2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Review published on June 25, 2012.Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy

The year, as the title suggests, is 2312 and humanity has branched out all through the solar system. Technology has made it possible to live on planets, moons and in between, allowing for the creation of habitats and the recreation and preservation of whole species. However, all these advances have not improved humanity’s nature in any noticeable way. Power struggles still exist and co-operation is as common as opposition. And now, into this mix of worlds a new threat is woven.

It starts with the death of Swan Er Wong’s grandmother Alex. Although Swan wasn’t aware of it, Alex was involved in important, secret and very sensitive projects. Projects that need to continue despite the loss of a vital team member. Projects that Swan finds herself getting involved in almost despite her own wishes and not necessarily with the approval of Alex’ other associates.

The investigation Swan finds herself part of brings her into contact with Jean Genette, an exile from Mars and an inspector for The League and Fitz Wahram from Titan. When Swan’s home on Mercury is attacked and temporarily destroyed by an unknown force, the urgency of the investigation becomes very clear. But with no idea who or what instigated the attack and communication and digital technology itself being under suspicion it is hard to know where to start or whom to trust.

The description above is, in many ways a reasonable summary of the story in this book. Having said that, there are a lot of other plot-lines that I haven’t even touched upon, basically because I’m still not quite sure how some of them tied in with the main story-line. And that is one of the reasons I found this to be a, at times very, frustrating read.

I also wasn’t too impressed with the Science versus Fiction ratio. While I appreciate that any title in this genre is going to include a certain amount of scientific detail, there was just too much of it in this book for my liking. I felt it interrupted the story too much and too often. The narrative chapters are interspersed with chapters of “Lists” and “Extracts”. While I do understand that the “Extracts” where there to give the story historical background and technological detail, and I formed a theory about the “Lists” by the time I finished the book, I found myself increasingly resenting these interruptions of the story and having to force myself not to just skip them.

On the other hand it is quite possible that hardcore science-fiction readers will get a lot out of these sections and therefore this book as a whole that just went over my head. The detailed descriptions of how to make planets habitable, on how the universe and the various planets were created and other scientific fact were too much for me. I was more than happy to accept the universe as portrayed in this book as a fact without knowing anything about how it came about. I suspect though that for other readers, those for whom science-fiction is the genre of choice, the parts I saw only as interruptions are in fact integral parts of the story.

The characters in this book remained indistinct for me. I never got a feeling for what motivated them and had a hard time caring about them. On the other hand, Swan did manage to irritate me. While I had no problem accepting that humans live a lot longer in the future, I did have a problem with a 137 year old woman behaving like the average 20-year-old. And because Swan is the main character in this book, and none of the other characters is brought to life in any great detail, it was hard to get emotionally invested in this story.

Having made all these rather negative statements I have to add that there were parts of the story I really enjoyed. At certain times the main story and the characters in it would take centre-stage and suddenly the story would flow beautifully, capturing me for a while. Overall I would say this is a book for those who look for (a lot of) Science in their Fiction.


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