Book Review – 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The world building in this novel is good. It is highly detailed, imaginative, and futuristically strange.
The charters are also well constructed. These are not like people of today who just happen to be living in the future with a bunch of high-tech gizmos. They have different attitudes, beliefs, tastes, and concerns. Many are physically different in strange and interesting ways. They are not us. They are our descendants, about as different from us as we are from Homo erectus—in some ways, more so.
As science fiction, this book succeeds where many fail. It presents a fictional future that really seems futuristic. I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the book much, though.
The reason little to do with the futuristic setting, although I could not quite understand how any of the grand projects it mentions were being funded. But economics aside, it is the plot—or lack thereof that bothered me the most.
This 561 page tome shows us lovely and, I assume, scientifically reasonable views from various locations in space, sometimes in exhausting detail. It describes various interesting methods of terraforming and of creating habitable environments in space, but what it does mostly is document the existential wanderings of the main character, Swan Er Hong.
She (for lack of a better pronoun) is certainly an interesting character. We get to know her quite well, or as well as anyone can, but she’s not likeable. In fact, she should come with a warning label that says something like ‘Caution! Approach at Your Own Risk.’ Even in this strange world of the future, she’s a nut job, and her erratic behavior and self-absorbed musings become annoying in short order.
I appreciate the skill of a writer who can create a fictional character that can evoke an emotion in a reader, but I don’t think annoyance is the emotion one should probably be shooting for. That’s really the only one I personally felt for Swan, and her romance with a man (again, gender designation is only an approximation) she describes as looking like a toad is, at best, hard to imagine. I could believe that someone might find her interesting, maybe even fascinating, but I couldn’t understand how anyone could consider a long-term romantic relationship with her. It would take a special kind of masochist to do that, and toad-man wasn’t presented as such.
There was an effort at a plot stemming from a power play on Venus and even a bit of mystery about almost sentient androids, but it felt like these were tacked on almost as an afterthought in order to justify the lengthy account of Swan’s dysfunctional emotional journey.
Despite the excellent description of a believable future that this book provides, it’s not an enjoyable story. I can’t recommend it.