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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



2312

by
Kim Stanley Robinson


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase 2312



Title: 2312
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012
Length: 640 pages
Availability: 2312 - US
2312 - UK
2312 - Canada
2312 - France
2312 - Deutschland
2312 - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely packed and well-presented future-vision

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 22/6/2012 James Lovegrove
The Guardian . 14/6/2012 M John Harrison
The LA Times A+ 8/7/2012 Jeff VanderMeer
Sunday Times . 1/7/2012 Alison Flood


  From the Reviews:
  • "The slim plot is a mere thread holding together a tour of a future so deeply imagined it seems real, with Robinson a wise, informative and optimistic guide. That 2312 is a love story too is simply the cherry on top." - James Lovegrove, Financial Times

  • "The tale of terrorism and interplanetary romance is so uncomfortable with itself that it's written in more awkward language than the rest of the book. Its ending is so contrived that you wonder if Robinson isn't undermining his vision in preparation for some as-yet-unwritten sequel. This is a shame, because the structure of 2312 is much more interesting than its plot" - M John Harrison, The Guardian

  • "(A) truly affecting personal love story. (...) Adding depth are chapters titled “Lists” and “Extracts,” which Robinson scatters throughout 2312 in a virtuoso display of kinetic exposition. (...) Perhaps Robinson’s finest novel, 2312 is a treasured gift to fans of passionate storytelling; readers will be with Swan and Wahram in the tunnel long after reaching the last page." - Jeff VanderMeer, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Fans of the Mars books will delight in this novel; new readers will be astonished by the depth, breadth and power of Robinson's invention." - Alison Flood, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Set three centuries in the future, 2312 imagines a solar system within much of which travel has become routine and fairly straightforward. Humans -- in a somewhat evolved (and often enhanced) form (and greater range of sizes) -- have made a mess of Earth, with sea levels having risen considerably and much animal life no longer surviving there, but it's still a significant (and, with a population of eleven billion, sizable) hub of activity -- not least because, also: "Earth's continuing clutch on space-dwelling humans is physiological". Mars is a fully terraformed world -- "shirtsleeve worlds, as some called them, with free atmospheres humans could breathe" --, with Venus and the moon Titan being worked on and strong candidates to eventually also be viable terraformed worlds. Other planetary and lunar presences include that on Mercury, where an entire mobile enclosed city, Terminator, -- "quite a bit bigger than Venice" -- moves around the planet on tracks at the speed of the planet's rotation. And there are almost 20,000 terraria in the solar system, asteroids which have been adapted -- generally by being hollowed-out -- to sustain whole environments; the majority of these: "function as zoo worlds", preserving life-forms that have or threaten to become extinct on Earth, as:

