The eagerly awaited 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson


2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Is there a tendency among us humans to always think that our own time is the endpoint of history? An assumption that things are basically going to continue the way they are now, only maybe a bit more polished. Science fiction can bring back perspective, and make us see that perhaps our piece of human history is just one small part.

The future as history that has not yet taken place is something Kim Stanley Robinson does very well. After a few books set mostly on Earth it's a joy to follow Kim Stanley Robinson to planets, moons and asteroids. He returns to the Solar system 300 years in the future, in a novel that deserves reading more than once. The year 2312 is pivotal for the future of Earth and of the balkanized diaspora of humanity.

On Mercury, Swan Er Hong is grieving her grandmother Alex when something terrible happens to her home city of Terminator. Alex was involved in some secret plans, and following them will bring Swan to Earth, to Venus, to Mars and to the moons of Saturn.

Swan Er Hong is one of the most interesting protagonists for a long time. She is fascinationg: moody and impulsive, with low self esteem, but paradoxically easy to like. She is very intense, dives into everything with a lot of energy. She also grapples with her shortcomings when it comes to people skills.

Swan embodies many questions about identity and continuity. She seems to be uncomfortable with herself, and has made an unusual amount of modifications to her body and brain. Does that make her posthuman, or just more human?

Of course, in this future almost everyone makes alterations to their bodies. If nothing else, in order to live longer. The longevity theme is continued from the Mars books, and has social consequences. And humanity is differentiating in their different worlds, dividing into various groups. Our old, worn and troubled Earth holds a special place, and is necessary for all of humanity in many ways. At the same time, it's full of seemingly unsolvable social and environmental problems.

2312 is a book that contains so much of everything we have come to expect of this author. There is texture to the environment, a sense of place and of personalities. There are grand stories of a changing humanity, medium scale stories of terrorism and emerging AI, and small stories of love and friendship. And there is the love of reality, the grounding in science. The only thing I find less prominent in 2312 than I have come to expect is the partying: the scenes where people just have fun. They exist, but are perhaps less exuberant.

The descriptions and infodumps are handled in a clever way, mostly by putting them in the form of short "Extracts" and "Lists" between the chapters. Some of these read like poetry. In this way a lot of facts can be included, without bogging down the story and without ever getting close to "as you know, Bob, ..."

 Gene Wolfe - Shadow and Claw (Book of the New Sun #1) Stross, Charles -  Accelerando Dhalgren -    Delany, Samuel R.

Kim Stanley Robinson examines some of the well worn science fiction tropes with a critical eye, and brings them to new life. Not much here feels taken from a standard inventory of science fiction ingredients, even it actually is. At the same time, you can feel the awareness of the science fiction tradition, old and new. There are lots of small nods and references, like calling one of the historical periods between our time and 2312 the Accelerando, or describing space as fugilin black (that has to be a reference to Gene Wolfe, who else ever uses that word?), or mentioning the Dhalgren sun. But of course Stan Robinson is just as aware of the rest of our culture, with references to other kinds of literature, and art, and music.

The soundtrack to this novel is Beethoven, by the way.