Orbit, £18.99. Order for £17.09 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
2312, By Kim Stanley Robinson
A novel of ideas that also sets out to be tremendous fun
Tuesday 12 June 2012
All novels about the future are in some sense about the present. But they are also about the present's desire that there be a future, and one that we have some hope of understanding. One of the attractive things about 2312 is that its central characters, who are endlessly free to zip around the inhabited parts of the solar system, are nonetheless constrained by death, irritation and falling in love.
This is a novel that begins with a funeral and ends at a wedding, even if in the interim it has had hairs-breadth escapes, terrifying plots and a near interplanetary war. Kim Stanley Robinson is a supremely rational man, and we know that his female protagonist and the man she works with will win, and end up together. That is the only outcome consonant with good sense.
The feel of this book is a little sideways from that of Robinson's classic Mars trilogy, even if it seems to take place in a universe in which many of the same things happened. The environmental collapse of Earth was narrowly avoided, or at least mitigated. Humanity has spread out among the planets, moons and asteroids, and started turning some into unspoiled earths. Everything is a perpetual project of improvement. Where the Mars books were thought – experiments in how we might get there, historical novels about the future, here there is some sense that the spreading of humanity might not be an unalloyed good thing. There is a tone of ironic teasing that was not in the earlier books.
Sculptor Swann finds herself pulled into the heart of events by the death of Alex, her grandmother. Alex was part of a conspiracy to prevent various bad things happening – supposedly impossible meteorite strikes that helped trigger implosions of habitats, which nearly kill Swann. Wahram is a plodding scientist, Swann is a flighty artist: they have to remember that Alex valued both.
This is not, though, in the end a book about its own plot or its quirky characters. It goes back to the roots of the sci-fi genre and puts at its centre utopian and dystopian visions of the social models our descendants might inhabit, with a flashy travelogue around the places they might live. It is a novel of ideas that also sets out to be tremendous fun.
Arts & Ents blogs
Dennis Hopper's lost sixties photo album found
The Independent Bath Literature Festival: 'Top Gear' makes Saudis look liberal, Kirsty Wark tells book festival
Jenny Collier row: Comedy promoter apologises after dropping female comic 'because venue did not want too many women on the bill'
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role because late wife Natasha Richardson said she wouldn't marry him if he took it
Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi struggles financially despite Oscar nomination
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
- 1 International Women's Day 2014: The shocking statistics that show why it is still so important
- 2 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 3 Singapore sting: Sky-high prices are pushing locals to the edge of affordability
- 4 Russia has made 'big miscalculation' over Ukraine warns Hague
- 5 Swarm of killer bees sting woman 1,000 times