92 percent of mammal species are now endangered or gone entirely from Earth and live mainly in their off-planet terraria.
       The terraria also function as transporters, with people hopping on one or another to get around the solar system (along with other means of transportation, from space elevators on Earth to get off the surface, to more conventional space ships). Space travel does still take time -- and so also the book acknowledges: "It has to be said: the stars exist beyond human time, beyond human reach". Reaching anything beyond the solar system would take orders of magnitude longer -- and so the novel can focus on what happens within the solar system.
       Even here, things move slowly. The novel may be titled 2312, but the action takes place over several years. Unsurprisingly, various forms of terraforming, whether on the planetary or asteroid-terrarium level, are a drawn-out process, and plans are often very long term. And even on the smaller, human level, many events in 2312 don't exactly speed along. Conveniently, then, people have much more time at hand, as natural life-spans have been considerably enhanced with longevity treatments: the two major characters in the novel, Swan and Wahram, are 135 and 111 respectively at the beginning of the story.
       Both biological and technological enhancements are common by this time as well, with Swan, for example, having an artificial intelligence, a qube that is named Pauline, implanted in her brain. Pauline can be switched on and off, and Swan can choose to have her communicate solely directly with her or give her an actual audible voice. Physical forms also vary much more than in the present-day -- not least as far gender goes, with Swan and Wahram both having physically birthed a child, as well as fathered one. Written before gender-pronouns were more freely employed (a whole decade ago ...), 2312 refers to Swan as 'she' and Wahram as 'he' but, in fact, both are more gender-fluid characters -- Swan a gynandromorph (she has a: "small penis and testicles") and Wahram an androgyn. (Robinson does actually address gender-pronouns -- along with other aspects of gender -- in one of the explanatory chapters of 'Extracts' interspersed throughout the novel.)
       The basic story is fairly straightforward. It begins with the memorial service for Alex -- who, Swan explains, was not just her grandmother but: "She was my everything". A leading figure of the community, she apparently died of natural causes -- though Swan finds it suspicious, and she is not the only one. It also turns out Alex has left behind some messages, which Swan is to deliver. Alex was involved in some work which she tried to keep strictly off-line -- and which was and long continues to be kept from Swan, since with her implanted qube she may be too directly tied into the digital world. As it urns out, those Alex had been working with acknowledge about what she was concerned about that: "it has to do qubes" -- but Swan is long kept more or less in dark about exactly what it involves.
       A disaster on Mercury brings Swan and Wahram together, as they narrowly escape it. Though the event would seem to have been a natural disaster, there are indications -- and then proof -- that it was a targeted attack. It wasn't quite the catastrophe it could have been -- more near-miss than full strike -- but interestingly the apparent miscalculation involved suggests a human error -- even as the coördination involved obviously required reliance on artificial intelligence.
       Much later, a second, even larger-scale attack, this time on Venus, is thwarted only at essentially the last minute; again, Swan and Wahram find themselves near the action, caught up in it and then drifting in the aftermath. Even as most of the action is over very quickly in the attacks, Robinson nicely spins out the almost slow-motion fall-out both times, with rescue more or less assured -- but only eventually, not immediately. (Robinson can't resist going to the well repeatedly: at one point while on her own (more or less) back on Earth Swan also falls into what is essentially a hole, another variation on the novel's lost-and-(eventually-)found theme.)
       The plot is a modest mystery story, with an Inspector Genette also involved and the characters repeatedly crossing paths as well as going there separate ways until the last pieces fit into place and the nature of the would-be qube-conspiracy is uncovered and rendered more or less harmless. There are some interesting questions related to artificial intelligence surrounding this which Robinson plays with -- not least the question of whether artificial intelligence can have emotion -- but the perspective is entirely from those trying to figure out what is going on, and once the situation has been dealt with they're happy enough to sweep away the pieces. This is fine, though arguably a bit of a lost opportunity -- it would be interesting to go behind the scenes with those behind what is happening. But Robinson's broader interests lie largely elsewhere, and this plot is only the loose framework he uses to present the future-vision on offer here, and how humanity might have come to this point.
       Between the chapters focusing of the events around 2312 there are also short sections of 'Extracts', which give more background about various features of the times -- or, for example, the history of Earth and mankind from the present-day to the twenty-fourth century. There are also short chapters of 'Lists' -- which are exactly that, focused on variations of specific things. Using these together with what is woven into the narrative proper, Robinson manages an impressive job of world-building, suggesting a plausible vision of what might become of the Earth and the colonization of the closer parts of the solar system.
       Robinson is also interested in character -- especially Swan, the most full-fledged of the novel's figures. 2312 is a love story, with Swan and Wahram drawn to each other but also resisting, for quite a while, getting closer -- not least because his professional position, as an official representative from Titan, as well as her personality make for a variety of complications. Wahram understands -- and comes to accept -- that: "in the actual flesh she was a big bag of problems", and Swan is indeed an interesting, strong, willful and flighty character. Her passion used to be designing terraria, and she is an artist; among Robinson's nice inventions here are some of the art she appreciates and creates, goldsworthies and abramovics (as in Andy Goldsworthy and Marina Abramović). (Literature and film do not figure prominently in the slice of the new world shown here, but Swan and Wahram do share an appreciation for classical music.) Much-enhanced, Swan also has something of the post-human to her, a feature Robinson utilizes quite well, not least in Swan's restlessness
       Robinson sends his characters, and Swan in particular, all around the solar system, giving him opportunity to describe a variety of situations and conditions. A subplot at one point has Swan joining in with the restocking of Earth with animal life, another major leap. If the action, like the characters, at times can feel a bit adrift, the novel is never really baggy: Robinson crams a great deal in here, spilling out information all along the way (sometimes even just in the gushes that are the 'Lists'), and creates an impressive, large-scale world-vision. That does, to some extent overwhelm the plots -- both conspiracy and love-story, which both can feel almost incidental --, but overall it's still an engaging and interesting read.
       One might wish for a bit more focus, on one thing or another, but there's something to be said for Robinson's crammed-full approach too, and 2312 is certainly satisfying in more than enough ways.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 June 2022

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Links:

2312: Reviews: Kim Stanley Robinson: Other books by Kim Stanley Robinson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Kim Stanley Robinson has written several highly acclaimed works of science fiction.

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© 2022 the complete review

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