2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson, is a great book, as long as you’re into a specific kind of science fiction. Luckily, over-researched hard sci-fi is one of my favorite genres. 2312 seems to exist in the same universe at his acclaimed Mars Trilogy, but you don’t have to have read that for 2312 to make sense. Like most of Robinson’s books, the world-building is as important as the plot.
2312 is set in 2311 and 2312, when humanity has spread to Mercury, Venus, Mars and over 19,000 moons and asteroids. Each has been terraformed in a variety of ways, ranging from importing soil from Earth to flinging asteroids at a planet to make it spin faster. Earth, however, has been devastated by climate change and is in bad shape. Oh, and with longevity treatments people routinely live to be 200 or more.
Swan Er Hong is a Mercurial artist and eco-designer. At the beginning of the book, her grandmother has just died. The story is essentially how she deals with her grandmother’s death while trying to carry out her last wishes in regards to the future of the solar system. Which is a terrible summary, sorry. She meets people and does things, but it’s difficult to talk about the plot without giving things away. There are terreria, which are hollowed out asteroids used as spaceships, they’re very cool.
One of the highlights of the book for me was the book’s ideas about how concepts of gender and sexuality would change in a society where people can easily be whatever sex they’d like. Additionally, I really enjoyed the governmental/economic world-building, and the musings on how living in a post-scarcity solar system would and wouldn’t change human nature. There’s also a fair bit of science, though I think less than in some of his other books.
My biggest complaint about 2312 isn’t very big, and I’d like to pre-emptively acknowledge its ridiculousness: I wish there was less plot. The plot isn’t bad, it’s interesting and there are parts with great imagery, but I wanted to hear more about how things worked and less about Swan’s angst. Although, if there actually were less plot, it would stop being a novel become something like a history textbook, which might be less compelling. I didn’t dislike the characters, but there also aren’t any that I really liked. Additionally, if you’re looking for a true sequel to the Mars Trilogy, this isn’t it. There are references, but Mars is the least important planet in this book.
Basically, if this sounds like something you might like, then you’ll probably love it. I really enjoyed it, to the extent that I think I’ll reread the Mars Trilogy next and then read this again to see if I missed any references.