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  1. #1
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

    2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

    Swan Er Hong, a notable performance artist native to Mercury, has her life abruptly changed by the death of her grandmother, Alex. As Swan is asked to investigate the project her grandmother was working on, her home city is subjected to a brutal terrorist attack. This sparks a series of journeys back and forth across the Solar system, from Mercury to terraformed Venus to drowned Earth and out as far as Io and Titan, as Swan and her allies attempt to discover the threat nature of the threat to humanity.

    2312 is Kim Stanley Robinson's first widescreen, big-budget, blockbuster SF novel in some considerable time. His recent novels (such as the recent Galileo's Dream or his near-future Science in the Capital trilogy) have been modest in their ambitions, but 2312 trots out the same Robinson who charted the colonisation of Mars in such fascinating, exacting and sometimes-frustrating detail over the course of three books in the 1990s.

    The novel works on several levels. On one, it paints a portrait of life in the early 24th Century where the bulk of humanity lives on Earth (and, increasingly, Mars) but the 'spacers' who have settled the rest of the Solar system hold increasing amounts of power, despite their small numbers. This portrait is vivid, rich and compelling. It shows Robinson's imagination at its most fertile, as he depicts Terminator, a city which rolls over Mercury's surface, permanently trying to stay on the nightside of the planet out of the fierce rays of the nearby Sun. Elsewhere he shows the terraforming of Venus as its thick atmosphere is stripped away and politicians debate on slamming giant asteroids into it to increase its rotation. Another section takes us to Greenland, where a huge damming project is underway stop one of the Earth's last few glaciers from melting into the sea. On Io people have to live in settlements which act as gigantic Faraday cages (to hold the immense radiation of Jupiter at bay), whilst in orbit around Saturn people go surfing on plumes of ice pulled out of the rings by the passage of the shepherding moonlets. As a grand tour of the Solar system, 2312 is constantly inventive and fascinating.

    On the second level, the book is striving for literary credibility. Robinson has always been one of the finest writers of prose in hard SF (not, it has to be said, a densely-populated field), and that continues here. He may be fascinated by science, by technology and by visions of the future, but he's much more fascinated by people, as individuals and as collective societies, and how they operate. As such the characters are richly-defined and textured, showing surprising depths as the novel develops. The prose is also finely-weaved but Robinson's long-standing tendency to interrupt it with infodumps remains an issue, although much less so than in his Mars Trilogy. Most notably, Robinson's writing keeps two potentially dull sections (one featuring characters having to hike along a thousand mile-long tunnel, the other featuring a character adrift in space) from flatlining and in fact elevates them to two of the strongest sections in the book.

    The third level, the actual plot, is where the novel hits the most bumps. In the Mars Trilogy Robinson portrayed a vision of the future where the characters had to deal with scientific hazards and the simple realities of day-to-day life in a hostile environment. Whilst there were antagonists, these were shown to be part of the naturally-arising problems of colonisation and the eventual need for independence. In 2312, however, Robinson has a much more overt and traditional thriller storyline in which mysteries need to be investigated and explored and a resolution reached. To put it mildly, this plot feels half-arsed at best and the novel improves dramatically when Robinson completely drops it for much of its middle third, instead focusing on his grand vision of humanity's possible future.

    2312 (****) is a credible and somewhat optimistic vision of our future, highly detailed and constantly inventive. Coupled with some rich characters and enjoyable prose, this makes for his finest novel in many years. However, some contrived plot twists and a dull thriller element weaken the narrative a little. The novel will be published in the UK and USA on 24 May.

    NOTE: The first half or so of the novel strongly indicates that 2312 is set in the same continuity as the Mars Trilogy. However, a detailed timeline given later in the book reveals this is not the case and the two works are separate, although 2312 does borrow a few names and terms from the older work.

  2. #2
    Boy, I'm really looking forward to this one. Thanks for the review!

  3. #3
    Intrigued diletante Nicolas's Avatar
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    Really enjoying it at the moment (300 pages in), especially the constant shift of themes and subject matters that Robinson explores, from genetic engineering to biology to the building of orbitals using asteroids to the nature of political revolutions and social change. This is an enormously rich book.
    Also really like the tension between the two main characters, one impulsive and extrovert, the other placid and reserved, almost shy.

  4. #4
    I gotta be honest, I'm having a hard time with this one. I was really looking forward to it (so much so that I visited my local Barnes & Noble every single day during my lunch hour in the week leading up to it's release in hopes of finding a copy early) but it hasn't hooked me at all. Granted, I'm not very far into the story at all, but I don't have that feeling of needing to continue like I've had in the past several books I've read. I'm gonna keep on reading, of course, and I hope that my initial impression is wrong. At the moment, however, my pre-release excitement seems unfounded.

  5. #5
    Couch Commander Danogzilla's Avatar
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    Interestingly Amazon has 376 pages available to read on their "Look Inside" feature, it's most of the book. Anyone considering it can get a very good idea of what the book has to offer there.

