Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312. Orbit, 2012, 660 pp. ISBN 978-0-316-09811-3
Rating: 8 out of 10
Kim Stanley Robinson is not a hugely prolific author, having published 19 novels since 1984. He is best know for his Mars trilogy for which he received multiple awards, including two Hugo Awards and a Nebula Award. Recently, I got a copy of his 2012 novel 2312, which won the 2013 Nebula.
The novel plays 3 centuries in the future when all habitable planets have been colonized, even hot Mercury, where there is a city named Terminator which sits on rails to enable it to move and stay on the terminator, the only region on Mercury where temperatures allow colonization. In fact, the terminator on Mercury moves so slowly that not only can Terminator easily match its speed, but people can also keep up with it walking on the surface, seeing the sun rise each time they want.
Besides Mars, Venus, and the Jovian and Saturnian moons, most asteroids have been hollowed out and are also inhabited. These terrariums, of which there are tens of thousands, are each constructed to contain an artificial ecosystem, which may replicate a terrestrial one or something completely new, containing engineered species. The terrariums serve as repositories for the many animal species that have gone extinct on Earth, as well as agricultural colonies providing much of the food for the Solar system.
The story in the book revolves about a murder that has taken place in Terminator and the victim’s granddaughter crisscrosses through the Solar system in search for clues about the how and why. This, of course, offers Robinson the opportunity to show us the grand vistas for which he is known.
The novel is full of interesting ideas, the terminator walkers on Mercury and the terrariums being only a few of them. Equally fascinating are Robinson’s ideas about gender, which in his future has become completely fluid.
Reading the book, one understands why Robinson is not as prolific as some other authors. The labor that has gone into this text is palpable. The composition of the book has obviously been given great thought and the language used is beautiful, often lyrical, sometimes even poetic, without becoming syrupy or crossing over into kitsch. Every page contains memorable thoughts, aphorisms, and ideas. My favorite scene is when the animals return to Earth (I won’t say more to avoid spoilers).
So I gave this novel a score of 8 out of 10 and given the foregoing praise one may wonder why I didn’t give it a 9 or even a 10. The reason for that is that, somehow, the book failed to grip me. It kept me interested enough to keep reading, but it wasn’t mesmerizing me as other books do, which I can hardly put down. There’s nothing specific that I can put my finger on, but here it is: despite the fascinating ideas sprinkled so amply throughout this book, it did not capture me. However, this should not discourage readers, the wealth of ideas is worth the ride. Heck, I might even read it again some day!