of ways, 2312 feels like a sequel to the Mars Trilogy, though it is a standalone story.  It uses a lot of the same ideas, in terms of terraforming and general philosophies, and features some attitudes that I could see developing from the narrow-minded hedonism of the young natives in Blue Mars. It is not a sequel, however, as the dates of the future history, as well as some events and developments, don’t follow the timeline of the previous novels.  I feel like, if the Mars Trilogy had been updated to extrapolate the future from our current decade, 2312 might have been a direct sequel to those hypothetical books. Having read the Mars Trilogy first gives a lot more context to many of the ideas of 2312, but it also somewhat robs them of their novelty.

The story moves at a pretty glacial pace. Unraveling the mystery of the qubes’ behavior could be considered the main plotline, but I think it would be incredibly frustrating if one were to read the novel with interest in that mystery alone. Long stretches go by with very little progress on that front, and the main characters were often not directly involved in the investigation.  The novel can also be read as a slowly developing romance, as Swan and her eventual lover find that sometimes differences in personality are complementary.  The main characters are also involved in a lot of interplanetary politics and projects, and all three of these plotlines end up involving the characters spending quite a lot of time traveling from one place in the solar system to another.

This constant travel provides an opportunity for long descriptions of various asteroid habitats, other settlements, ways of living, and so on, which can become rather dry.  One interesting aspect of this future was the fluidity of sex, gender, and partnerships.  For instance, spacers can modify their bodies in many ways, and using gendered pronouns is considered a mark of familiarity. Swan thinks of her herself as “she”, though she has both borne and fathered a child during her long life.  The story is also interspersed with chapters of excerpts and lists that provide more context for various aspects of the world.  While the plot moves along very slowly, 2312 gives a wide overview of the various human communities and experiences that are available in this fictional future.

Initially, I was not extremely fond of the main characters, but they won me over through the stories of their experiences, as I came to understand them more thoroughly. Swan was capable of creating great things as a habitat designer, but she seemed incredibly impetuous and immature.  She handled her long life by always jumping for the next possible experience.  Wahram balanced her energy with his stolidity, and sought his comfort in routine, a happy ‘pseudo-iterative’. Other notable characters include Inspector Jean Genette and Kiran, an Earther who Swan helped relocate to Venus.  Kiran was especially entertaining, as someone who quite accidentally becomes embroiled in a lot of political scheming.  In the end, I enjoyed experiencing some of the major events of the year 2312 through their eyes.

My Rating : 3.5/5

2312 is a standalone novel set in a world that seems similar to a future that might arise post-Blue Mars. The story involves mystery and romance, but the action is very slow and meandering, with lots of traveling across the developed solar system.  The novel is quite dense with information, as expected from Robinson, and the plot is full of plenty of descriptions of living spaces, experiences, and communities.  The two primary main characters, the mercurial Swan and saturnine Wahram (who are, in fact, from Mercury and Saturn, respectively), work surprisingly well together.  2312 explores a lot of the same ideas as the Mars Trilogy, but it remains an entertaining exploration of a complex future inhabited solar system.

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