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Kim Stanley Robinson’s “2312”: Interplanetary Intrigue, an Epic Love Story, and an Opportunity to Build an Asteroid

51XnpqO9LmL._BO2,204,203,20035,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_This summer I had the pleasure of reviewing science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel 2312 for the Los Angeles Times. As I wrote there, the novel is often profoundly moving while also being very clever about extrapolating the future: “By the year of the book's title, humankind has (just barely) survived global warming, in part because of terra-forming technologies that have made possible the colonization of Mars, Mercury and Venus. Asteroids and moons have been transformed into a bewildering variety of biospheres…Against this backdrop, Robinson introduces readers to the remarkable Swan Er Hong, a creator of biospheres who…is attending the funeral of Alex, her grandmother…When Swan discovers secret messages from Alex in a wall mirror, she is quickly caught up in a deadly conflict against unknown forces.”

These forces seek to destabilize the solar system by destroying cities and whole colonies. As compelling as the plot is, however, the characters are even better, featuring “one of the greatest odd couples in the history of science fiction.” Robinson finds the foil for Swan in the person of diplomat Fitz Wahram, also at the funeral. He’s ponderous (although sharply intelligent) and toad-like to Swan’s…well, swan-ness. They’re an unlikely duo, especially as a romantic couple, but Robinson does an amazing job of bringing them, and their relationship, to life.

As they together seek answers to the mystery of who is behind a series of devastating attacks, they’re drawn ever closer to each other. Some scenes, like a long sequence with the two escaping down an underground tunnel, can easily be described as “classic” in the best sense. Another, with the two alone in deep space, has a grandeur, loneliness, and warmth most authors would kill to achieve in just one scene.

Although the novel lingers with readers long after it’s put down because of the chemistry between these two misfits, the decision to balance intrigue with a love story seems to have split Amazon readers down the middle. Some even seem not to notice the romantic element at all. The complexity of the novel---the way it successfully does several things at once—is mirrored in its opening. Rather than start with either the love story or the interplanetary adventure, Robinson instead begins with Swan by herself, followed by the funeral of her grandmother. Some novelists might have started with one of the disastrous attacks that fuels the mystery, or foregrounded Swan and Wahram. But he’s wise enough to know that for everything to be in balance he has to more or less not commit to any one kind of story. Instead, his approach allows the reader to become acclimated to his future setting rather than become confused by it—and to adapt to a more nuanced but no less entertaining story.

Most reviewers seem to agree that it’s a great book as a result. Personally, as I wrote in my review, I found the novel to be “a treasured gift to fans of passionate storytelling” and one of Robinson’s best. It doesn’t hurt that the author’s plot includes at least two jaw-dropping moments of utter audacity.

Meanwhile, Robinson’s publisher, Orbit, has backed up 2312 with an ingenious PR campaign that includes a webpage where you can build your own biosphere on an asteroid. You not only get a cool science lesson—it’s fun too!

 

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