Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Book Review: 2312

Because my friend and coworker Brenda will probably get homicidal if I use the term "fiscal cliff," and because the President, the Senate, and the House have suffered a rare burst of sanity and - if only temporarily - resolved the latest fiscal crisis, I have decided to shelve my intended diatribe on the subject and review a book for you. If you don't like reading (but most of my readers do), come back tomorrow. If you do like reading, and especially if you like reading science fiction, please continue ...

A few years ago, my friend Bob encouraged me to read an alternative history novel by Kim Stanley Robinson titled The Years of Rice and Salt, which had an intriguing premise: that the Black Death killed 90% of the population of Europe, resulting in its repopulation by the Muslim world and the eventual domination of the world by the Chinese and Muslims. I didn't enjoy that book as much as I'd thought, more because of its stylistics than its plot, and so hadn't read anything else by Mr Robinson until I read a glowing review of his latest novel, 2312, and decided to give it a try.

The essential plot is this: in the year 2312, mankind has spread throughout the solar system, colonizing planets and their larger moons from Mercury (whose main city, Terminator, moves on rails to stay ahead of the tremendous heat of the daytime sun) to Pluto. Venus and Mars have been "terraformed" to allow nearly earthlike conditions, and there are major cities and installations on the Moon, Saturn's Titan, and several of the moons of Jupiter. Moons and asteroids made largely of ice are used as sources of water for the terraforming of Venus and Mars. Earth, badly damaged by the ecological disasters of global warming, is a very different and politically dangerous world, often at odds with the governments of the other planets - especially Mars, the most advanced. Humans have extended their life expectancies and often choose to make major changes to their bodies (there are numerous characters who are both male and female, and who both father and bear children). And there's a lot of political intrigue.

With all of this material and a wealth of rich description (views of Jupiter and Saturn from their moons, and of the Sun from Mercury are gorgeously described), it should be a great story ... but it isn't.

I found myself lost in time and place as characters moved back and forth across the solar system with  no sense of what year it was or how long it took things to happen. The main character, Swan Er Hong, was unsympathetic and I found it hard to care about her/him (yes, he/she has ... um ... both parts). There were long periods of reflection and dialog that had me merely skimming and turning pages in search of something more interesting. The plot, dealing with a quiet rebellion by the quantum computers known as "qubes," was overly tangled and left me unsure of who was doing what, when, and why. The structure of the book was also off-putting, with various chapters separated by "lists" of various things and "extracts," apparently from other documents, many of which were confusing and did not seem to move the plot forward. That said, some of the "extracts" did provide very interesting scientific background on the formation of the solar system and the possible mechanics of terraforming.

But the negatives outweighed the positives for me. 2312 had all the potential to be a wonderful story, but - in my humble opinion - it fell flat. My advice: don't buy it ... check it out of the library to read it and save your money. The good news: it's much better in every respect than the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy ... and the dialog, however odd, contains more than variations on "aaahhh...AAAHHH!!"

Have a good day. Read more. More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

I'll take your advice on those books, Bilbo. In my case, The Hunger Games was the big find of 2012, but that year lacked in manyways.

I'm glad sanity prevailed belatedly on the fiscal cliff matter.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Bill, I read a book in high school from my best sellers class. It sounds very similar in essance of the book you review here. Only difference is my book was good. It was required and I dreaded it. But once I began I coudn't put it down. Who knew I liked that genre? Guess that is why my teacher made me read it.
And say what you want on 50 shades cuz im with you! It was the poorest written book ever in the history of publishing. I only read enough to laugh and give it back to my friend! Pitiful.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Anything is better than 50 Shades of Porn!