I attended Lone Star Con 3 in San Antonio, Texas last summer and while there I picked up Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, 2312. I assume he published it in 2012 so that the story took place exactly 300 years in the future. I had been planning on reading the book and since Mr. Robinson was also in attendance I bought it from a vendor and had him autograph the book. I had previously read his Mars Trilogy collection a few years back and greatly enjoyed them. Finally to note is that the book was up for many of science fiction literatures top awards in 2013 and won the Nebula for best novel.
The story itself is in my mind the story of Swan Er Hong, a Mercurian. During the story Robinson spends major parts of it developing her character and letting us see her thoughts and aspirations. The story starts on Mercury where Swan’s step-grandmother has just died. Swan lives in a city called Terminator which is in a domed enclosure that moves across the planet in front of the dawn line. The city is self-propelled on a thermally driven rail system and must stay in perpetual night or otherwise would burn up. After her grandmother’s death Swan is drawn into a secretive group of people on Mercury and the Saturanian moons that are investigating some strange developments dealing with “qubes,” quantum computers that may be artificially intelligent. Swan herself has a qube planted in her brain with whom she is in almost constant communication.
At her step-grandmother’s funeral Swan meets with Wahram, who is a key figure in this group, which is investigating the threat of the qubes. She goes to the Saturn moon, Io, to visit with Wang who designed one of the largest qubes in existence. While there someone or something attempts to attack the group and the attack fails. It is here that she becomes familiar with the group and two key players in the group, Wahram and Inspector Genette, who is a small, a genetically changed literally small human, and the principal investigator of the qubes.
Swan also visits Earth while on her return to Mercury and when she is attacked during a robbery befriends an Earth boy, Kiran, who she helps to escape from Earth. Continuing on to Mercury she leaves Kiran with a friends on Venus, which is being terraformed to make it hospitable for human life. This develops another part of the larger story and another threat to the planetary civilization. After her return to Mercury the story turns into somewhat of a mystery with the destruction of the Terminator rail system by a freak meteor storm which causes major damage to Terminator. Because of the destruction to the Terminator rail system Swan and Wahram must escape certain death on the surface of Mercury and during this escape a developing relationship between Swan and Wahram begins.
Mr. Robinson’s books frequently delve into politics and this one was no different. The solar system has been significantly developed by humanity and the primary plot line derives somewhat from the political structures. There is the Mondragon accord which is basically a political entity comprised primarily of all the various human settlements across the solar system other than Earth and Mars. Earth and Mars want to go their own way as they consider themselves much more powerful than the rest of mankind’s settlements and therefor strong enough to force things as they desire. These political structures are explored a bit in the story and are part of the plot line.
As with all Mr. Robinson’s books he involves his personal sensitivities to the environment and his ecological concerns within the story. Global warming has had profound effects on Earth and the parts of the story that take place there present these problems realistically. The oceans have risen over 30 feet above their current levels and of course this has changed the planet drastically. Most coastal cities have become recreations of present day Venice. The animal population has been drastically reduced and in many cases wild animals have been eliminated and the human population has grown to over 15 billion greatly stressing the capacity of the planet to support the population. The “reanimation” of Earth begins as the Mondragon group seeds Earth with native animals raised aboard the asteroid worlds and this is detailed in a couple of chapters in a most interesting way. The political fallout from this “reanimation” is explored briefly since the reanimation was unauthorized by Earth itself.
The other ideas Robinson developed nicely was the way humans have settled all the planets and their method of space travel. The interior of large asteroids have been terraformed and the asteroids turned into spaceship worlds on constant orbits from the outer to the inner planets and back. Travelers simply match velocity with an asteroid heading towards their destination and hop aboard. The asteroids are miniature worlds basically self-sufficient and modeled on many different types of Earthly biomes. They are also havens for many of the animal species that have become extinct on Earth.
In this planetary society people have changed and many are mixtures of the sexes. This plays a part in the story and is integrated well into the story and somewhat into the plot line of the characters. Social mores have obviously changed and evolved, because of this sexual revolution, within the planetary society. And the human life span has generally been increased although the treatments are not available freely to everyone. This society is integrated into the story to provide a background to develop the planetary society.
I found the book to be quite good but also noticed that, as I mentioned previously, this book is as much or more about Swan as the larger plot. I’m not sure that I really enjoyed it from that perspective. It spent a major part of the story on what Swan was thinking, and experiencing instead of developing the larger plot. Because of that I almost consider it the story of Swan primarily with the larger plot becoming somewhat of a background. I would recommend the book but be aware that it will throw new ideas at you concerning people and their differences as it moves along on a solar system wide mystery story.