the Little Red Reviewer

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Posted on: May 14, 2012

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Published by Orbit Books, May 22 2012

Where I got it: received review copy from the Publisher









So many books I’ve been reading lately have been fast paced adventures, where characters are scrambling from one action scene to another, trying not to get killed, always trying to get towards the goal. 2312 isn’t that kind of book. The plot and the characters meander, people discuss that they aren’t sure what to do next, no one is scrambling anywhere, no one is in a hurry.  And yet, there is plenty of suspense and tension, just not the kind we are used to seeing in a standard science fiction novel. Again, 2312 isn’t your standard plot-based science fiction novel.

Existentially sprawling, and scientifically fascinating yet completely accessible,  I’m reluctant to categorize 2312 as science fiction. Yes, there is plenty of science and it takes place in the future, but of the three plot lines, only one (and it’s the weakest one) of them has anything to do with anything remotely science fictional. This is more a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world than anything else.

We first meet Swan Er Hong at her grandmother Alex’s funeral. There is some concern that due to Alex’s political connections perhaps her death wasn’t natural. Swan meets up with the Saturnian league ambassador Wahram and police investigator Jean Genette to discuss  the projects Alex had been working on, which leads to a discussion on the bitter feelings of Terrans towards the spacers.  Shortly after the investigation into Alex’s death begins, there is a terrorist attack on Terminator, the rolling city of Mercury. One more thing for Swan, Wahram and Genette to investigate, as it may be connected to Alex’s death. This is the obvious, overt plot line, and it’s the least important and least interesting part of the book.

I was continually amazed at my emotional reaction to 2312. After the attack on Terminator, Swan and Wahram escape into the underground utilidor system. Kim Stanley Robinson may be about to take us on a tour of the solar system, but the most beautiful parts of this book are the intimate moments between Swan and Wahram, which begin in the utilidors under the Mercurial surface.   These slower yet intensely focused tunnel scenes were a blessing in disguise, as without the gorgeous distraction of the cosmos, the reader can more easily concentrate on Swan and Wahram. Swan is whiny, defensive and over dramatic, and Wahram is patient and non-judgmentally curious about her life choices.  Swan never struck me as a very likeable character, yet I found myself completely emotionally invested in her life. Maybe I saw a little too much of my own indecisiveness, my own lack of concern for my own future in her.

Enough on plot, let’s talk about the real reason you want to read 2312: the amazing tour of the solar system this book takes you on and its brilliant science fictional elements. Three hundred years in the future, and humanity has evolved quite a bit, but not in the direction you’d expect. We don’t have light speed travel, our AI’s mostly can’t pass a Turing test, we haven’t met aliens, people aren’t uploading left or right. But the scientific advancements in other areas are astounding. We’ve built moving cities on Mercury, colonies on Venus and the moons of Saturn, terraformed most of Mars and learned how to recreate planets and moons in our own image with planned asteroid bombardments and elements from elsewhere in the solar system.  Thanks to genetic and hormonal therapies, people are living longer than ever and genders are options and optional. We’ve hollowed out asteroids, changed their orbits, and turned them into terarriums, some acting as animal preserves, others as luxury cruises. Wherever you need to go in the solar system, there is probably a terrarium headed that way. So long as you’re not stuck on Earth,  Kim Stanley Robinson’s future is one of hope and possibility.

I’ve got to speak a bit on the gender thing. I noticed early on that characters are rarely referred to as he or she or him or her. In many of the spacer cultures, it is the height of rudeness to inquire as to someone’s gender. That’s the kind of information that is shared between close friends and intimates. Not only a superbly interesting cultural change, but a nice trick of prose as well, as more than once I guessed (assumed?) someone’s gender incorrectly.

And because this is a Kim Stanley Robinson, there are the infamous immersive infodumps. Segregated  into little short chapters of their own, many cover the places our characters visit – moons, planets, terrariums, some cover the fascinating history and extra terrestrial development of the solar system. Some of these read like the best ever narration of the outer space PBS documentary we’ve all be been dreaming of, others read like almost poetry. Others were a bit too quantum for my genre fiction focused brain, a little too stream of consciousness for me.

I think the readers most likely to enjoy 2312 are those with an open mind. If you’re reading this review, you already have an open mind towards all things science fictional. But what about everything else? Optimistic but sometimes overly dense, Kim Stanley Robinson has never been for everyone. His novels don’t go where you expect them to, his characters may be too liberal for some readers tastes. 2312 is a remarkable book to be savored, a discourse of humanity and social structures to be discussed and thought about at length.

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28 Responses to "2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson"

I have wanted to read Robinson for ages. I even have books on my TBR… One day, I suppose!

have you got Red Mars? that’s a great place to start with him.

This looks like an interesting story! It sounds quite imaginative, which is always a good thing.

what’s most wonderful is that it’s highly imaginative, but so much of it is based on fact and what we already know about the solar system. it certainly puts the science back in “science fiction!”

I have been eyeing this author for time. Past time to get acquainted with his works.

Red Mars is a good place to start. i still can’t tell if 2312 takes place in the same universe as the Mars trilogy, or if it’s in a parallel universe. A lot of the tech is the same, but I’m not sure if the timelines quite match up.

Robinson is an amazing writer; I’m certainly looking forward to reading this. You are right about emotion in his writing, he makes it a point to engage the reader in an emotional attachment. This is as true of the “Mars” trilogy as it is of his most recent work “Galileo’s Dream”

I haven’t read Galileo’s Dream, do you recommend it?