  6. #6
    Intrigued diletante Nicolas's Avatar
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    I did enjoy all the descriptions of life in the solar system of the 24th century as well as the numerous digressions. It is also full of interesting references to other SF works, the androgynous main characters and their romance a nod to LeGuin's Left Hand Of Darkness, for example.

    The story, however, is far from gripping. The pace is very slow, the characters seem too detached from the events unfolding around them. They are also incredibly lucky ones, surviving pretty much everything from radiation poisoning to being blown into space.
    The story also lacks a strong antagonist, so this meticulously and quite beautifully described world never truly feels threatened.

    There are enough interesting ideas to make it worth recommending, but it is more a sort of contemplative reading than a page turner.

  7. #7
    I have just finished it and I thought it was quite good. It's set in the same universe as his great Martian trilogy.

    One thing I found interesting is his emphasis on how Balkanized society is, this is in stark contrast to a strong tendency in science fiction universes towards large political units.

  8. #8
    Registered User Werthead's Avatar
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    I have just finished it and I thought it was quite good. It's set in the same universe as his great Martian trilogy.
    Nope. It's set in a parallel universe to one where the Mars Trilogy took place. Some place names are the same (like Terminator) but in 2312 Mars was colonised in the 2060s, not the 2020s as in the trilogy, and there was only one revolution, not two-and-a-bit.

  9. #9
    Registered User Luke_B's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Werthead View Post
    On the second level, the book is striving for literary credibility. Robinson has always been one of the finest writers of prose in hard SF (not, it has to be said, a densely-populated field), and that continues here. He may be fascinated by science, by technology and by visions of the future, but he's much more fascinated by people, as individuals and as collective societies, and how they operate. As such the characters are richly-defined and textured, showing surprising depths as the novel develops. The prose is also finely-weaved but Robinson's long-standing tendency to interrupt it with infodumps remains an issue, although much less so than in his Mars Trilogy. Most notably, Robinson's writing keeps two potentially dull sections (one featuring characters having to hike along a thousand mile-long tunnel, the other featuring a character adrift in space) from flatlining and in fact elevates them to two of the strongest sections in the book.
    I agree about the prose; some passages are stunning. I think the infodumps are handled in a very interesting way. I liked the way most of the world building is dealt with in interstitial chapters. This allows the proper chapters to focus on character interaction and avoided interruptions to the main body of text. I really enjoyed the playfulness of the interstitial chapters. There's that SFnal sense of joy in working out things like the lists and piecing them together from their context. My favourite interstitial chapter was probably the cookbook recipe for terraforming Venus.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post
    I did enjoy all the descriptions of life in the solar system of the 24th century as well as the numerous digressions. It is also full of interesting references to other SF works, the androgynous main characters and their romance a nod to LeGuin's Left Hand Of Darkness, for example.
    I loved the way he included references to other works as little Easter eggs. I spotted direct references to Gene Wolfe, Samuel Delany and J.G. Ballard. I’m sure there were others that I missed.

    Quote Originally Posted by Werthead View Post
    The third level, the actual plot, is where the novel hits the most bumps. In the Mars Trilogy Robinson portrayed a vision of the future where the characters had to deal with scientific hazards and the simple realities of day-to-day life in a hostile environment. Whilst there were antagonists, these were shown to be part of the naturally-arising problems of colonisation and the eventual need for independence. In 2312, however, Robinson has a much more overt and traditional thriller storyline in which mysteries need to be investigated and explored and a resolution reached. To put it mildly, this plot feels half-arsed at best and the novel improves dramatically when Robinson completely drops it for much of its middle third, instead focusing on his grand vision of humanity's possible future.
    Quote Originally Posted by Nicolas View Post
    The story, however, is far from gripping. The pace is very slow, the characters seem too detached from the events unfolding around them. They are also incredibly lucky ones, surviving pretty much everything from radiation poisoning to being blown into space.
    The story also lacks a strong antagonist, so this meticulously and quite beautifully described world never truly feels threatened.

    There are enough interesting ideas to make it worth recommending, but it is more a sort of contemplative reading than a page turner.
    The plot functions as little more than an excuse to move the characters around the solar system. As such, it is a necessary device but certainly not the focus of the novel. It is intentionally incidental, rather than “half-arsed”. I certainly would not recommend this book to people who require a gripping plot to pull them through a novel. As Nicolas says, this is a novel of ideas, but it also a very fun and playful novel and I found it a real joy to read. I think this is a book of dichotomies in a lot of ways. It is pessimistic about the future of this planet, but optimistic about the future of humankind; it is carried by alien characters from the future and it is full of postulation about technology and engineering, but the characters are also very relatable and sympathetic and there is a warm streak of humanity that balances out the hard science elements; it is a celebration of science fiction, but also a critique of the form and a exploration of its validity. I loved this book and I hope it wins the Hugo award for best novel nest year.

  10. #10
    Registered User gainespost's Avatar
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    Plot-wise, I had trouble with his Mars trilogy; it took some effort to keep reading sometimes. But I agree, some of his discription / imagery is absolutely stunning. Plus, I got to meet him in person in Melbourne a couple of years ago, which of course piqued my interest to read more of his stuff.

    'Looking forward to reading this book!

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