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Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit, 561 pages

Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson has travelled and worked in different parts of the world (including Washington, DC and in Switzerland) with his wife, Lisa, an environmental chemist. His work has garnered many awards including the Nebula Award ("The Blind Geometer" and Red Mars), the Asimov, John W.Campbell, Locus and World Fantasy Awards ("Black Air") and the Hugo Award (Green Mars).

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Interview: Kim Stanley Robinson
SF Site Review: Galileo's Dream
SF Site Review: Galileo's Dream
SF Site Review: Galileo's Dream
SF Site Review: Sixty Days and Counting
SF Site Review: Fifty Degrees Below
SF Site Review: Forty Signs of Rain
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2002
SF Site Review: The Years of Rice and Salt
SF Site Review: Antarctica
SF Site: Kim Stanley Robinson Reading List

Past Feature Reviews
A review by D. Douglas Fratz

Kim Stanley Robinson is a unique treasure in contemporary literature: a hard science fiction author in the utopian mode. He is virtually alone in his ability to create futures -- or alternate pasts -- that are not only interesting, but thought provoking and even inspirational. When reading a Robinson novel, you can believe that smart, knowledgeable people of good will can make difference, and that science and technology can be used for the benefit of not just a few, but for everyone and everything.

2312 is arguably Robinson's best novel to date in terms of hard-SF extrapolation. It paints a picture of a world three centuries hence that it is easy to believe -- and easy to want to believe -- could come about. It is filled with a plethora ideas and themes, some quite original. It is effectively told in a multi-media style adopted from John Dos Passos, the best science fiction novel since John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar to use this mode. It has complex characters that are intelligent but fully sympathetic when one fully gets to know them. And it has a compelling narrative that conveys mysteries and suspense while never resorting to the use of a frenetic pace to keep the reader from thinking too hard about whether what is happening really makes sense. Robinson's pacing encourages the reader to keep his brain engaged at all times.

In the 24th century, mankind has spread throughout the Solar System, from Mercury (where a moving domed city, Terminator, moves on a track to stay out of direct sunlight) to Saturn (where mankind lives on Titan and other moons) to Earth (which is in somewhat dire shape after centuries of climate change and over-population) to Venus (which is undergoing radical terraforming) to Mars (already terraformed). Throughout the system, thousands of asteroids have been hollowed out, spun up, and used to create mini-ecosystems called terraria, some of which contain ecosystems and species no longer found on Earth, and many of which are put in eccentric Solar orbits that allow their use as a mass-transit system, in conjunction with space elevators on the Earth and other major planets. Small quantum computers, called qubes, have been used to create rudimentary artificial intelligences. Humans have extended life spans of more than two centuries (as in some earlier Robinson novels), and there are new genders beyond male and female. These are just some of the marvels among which sets his story.

The story starts on Mercury with the unexpected death of the influential grandmother of Swan Er Hong, who finds that she has been left messages for herself and others that she must deliver, including one to a colleague in near Saturn. This leads her to meet, among others, Fitz Wartham, a Saturnian diplomat, and inspector Jean Genette, who is investigating mysterious occurrences which he believes could be related to Swan's grandmother's death. After unexplained incidents on Titan and Mercury (where Terminator is destroyed and Swan and Fitz must spend many weeks walking underground), it becomes clear to them that there is some kind of conspiracy that involves qubes. Their peregrinations (occasionally together but mostly separate) throughout the Solar System seek to solve this mystery, with numerous other goals intervening, including trying to help Earth's ecosystems recover (with no help from Earth itself).

The novel's complex, convoluted narrative also supports a diverse cast of interesting characters, whose complicated natures are somewhat slowly revealed. Swan in particular, early in the novel, has the feel of a self-absorbed, impetuous twenty-something, but is slowly revealed to be more than a century old, and a well-known former terrarium ecosystem designer. She becomes more likeable and sympathetic as the novel progresses and her character is more fully revealed. She and Fitz are in many ways opposites in their personalities, but their growing friendship is believable due to the more important similarity of their being both smart and empathic. It is indeed this combination that I think makes so many of Robinson's characters distinctively different from most other SF protagonists -- their deep-rooted empathy not just for their friends, but for all of humanity, and indeed for all life, and even natural landscapes.

It is also important when reading this novel to pay careful attention to what is missing in the planet-spanning culture that Robinson has created. Among the off-Earth cultures who are the focus of the novel, there is no mention of economics (outside of what appears to be barter trading between different areas), and no mention of money or ownership -- this is clearly a post-capitalist future. There is no mention of crime in space, no mention of violent take-over of terraria, no mention of police, no mention of courts. It is clear that this was not any kind of oversight by the author. One can learn a lot about the civilization that Robinson posits in 2312 from thinking about what is not there.

In today's world where it seems anti-intellectualism is rampant, where science is often ignored or despised, and where technology is more often misused or abused than put to productive purposes, positive visions such as those provided in this novel are needed more than ever. If you are a reader who often despairs that humanity is destined to continue its current course toward ecological disasters or oppressive political systems, Kim Stanley Robinson's positive high-tech future, as shown in 2312, may be just the restorative you need to feel better.

Copyright © 2012 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.

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