Absolutely. My review is here if you are interested.

I just read your review, that sounds right up my alley, kind of scifi parable? but maybe I should read a Galileo biography first, so I can get the parallels. Nothing like a Kim Stanley Robinson to make me feel completely ignorant. Fascinating article on the cover art design of 2312, and yet more levels of the novel that I completely missed.

Interesting. I’ve read six or eight other reviews, and I can barely recognize this as the same book. But then, that was also true between some of the others. Obviously a book with many facets, each catching the attention of different readers. I’m not sure about it yet, but as others have said, I want to read this author. I’ll definitely start with the Green, Red and Blue Mars books first.

I definitely suggest starting with Red Mars, and going from there.

Multifaceted is the perfect word for this book. what the book is “about” is with you all along, but doesn’t surface until later, so there is a lot of misdirection, and so much beautiful scenery. it’s like half PBS documentary and half something else, and so very KSR. of course, when i started writing the review, all my little notes proved completely useless. I think 2312 is a book you have to open with zero expectations and zero preconceived notions, because it isn’t at all what the book flap proclaims it to be.

Yep, gotta watch out for the book flaps and blurbs!

Sounds fascinating – and possibly a little frustrating? Did the pace and slightly unlikable characters ever tempt you to stop reading, or was the complexity and plot enthralling enough to keep you going?
I’ll have to give it a go – it sounds like Red Mars may be a better place to start though.

Red Mars is def a good place to start if you are new Kim Stanley Robinson. He writes, um, unusually.

2312 was frustrating at times because I wasn’t sure where the plot was going, and sometimes I was concerned it wasn’t going anywhere (it was going somewhere, i was just looking in the wrong place). Unlikeable characters don’t usually bother me, so that was ok. I’m not sure I’d use the word enthralling to describe the plot. lol, that was probably the least helpful response ever!

have this on my wishlist. Not sure if I like info dumps like that. I’ll give it a try nevertheless.

Robinson is one of many authors who I consistently hear praise about but have yet to read. This one had caught my eye awhile back when I saw the cover image and your description certainly makes it sound like a captivating book.

This one sounds really cool, and very characteristic of KSR. For the past several years, I’ve had a steady pace of 1 KSR title per year. So far I’ve read Years of Rice and Salt, Red Mars, and Green Mars. Maybe I can pick this one up in a year or so, once I’ve finished the Mars trilogy!

Kim Stanley Robinson may be about to take us on a tour of the solar system, but the most beautiful parts of this book are the intimate moments between Swan and Wahram, which begin in the utilidors under the Mercurial surface. These slower yet intensely focused tunnel scenes were a blessing in disguise, as without the gorgeous distraction of the cosmos, the reader can more easily concentrate on Swan and Wahram.

>>>This is actually the core of the novel. It’s a love story with the rest revolving around it. This is why some readers are not reading the protocols of the novel correctly. I thought it was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.


Hi Jeff, thanks so much for commenting!

exactly. and it was beautiful. the love story is there all the time, but it’s so easy to see all the beautiful scenery and assume one’s attentions should be elsewhere. the more I think about this book, the more I am awed by its subtleties.

I’ve been very nervous to run around saying “it’s a love story!” with everyone I’m talking about the book with, afraid they will think it’s a romance and skip it, even though it’s by a master of the craft. and why shouldn’t a master of science fiction write, a quite literally, planetary romance?

Hey, it was great meeting you at B&N the other day. Glad you’re enjoying the Mommy Porn blog, and thanks for the shout-out on Twitter. Haven’t had a chance to peruse as much of your site as I would like yet (so…many…reviews!!), but you’ve definitely got me interested in this book, and I’ve now moved it onto my “to read” pile.

Oh, and if you’re interested, here’s my OTHER wordpress site, this one for movie reviews (and the VERY occasional book review). I’ve been concentrating on the Fifty Shades one for now, but I’ll probably still be throwing up the occasional piece on there, too.

Anyway, thanks again for the kind words over on my page, and I look forward to reading through more of your stuff. Talk to you soon.

I was at a spectacularly pleasurable event at the British Library on Saturday — “Iain Banks and Kim Stanley Robinson in Conversation”. KSR read excerpts from 2312 (infodump paragraphs, as you refer to them, but absolutely fascinating), while Banks read from his, yet to be published, The Hydrogen Sonata. Then they swapped and read excerpts from each other’s books. Banks couldn’t contain himself from bursting out in fulsome praise when he found himself reading the phrase “lunatic aluminium” in 2312.

Apparently they’ve been friends for 25 years. KSR is very laconic, while Banks is effusive; both were obviously extremely friendly and intelligent people.

I’m in the middle of The Years of Rice and Salt at the moment, and then I have to read the Mars books. Once I’ve that done, though, I’ll finally be able to get around to 2312.

Reblogged this on 60spunk.

Hey, I’m reading 2312 right now, and it’s as good as you’ve written. I was wondering if you would give me a few of your favorite SF books from the past decade.

I love-
Bruce Sterling
Cory Doctorow
Kim Stanley Robinson
China Mieville
Roger Zelazny

Thanks for the wonderful article!
xoxo, Dave

Been blog surfing today and came across yours. While I don’t have quite the same level of hyperbole reserved for 2312, Red Mars is one of my favorites, and I’d still recommend this or any other KSR book to an intelligent reader who wants both a challenge and a poet of prose. And I’m adding you to my reader.

Red Mars was absolutely phenomenal. and you’ve got an excellent blog too! thanks for visiting! :)

[…] 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit) […]

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