This is only the second Kim Stanley Robinson I’ve read, the first being Icehenge, which I enjoyed greatly and which I also remember fondly for normalizing homosexual relationships significantly better than most science fiction. That is expanded upon in this novel, titled 2312 for reasons that are murky for most of the book (I mean aside from the obvious that that is the year the events of the novel are set in), and is perhaps part of the primary theme of the flexibility and pervasive tenacity of life. We are given a tour around KSR’s solar system (excepting Mars, which I’m sure he feels was sufficiently covered in other novels) via the perspective of Swan Er Hong, an Experimental Artist and former Environmental Engineer, recovering from the death of her beloved Grandmother who was the leader of Mercury’s only city and one of the most influential thinkers in the inhabited worlds. Swan soon finds herself wrapped up in conspiratorial events that involve worlds all over the system and both humans and their artificial intelligences.
This book is…weird. I found it very interesting, and parts of it were very compelling, but it was also very dry with perhaps more exposition than was really necessary to tell the story he meant to tell and a tendency to under-dramatize the sometimes very dramatic events besetting his characters. There’s also the fact that I found Swan almost entirely unlikeable and the romance subplot as presented a bit peculiar and lacking in emotional payoff (although I don’t think I’ve ever read a love scene that made me think I needed to draw a diagram before, so…that happened). I think KSR is presenting the reader with a lot of really interesting ideas about our world, the other worlds we may one day inhabit, and the huge breadth of the potential of human diversity, but in the end it just didn’t win me over and felt…a bit too deliberate and passionless. I wouldn’t be upset if this won the Hugo, but it didn’t get my vote.