BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the year 2312, humanity has risen to the furthest extents of the solar system in a new, space-faring society, and a series of events force humanity to confront its past, and its future.
PROS: 2312 is a brilliant, epic science fiction novel that spans the width of the solar system in an exceptional future.
CONS: Plot is slightly underwhelming amidst the scale of the story.
Kim Stanley Robinson has long been known for his Mars Trilogy, depicting the massive changes that humanity wages on the red planet, and with 2312 he turns his attention to the Solar System at large. At points brilliant, at others strange, Robinson’s latest novel is a fascinating epic that spans years and billions of miles as two main characters, Swan and Wartham, travel back and forth as they investigate the destruction of a habitation on Mercury and the people behind it.
2312 is a slow read, and I’m glad that I took my time with it: it moves with a very deliberate pace. Unlike some of the hyper-kinetic solar system reads that I’ve read over the past couple of years, such as James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes and David J. Williams’ Autumn Rain trilogy, Robinson’s latest isn’t hurried to get to the point: space travel takes time, and as the story’s main characters move to and fro across the planets, it lends a very different feeling to the book that sets it apart from the rest of the pack.
That being said, 2312 gets very scattered at points, and it lacks some of the cohesion that I’ve enjoyed in other novels. The central focus of the novel concerns the Quebes, small quantum computers and a growing movement of unregistered and unaffiliated intelligences attempting to mimic human form. From point A to B to C is interesting, but the story takes a number of different paths to get to each point, highlighting various scientific parts of the solar system and terraforming, in addition to various character points and sub plots. While it’s all loosely consolidated within the book, and does eventually fall together, the end result isn’t quite as satisfying as all the others. The overall plot of 2312 seems to take a back seat to the scenery at points, and while I enjoy the view, I found myself wishing that he’d simply move the plot forward.
That being said, what impressed me the most was Robinson’s tour of the solar system. Frequently, I had to pull out my iPad for a fantastic app, Solar System (which is highly recommended regardless), to keep up with the book. Robinson did his homework, and broad chunks of this novel could pass for a basic textbook on our closest celestial neighbors. There’s an incredible sense of detail that only enhances the sense of grandeur that I got while reading. Similarly, Robinson’s musings on how one might terraform our system feels very logical, covering all of the logistics involved in turning inhospitable surfaces hospitable, from arranging gravity to creating an atmosphere and protecting a population from the sun’s energy. All along the way, we visit just about every surface from Pluto sunwards.
Robinson bucks the latest trend of dark, dystopian stories by going the opposite direction; 2312 is very much in the utopian ballpark, with a society of relative economic, sexual and societal freedoms that feels very alien when compared to today’s norms. This book drips with optimism about humanity’s advances and well being in the future, and it is a breath of fresh air that runs counter to the pessimistic view that the genre seems to have taken.
This isn’t a naïve vision of the future; rather, Robinson takes on a long view. Society certainly has its problems, as the book outlines over the course of the story, ranging from poverty on Earth to interplanetary war. Indeed, it’s the new habitations across the solar system that seems able to take advantage of the advances in technology and the societal effects, rather than the populations on Earth. Advances such as extended lifespans, Quebes and terraforming have opened up nearby worlds and asteroids to people, freeing them from the baggage that holds back society on Earth. The world that’s been created is a marvelous, extremely well thought-out one, and this book isn’t so much notable for its plot or characters as it is for the way in which humanity might very well occupy the solar system, and how strange we might become.
2312 is a thoughtful read, and I’m glad that I took my time while I read it. While slow and ponderous, I found myself struck by the concepts that Robinson was pushing forward, scientifically, and socially. This novel takes space opera and makes it truly epic in a way that I really haven’t read in a while, and imparts a sense of wonder in our surroundings that made this a very good read.