I have to confess I’m a bit gobsmacked to be hosting this discussion with Kim Stanley Robinson about his latest novel, 2312. You see, Robinson’s work has been central to my political thinking since my first trip to his Red Mars. While I grew up in the antiwar and civil rights movement, the old new left, those politics over time were not broad enough, rich enough to encompass the world we now live in and try to reshape. Reading the Mars trilogy, where Robinson mixes serious science with a stunning array of political and spiritual responses to how we might organize our worlds – and his deep vein of human scale storytelling provided me with a new view, a new panorama – and it’s one that has sustained me in the years since. Other works of his – especially Antarctica and Pacific Edge – provide images, models to complement the vision of Blue Mars, reminding me even in the dark days of the world we are trying to create and I wish to live in.
In 2312, Robinson has taken us 300 years into the future, shifting beyond the near times of most of his works to a time when the consequences of our actions now play out in a devastated yet still home planet Earth. And Robinson reminds us, when 2312’s lead character Swan heads from her home Mercury to Earth of the wonder of our own planet, a wonder we forget and destroy with our current actions:
Simply to be outdoors in the open air, under the sky, in the wind – this was what she loved most about Earth. Today puffy clouds were massed overhead at about the thousand-foot level. Looked like a marine layer rolling in… Through gaps in the cloud layer she could see the light-but-dark blue of the Terran sky, subtle and ful. It looked like a blue dome flattened at the center, perhaps a few kilometers about the clouds – she reached up for it – although knowing too that it was just a kind of rainbow made it glorious.
Of course, 2312 does not solely take place on a flooded post climate crisis earth. Instead we move around a solar system, inhabited and altered – in some places greatly, in others less so – in a “space diaspora”
The space diaspora occurred as late capitalism writhed in its internal decision concerning whether to destroy the Earth’s biosphere or change its rules. Many argued for the destruction of the biosphere, as being the lesser of two evils.
Yet Robinson’s vision of human cultures in space is not the light but almost sweet vision of older SF writing, which plays with our imaginations like the old World’s Fair displays, but instead a richly considered portfolio of possible worlds – some disturbing in their darkness, some exhilarating in the potential for human expression and diversity. Robinson assumes that not only will our transport and technology evolve in the coming years and our economics, but the very nature of humanity will as well.
And that evolution is at the core of 2312. The novel introduces us to people who have evolved often in rather startling ways, as Robinson suggests in one the “Extracts” segments of the book:
they were now their own unavoidable experiment, and were making themselves many things they had never been before: augmented, multi-sexed, and most importantly, very long-lived, the oldest at that point being around two hundred years old. But not one whit wiser, or even more intelligent. Sad but true: individual intelligence probably peaked in the Upper Paleolithic, and we have been self-domesticated creatures ever since, dogs when we had been wolves…
Two humans live at the center of 2312, Swan and Wahram, one from Mercury, the other Saturn, with all the characteristics both imply. As we read the novel, we follow their growing attachment, their lovely romance of hot and constant, adventurous and cautious, as they strive to survive a terrorist attack on Swan’s home planet and then investigate the source of that attack – and find ways to bring a new type of revolution to Earth, drawing from Mondragon models and Swan’s belief that:
There’s a gift economy in people’s feelings that precedes all the rules. Set one up and people give themselves to it.
One of the great joys of reading Robinson’s books is meeting his characters, such fully realized, multilayered, contradictory and oh-so-human humans. Swan and Wahram are two of his best and will, I am sure, live in your imaginations as they do now in mine.
There is so much more to 2312 – Robinson’s science is, as always, solid and accessible even for those of us without much background; there’s philosophy and fun references for SF regulars, a good mystery and more. This is a book that will enchant as well as inform and push your outlook in new directions. Living as we do in the times Robinson calls the “Age of Dithering,” we need reminders of why we keep trying to bring about change – and of where we might head. 2312 and the other tales of Kim Stanley Robinson help us believe there’s a future worth creating.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]