Book Review: “2312” by Kim Stanley Robinson
The book reviewed is Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction novel “2312”; the reviewer is Andrew Robins, whose bio appears below the review.
I hope it will be the first of many reviews by both Andrew and other guest reviewers as let’s face it: the world needs more book reviews and book features!
Review: “2312” (Orbit 2012; 561 pp) by Kim Stanley Robinson
by Andrew Robins
This book deceived me. It starts off reading in the style of a future history, and after reading the first few chapters I was expecting this to be a story about ideas – and not characters.
I was partly right. It is a story about several very big ideas, and I will talk about these later on. But first of all a big “hats off” for the author. I ended up liking the main characters Swan, and Warham, a lot.
The author had a hard job, as one of the big ideas he was dealing with was the impact of extended lifespans on individuals and the societies that they form. I started off thinking that Swan in particular, was self obsessed and not particularly appealing. If you feel the same way when you pick up this book, then I recommend that you stick with it until you hit “the tunnel”. This section of the book was the turning point for me. I definitely was not expecting romance to be a part of the story I thought I was reading. The introduction of this element was deftly done as part of a process of wider character development that left me more interested in the relationship between Warham and Swan than I was in the wider story.
Which leads me to my main criticism of the book. The story arc is vast and at times as a reader I was frustrated by the fact that information was being deliberately withheld from the main point-of-view character. This made it difficult (or perhaps more work is a better description) to keep track of what looked to be numerous only vaguely related story threads.
What was the connection behind the involuntary (for the most part) re-wilding of Earth, a game of lawn bowls inside an asteroid terrarium, and a pebble bomb attack on Terminator city on Mercury, for example?
If I am honest, I would say that in the end I was not wholly convinced by the motivations of the shadowy hands that were behind most of the events that were investigated throughout the course of the book.
But I am reasonably certain that I wasn’t supposed to be. I don’t think the author ever intended to wrap this story up in a pretty package, with everything explained and all smoking guns accounted for. That might have worked with a smaller story. But one of the themes explored throughout the book was “What happens when human society gets so big that no one part can ever hope to keep track of what is going on for all of the other parts?” This was portrayed as being an almost inevitable consequence of humanity’s embrace of the “high frontier” and all the problems and opportunities that this brings.
This part of the story was convincingly told – and was ultimately satisfying for me. I am a sucker for orbital bombardments, solar shields, solar mirrors and terraforming Titan (and Venus, and Mars).
Another theme deftly explored, and for me I think the heart of the book, both in terms of the individual interactions between Swan and Warham, and the wider issue confronting society as a whole, was “What constitutes humanity?”
This issue is traversed in multiple dimensions throughout the course of the book – ranging from the purely physical differences between people, to the implications of embracing elements of our more animal (and in some cases alien), nature. Add into this mix humanity’s response to the emergence of artificial consciousness, and there is plenty of room for both the story and the imagination to roam.
I ended up enjoying this book a lot. It covers a lot of ground, asks some interesting questions in new ways and in new combinations. It also delivers some compelling characters, and (for me at least), a romance that both surprised and engaged me.
Well worth a look, especially if you enjoy work by Iain M Banks, Neal Asher and Neal Stephenson.
For more information on Kim Stanley Robinson’s writing, see his site here.
About the Reviewer:
Andrew Robins is a long time reader and sometime reviewer of science fiction, fantasy and history. People pay him to test stuff, mainly radios – which most of the time is more fun than it has any right to be. He is also the partner of “…on Anything, Really” blog’s Helen Lowe, but the views expressed in this review are entirely his, not hers.