Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 couldn’t have come out at a better time — in the wake of the Curiosity landing, the Voyager spacecraft leaving our solar system, and the true colour images of Saturn and all of the other space discoveries that have happened this year, it’s the perfect book to read in a time where it looks like our dreams of one day colonizing our solar system just might not be completely out of reach after all. As the name suggests, 2312 takes places in the year 2312, where humans have succcessfully colonized Mars, Mercury, are in the process of terraforming Venus, and have colonized many of the outer planet’s moons, very similar to Cowboy Bebop. Earth is still habitable, but is overcrowded, and most of the ice caps have melted, or are in the process of melting, which has changed much of the landscape from what we know today. For all our technology (humans are also able to enhance themselves, allowing them to live 200 years or more, and asteroids are hollowed out and terrformed for food, and as sanctuary for the many plants and animals that no longer have a home on Earth), none of it is any good for fixing Earth, and our home planet is almost entirely dependant on resources from space. This means that the “spacers”, as those who choose to live off-planet, are much wealthier than those on Earth, and also have access to far more opportunity and comfort, and tensions between Earth and the many governments of the planets and moons are high.
The book’s main character, Swan Er Hong, was once a world designer, and she designed many of the asteroid worlds that dot the solar system. But for now she lives on Terminator, the main settlement on Mercury, which runs on a set of tracks to perpetually keep it away from the scorching rays of the sun. She has been there since the beginning of that city’s founding, and her grandmother was even the defacto mayor of the planet. But she has recently died, under rather mysterious circumstances, and Swan is pulled into her web of intrigue, and finds herself finishing her grandmother’s work.
Robinson is a master of speculative fiction (if you haven’t read The Years of Rice and Salt, get your butt out there and do it, because it is one of the best pieces of speculative fiction out there), and he does not disappoint here. This is a future that is impeccably thought out and realized. It is something that could be possible 300 years down the line, and he does an amazing job of explaining most aspects of his future vision, with the exception of the talls and smalls, which I didn’t entirely understand (why are some people huge and some not? And how small were the smalls? I was never sure). The world building and characters are definitely stronger than the plot, which is fairly predictable and expected. It’s definitely the characters that bring you back for more. I don’t want to go into this too much because it will spoil probably the best part of the book, but everyone, from Swan’s computer that lives in her head, Pauline, to the human beings, have their own distinct personalities and quirks and foibles.
One of the best things about this book though, is that ultimately it is a hopeful one. This is not a dystopian novel, and that in itself makes it incredibly refreshing within the genre. You finish it and you feel hopeful for the future. I cried for most of the end, but it was a happy cry. This almost never happens. It’s a very special book.