Monday, June 25, 2012

2312

Saturn as seen from Titan
I really enjoyed Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel 2312, a speculative, intelligent and intriguing examination of what the solar system might look like 300 years from now. 
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I should say straight off the bat that there are a few problems with the book which didn't bother me but which may annoy some readers. First, to be honest, its barely a novel at all, the plot such as it is is wafer thin and pretty obvious. The characters are not terribly interesting and the detective story at 2312's heart is merely an excuse to travel to lots of fascinating moons and hollowed out asteroids in a grand tour of the solar system. I actually think 2312 might have worked even better as a non fiction book: it already contains chapters which are just info dumps in the style of John Dos Passos and ditching the "plot" might have freed KSR to really let loose with his speculations. Despite the terrific reviews in the USA I also think that perhaps KSR's sincere hippytech style might not play that well in the UK where we like our sci-fi a bit more cynical, sarky and ironic...
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But, like I say, none of this bothered me that much and I don't want to sound too negative here. What makes 2312 so great is the smart and very reachable vision of the future that KSR presents. It's not a utopia by any means but if mankind doesnt destroy itself first, the image of a solar system populated by brave, innovative and clever people is a very attractive one. In KSR's 2312 Mars has been terraformed, Mercury and Titan are inhabited, there's a base on Europa and Io and the Chinese have the biggest prize of all, having somehow grabbed Venus and are halfway through terraforming that. Every conceivable kind of habitat exists inside hollowed out asteroids and only Earth gets a thumbs down from KSR because we couldnt get our shit together over the whole global warming thing. 
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If you like futurism, the art of the great Andy Goldsworthy and TED talks you'll probably like 2312. No one knows what the future is going to be like but if you're as clever as KSR you can probably guess a lot better than most of us.