Best known for his work with the Mars trilogy, and The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson is a visionary author whose works have challenged readers’ views about nearly every aspect of society, from government, to business, to global warming and religion itself. His latest novel, 2312 takes place three hundred years in the future, and provides a glimpse at a very believable humanity that’s spread to the other planets.
Synopsis for 2312:
The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity’s only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.
The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.
It’s always difficult to find fault with Robinson’s works. His use of vocabulary and stage-setting is without equal, and continues to impress in 2312 as well. It seems that the perfectly appropriate word is used in every circumstance, which enriches the strength of the story. He writes of many places and situations that humans have never before been associated with, but in a way that’s purely authentic; indeed, it would be thoroughly surprising if reality differs from Robinson’s depictions by much at all. He portrays a web of humanity that has spread to nearly every conceivable location in our solar system, and even beyond, by the later chapters of the book. From the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, to the terrariums built out of asteroids, the book reads almost as a history of the future.
As always, Robinson’s choice of characters is both excellent, and profoundly believable. Characters with real flaws always tell the best stories, and those in 2312 are not only realistic, but very flawed, each in their own way. The primary character, Swan Er Hong is moody, eclectic, often quick to anger, and not even particularly sympathetic, yet the reader is forced to care deeply about her, thanks to Robinson’s work. In the same way that the book seems to tell the history of events that haven’t yet happened, the characters in 2312 feel so real, it’s as if they just haven’t been born yet.
The dialogue is equally astute, and shows that these characters live in their world, and have been a part of it long before the reader picked up the novel. Though there are a lot of terms that should be foreign to the reader, they are somehow not. The author does a great job of weaving story, characters, and dialogue together as to make the page disappear, and the plot live on in the readers’ mind.
Kim Stanley Robinson books are typically slow-burning, and 2312 is no exception. Often times, it’s difficult to place exactly where the climax is coming from, as events necessarily build toward a specific point. However, 2312 does build up, only with small, but significant sections. The plot comes together very quickly, and once it does, readers will be rewarded with an excellent consolidation of seemingly minor plot points, that suddenly mean everything. The book takes place in so many locations as to be a whirlwind, but it never feels that way. Majestic vistas, from the bright side of Mercury, to the rings of Saturn, and even the shattered locations of Earth are portrayed perfectly in the book; it’s completely understandable how these locations have come to be the way they are by 2312.
Perhaps some of the most surprising aspects of this novel are the depictions of places like New York City, and the terrariums themselves. Terminator on Mercury is also an intriguing locale, though Robinson perhaps could have spent some more time describing and exploring that section of the book. Still, the idea of New York City as a drowned metropolis, yet being converted into a bustling Venice-like city of glass towers reflecting on water seems magical. Most works that detail New York City being flooded seem to portray people as abandoning it to rot and collapse back on itself. It’s refreshing to find an author who sees how people would likely really see the city. It’s also unusual to hear New York City sound as if it’s better for having been drowned.
For all the good this novel does, however, there are a few things that tend to get in the way of the enjoyment. The challenges to genders in 2312 seem rather confusing, and are never explained particularly well. It seems that the idea of male and female have been transformed tremendously, and yet it never seems to affect the characters all that much. With the exception of a sex scene, it’s almost as though gender doesn’t matter, yet Robinson goes to great lengths in certain sections to describe the various genders. It seems that in only three hundred years, gender is essentially removed from the equation, which feels somewhat far-fetched in this novel. Still, it’s perhaps a unique insight into how Robinson sees us moving forward as a species, and the trends that today’s societal roles see changing.
2312 does a fantastic job of building a new fiction universe for Robinson to continue working in. The book itself seems to tell only a part of a very large story that takes place in this futuristic reality of 2312, and it would truly be a shame to not see more of this particular future that he has so masterfully created. 2312 is world-building at its finest, and no author accomplishes it quite as successfully as Kim Stanley Robinson.
– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown