2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson


2312 is an amazing work in some ways, a fairly dull one in others. The book takes you 300 years into the future with plausible futuristic technologies, locations, scenery, and societies. From space travel to sex changes, it covers an incredible amount of ground, hitting on nearly all subjects of science fiction.

This was my first Kim Stanley Robinson novel, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know about his writing style or anything else that would bias my judgment. My judgment is biased enough as it is.

First, the scenery description and imaginative human habitats should be read by everyone (if there’s a way to skip through the other parts). The habitats on Mercury are particularly impressive as well as the asteroid-based terrariums.

The story starts with the death of a major political and intellectual leader named Alex. She left her friends an important task to complete. It is required to prevent calamity across the solar system. Swan Er Hong, one of her proteges and friends, is an artist, and terraformer with a bizarre appearance and personality. She is a Mercurial. Also there to help in this mission is Wahram, a toad creature, Inspector Gennette, a small person, and Kiran, a human-looking human living on Venus. The plot involves artificial intelligence turning on its human masters, political intrigue, and survival in extreme environments.

The portrayal of sex, gender, and family deserve attention. Robinson illustrates a future with various family arrangements as well as several interesting and bizarre alternative lifestyles. There are gynandromorphs (those having male and female genitalia), androgyns (those living bisexual lifestyle I think), and parahumans (human-animal hybrids). For example, on Saturn individuals form loosely-formed communes for the purpose of raising children then go their separate ways. This becomes possible thanks to life spans approaching 200 years.

It sounds extremely strange and weird, which makes it compelling. Imagine how strange and weird our lives our compared to those of 1713. Our embrace of women’s rights and female sexuality would freak them out to no end.

The exposition is enormous including interluding chapters of lists, encyclopedia entries, poetry, and random collections of words and phrases. Within the chapters there are long explanations of persons, places, and things. It is impressive in its size, detail, and the broad expertise needed to assemble it.

While some entries and explanations were fascinating to me, others were not. I think this is true of many readers. Everyone will find some subject that interests them and skip over the rest. The story follows a very deliberative pace in between the expositions, which made it a little frustrating. I can definitely see how some readers had serious issues with this book. Judging by the reviews on Goodreads, people either loved it or hated it. The characters speak in a heavy over-intellectual style that can lose you easily. There are dozens of neologisms and esoteric scientific terms that I didn’t bother looking up.

2312 is for those who love all things science and will go through the exposition with as much enthusiasm as the story. For those looking for an exciting story, great characters, and other traditional elements of normal fiction, this book is not for you.

It was nominated for a Nebula Award this year, which I think is a testament to the genre’s emphasis on ideas rather than style. 2312 is chock full of ideas. I give it 3 stars and recommend it for those who don’t mind the infodumping and heavy science load.

Reviewer: Jacob Foxx