Tuesday, 4 September 2012
Book Review: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Based on the Theme: Book of the Month
Published by: Orbit
Date published: 2012
Length: 562 pages
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Sci-Fi, Adult novel, contemporary, classic, political, crime, A.I.
The Synopsis: The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity's only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets and in between. But in this year 2312, a sequence of events will forces humanity to confront its past, its present and its future.
The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.
Reviews: (Warning: contains massive spoilers)
Plot & pace - Swan Er Hong is both grief-stricken and dumb-founded at the death of her colleague Alex, especially as she left a series of envelopes containing messages for her professional partners as though pre-empting her own death. When Swan opens her envelope it leaves more questions than it solves; it is apparent Alex has been working on something in secret but what is it? And why, in an age of technological advancement, use an old fashioned method of writing a letter to communicate, why not use qubes? Qubes are a form of Artificial Intelligence, programmed into the human brain. Their function is dependent upon their programmer; Swan programmed her own qube called Pauline to be a Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia of information and a challenger to her actions.
For Swan is a creator of biomes; the atmospheric and environmental composition for which a desired species can live under. When visiting her home-made city of Terminator on Mercury, the biome is attacked from an unknown source, stripping the protective atmospheric layer and leaving those under it exposed to the harmful radiation from the Sun. Missing the evacuation bus, Swan and a handful of others head to the underground tunnels which connect all the planets, moons, asteroids and other bodies together.
Upon return to the surface, she meets Inspector Genette who begins an inquest into the attack and draws the conclusion it was committed by the qubes. For only a qube could have designed such an attack where pebbles, travelling over a course of months and years, at specific velocities and directions, strike the city at the same time. A calculation that only a qube could master. The question is, who programmed the A.I. to commit an act of terrorism or has the A.I. evolved into a conscious state of mind and be able to programme itself? Perhaps they are now humanoid? Swan must continue and quickly, the magnitude and frequency of the attacks are increasing, which planet will be next?
It's hard to summarise a 500+ page book into so few paragraphs. This is the ultimate Sci-Fi book, combining heavy science with extreme fantasy and one which I believe will be a cult classic in the making and set the standard for Sci-Fi writing for years to come. The fantasy element is utterly wonderful; the description of the planets and the different environments to which Swan travels to are just sublime. I don't think I've ever read a novel so ambitious in it's story, so clever in it's execution and so utterly believable you would think this documents the future of the human race.
The downside; well let's retract. If you're a lover of Sci-Fi you'll adore it but for the average reader like me, I felt the science aspect was too heavy. Some chapters were like reading out of a textbook. Every paragraph was bursting with scientific explanation to make the story plausible but this also detracted from the joy of the fantasy side of the story. For me, there was too much science laden in the plot.
Setting - The setting was the books most appealing element. Being set in our solar system and making the characters travel from one planet to the next was brilliant, mainly because you could simply imagine it in your head. I would however, have liked to of had a map, as the main characters travel around so much you end up loosing where they are half the time - from Mercury to Venus to Earth to Saturn etc.
Language used & dialogue - This book is not an easy read and one which requires even the most mature of readers to be patient with. This is mainly due to the heavy description and scientific facts which you are bombarded with on every page. That said, this by no means undermines the novel itself, you just have to really concentrate and focus on the narrative. I read the novel twice to fully grasp the plot (hence the delay in the review).
You are also not given much in terms of a background story. When reading the book, I felt I was listening in on someone else's conversation. It was hard to understand the societal norms and values of each planet and race as they did not seem bounded by conventional rules and not always explained.
The description on the other hand is superb; the opening sequence of the book is of the sun-worshipers and it really felt like the movie Sunshine, where they become obsessed with looking at the sun. When talking fantasy, this author can sure as hell tap into your imagination and literally transport you to another world.
Characters - The reason why I chose the novel was because of a review by Iain M. Banks who said the book was almost a first in the genre, in being ethical and emotional. If that was made in reference to the characters, I'm not sure I'd agree. None of the leads I felt I understood and I found them emotionally detached. Swans attitude and behaviour was very impulsive and temperamental, at times disrespectful and altogether confusing to grasp a complete understanding of her character.
Themes and ideas - This novel has really set the benchmark upon which future fantasy novels will have to reach. The complexity and myriad of subtle plots and themes into a well written and driven story-line shows a bold vision and technical achievement by the author. The summary of the plot really does not do the book justice; each sub-theme is based on projections of the Earth's future. We see the affects of climate change and desertification, resources shortage, political strife, revolution, possible terrorism from the A.I., the Chinese superpower colonising planets, how humans have evolved into asexual, androgynous beings and so on.
Structure - Though I usually don't pass comment on this, I will in this instance. There are 3 main chapter styles in this book: lists, extracts and the main context / story. The extracts seemed to be taken from a future textbook on a variety of subjects. For instance, I loved Extract 8 on page 244 which gave a brief history of the Earth in the lead up to 2312. The extracts answered a lot of questions the reader has throughout the book. The lists on the other hand seem more like a thesaurus leading to the philosophical ending conclusion. I didn't really feel as though this added anything to the story. The only thing I questioned was who the author intended to write the Extracts - were these simply a backstory, added information or were they written by A.I. on the human race if they ever evolved and conquered the solar system?
Overall Verdict - I have simply never read a novel quite like it. It is speculative fiction but one which seems so feasible and real due to both the scientific information (though heavy) and the inclusion of current affairs and projections of the Earth's future history. For me the fantasy element was beyond anything I have ever read or likely to read for some time. If you're a Sci-Fi fan you'll adore it and if you're the average Joe like me you'll at least appreciate what this novel has to offer. This book will undoubtedly become a classic in years to come and one I think will stand the test of time and no matter when read will still be as revolutionary in its ideas as the day it was written. 4.5* Stars.