2 February 2013

Home: A Review of 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

I am in love.  Maybe not in love but definitely in crush at this moment.  I doubt my husband mind's too much as my object of affection is for once not LL. or even 007 but the solar system.  The solar system, our so-called address in this ridiculously endless universe that we barely comprehend but so vibrantly exist in, is my crush. 

It has been awhile since my last sojourn down the solar system path of useless facts. (Jupiter has 63 known! moons.  Scientists do not know why Neptune is blue.)  My first trip through the planets was grade 4.  Learning, memorizing the order, participating in the class project of displaying the vastness, distance and size of each planet on one long black paper rolled-out down the school hallway is my first memory of how amazing space is but also how frustrating to scale models can be.  Life carried on from there with Recesses filled with the constant debate of who's turn it was to be Muffit in our enactments of Battlestar Galatica. Space was part of my childhood but only in the form of entertainment.  It wasn't until Grade 9 sitting in Science class that I became a science loving nerd whose entire world view was upended having learnt that all those stars out there are really from the past. To date, still my favourite fact.

So what sparked my old flame, SF of course. Patterns surround us, all you have to do is look for them and voilĂ   everyone is wearing peacock blue to work.  Recently, I clued in that most of the books read these past 9 months have similar thematics: the expansion and settlement of the solar system, and the solar system portrayed as a character upon itself.  

Three quarters finished Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, I debated whether reviewing this book but decided to just go for it.  Like most books on lists, Locus's Reads for 2012 comes to mind, I never quite agree with the acclaim showered down.  I was all in, ready to love 2312 but as I approach the 300th page I am wondering not only what has happened to the plot but what am I missing that everyone else is so on about?

That being said this post is more about the solar system than a book review so let me give credit where it is due. I have never read a book based on Mercury. Never visited the planets as I have thanks to this book. It is a glorious tale, one of espionage, human foils of living in Space and what the successes of expansion into the moons, asteroids and planets of our solar system has on Earth. These aspects of the book make it a brilliant, hard SF book.  Imagine living on a planet, whose city is a domed, encapsulated bio-bubble that slowly circumnavigates the planet on 12 rail tracks all to avoid the Sun. This is life on Mercury;  living as close to the Sun as possible, living in the shadows, being a Mecca for Sun Worshippers (people who walk Mercury, just fast enough to avoid daybreak, all in the hopes of experiencing the Holy glory that is our sun). Fascinating, highly creative, fact heavy stuff in this book, which had me to where I am now, wishing the plot that Robinson laid down in Chapter One continued to have a resounding pulse. Did I miss a few or 100 pages inadvertently? Am I reading something so avant-garde that it will change the notions of SF?  I doubt it. I think what I hold here is yet another author with too many wonders captured in his/her head that he/she must lay-out on paper not taking into account that too much detail, too much global socio-environmental issues can muddle a great idea. We all can't be Frank.

For me though the true downfall to this book is Snow, the lead human character. Unlike The Unincorporated Series and The Expanse (both more operatic than speculative SF) 2312 does not have people in it that hold your attention. I like this book for it's portrayal of the Solar System. Through it's pages I am able imagine body surfing on the rings of Saturn while contemplating on the effects Earth's gravity has on us not only physically but psychologically. Good characters who I attach to, wanting to like is lacking. Snow, just like the plot in the first chapters has a mystery to her. We want to get to know her, figure out why she grieves so deeply for her Grandma, but as the story moves along I just don't care for her.  She is annoying which is the death to any character. I read on because of the hard SF, hoping things that were laid out are brought back to the fore. It is a shame. I wanted to love this book and still do. Maybe I am missing something?

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