Any avid reader knows that good books come in many forms. Some are fast, accessible, satisfying stories that demand little from the reader yet present exciting adventures and creative new ideas. Many SF writers are masters of this form, including (but not at all limited to) Spider Robinson, Richard Morgan and hundreds of others. I love reading their books when riding the bus, flying or otherwise wanting an excellent novel that doesn’t make me work too hard. Other writers are masters of the sprawling story full of overlapping complex ideas that demand the reader slow down, pay close attention and absorb every detail. I am convinced Kim Stanley Robinson fits well within the latter category, and when I undertake to read one of his books I know that my work is cut out for me – and that my work will be paid off beautifully.
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson is a brilliant, thought-provoking novel of humanity’s near future. His commitment to plausibility and realism combine with a thorough consideration of the dramatic changes that our species is creating combines with some very likely problems we will face because of, and with, our growing technological prowess. At the same time Robinson manages to create very real characters with whom it is easy to empathize and even worry about. Swan er Hong’s rebelliousness and Wahram’s dogged stolidity are wholly realized and enjoyable to observe as they navigate the challenges of their era.
The novel’s main weakness is in its slow pacing, which I suspect was a deliberate choice by the author. It stands to reason that a story told through the perspectives of people well into their second centuries is not going to have a sense of frantic urgency. Even when they respond to genuine emergencies, it is with a pragmatism that would only grow with experience and age. Robinson has done a masterful job of presenting believable characters who have lived a lot, yet are not remotely feeling or approaching ‘old’. Nowhere is this more clear than in the gradual evolution of a very believable love interest between two of the characters, over the course of many years.
2312 is a well worth the read. It is definitely what I call a bedside table book, meant to be enjoyed slowly, over many readings. When I pick up a Kim Stanley Robinson novel I know that I am starting a large project, but that I will like the result. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys serious science fiction.