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2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Book Name: 2312
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Science Fiction
Release Date: May 22, 2012

2312 is set, rather unsurprisingly, in the year 2312. A time when scientific and technological advances have helped humanity to spread out and inhabit the solar system. Humans have terraformed anything they can land on into something wonderful, so now they can beach it up in the centre of an asteroid or walk the surface of Mercury.

Mercury is where the story opens and we meet Swan Er Hong, our protagonist, as she narrowly manages to get back to the city of Terminator before the sun’s rays vaporise her. Terminator is a technological marvel that holds more than a few secrets, which all begin to unravel with the death of Swan’s friend and mentor. Swan, a lady who used to design new worlds, soon discovers that she’s embroiled in a plot to destroy them. What follows is a huge story that covers the expanse of the solar system and strips humanity back to the bones.

Kim Stanley Robinson writes in a meticulous and concise way, which brings both its own positives and negatives. He doesn’t pander to the reader or assume that they have never read a sci-fi novel before, so he doesn’t spend too much time detailing every little thing he references. Instead, he opts to naturally drip feed information and descriptions throughout the book. Personally, I really like this style of presentation as it usually allows the dialogue and the story as a whole, to come across naturally while still offering the reader a detailed insight into the carefully crafted sci-fi universe. The problem with this style of narrative though, is that it can sometimes come across as tough to follow, which 2312 certainly suffers from.

Fortunately, this is then nicely offset by the information chapters of text between the main body of the novel, which for me, keep the novel moving. These information chapters are presented more like science reports, and detail the more interesting aspects of the universe such as the terraforming of astral bodies like asteroids. They serve to expand the universe of 2312 without breaking the more natural tone of the main story.

Kim Stanley Robinson is a man who loves to get his science right. When creating his Mars Trilogy, for which he is arguably best known, he apparently spent over fifteen years on research to get the science and thinking as realistic as possible. These science chapters of 2312 were written with this same loving attention to the natural world and were by far my favourite parts of the book.

2312 is an incredibly dense and heavy going novel. There are times when you will have page after page that is just a slog of a read. In fact, there were many points when I found myself speed-reading pages just to get through the dense conversations and finish the book. This is never a good thing for a novel. These dense chapters are then juxtaposed by short or pointed chapters, which serve to push the story forward at a quicker pace. Unfortunately, these shorter chapters, or even scenes in chapters, can sometimes be so rapid that the plot and storytelling can suffer horribly. An example of this is when we meet Kiran who goes from being a stranger/street tough to friend to official stowaway to spaceman in the space of only two or three pages. I actually found myself pretty annoyed at this, as it was as if I had been cheated somehow (silly I know). It just felt like this plot point had been jury-rigged into 2312 simply to flesh out the story a bit. This kind of thing – things just randomly appearing from nowhere – happened more than once throughout 2312 and although not too frequently, it happened enough times to be noticeable (and irritating) so please be advised not to read this book when you’re incredibly tired.

My biggest criticism of 2312 would have to be the voice of the characters. If the oft-odd pacing niggled me, then the characters themselves gnawed my skin. The key characters work well and Swan in particular is a fairly compelling protagonist who is both inquisitive and interesting enough to help drive things forward. What I kept finding though, (and perhaps this is just me but still) is that the dialogue often felt stunted, almost disjointed and unnatural. There were times when I would be annoyed at the characters for not saying ‘this’ or asking ‘that’ or at least thinking these things while saying something else. In comparison to his sci-fi peers, I have never read an Iain M. Banks or an Alistair Reynolds and had the same recurring and infuriating problem with characters.

Despite my moaning, 2312 is still a very good story. The imagination and scope of the plot is incredible. The descriptions are wonderfully vivid and from the opening scene where Swan is sunwalking, to the very last chapter, Stanley Robinson proves himself to still be one of the master world builders in modern sci-fi. In terms of a future setting it feels both better thought out and more viable than many other sci-fi novels currently on the shelves. The novel does an excellent job of pulling all the plot threads together and the pay off at the end really is well worth the read but that’s only if you can stick with it long enough to get there.

The Bottom Line

A good story that moves forward well but is marred by not-wholly-convincing characters and a dense writing style. I don’t think it’s likely to be your new favourite book but it’s certainly worth a read.


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