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2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

2013/03/11

A lot can happen in three hundred years, and in this science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, worlds are being formed within asteroids, on moons, and on other planets. Swan Er Hong is one who has been instrumental in the transformation and development of these worlds; each one is a delicate and artistic creation, and she is justifiably proud of them. After the sudden death of her grandmother, Alex, a prestigious scientist and researcher, Swan finds herself being approached by colleagues who hint at Alex’s involvement in some important and dangerous research, as well as by inspectors who are investigating the unexpected death. One of Alex’s colleagues, Fitz Wahram, persists in engaging Swan, who is wary, but invites him to tour one of her creations, the city of Terminator, on Mercury. However, a disastrous accident results in their being stranded in the underground tunnels of Mercury, where they are forced to trust one another for survival.

Having recently read “Rendezvoux with Rama,” I found Robinson’s description of world formation fascinating; it provided some context into just how Rama might have been created, and the intensive process that would have gone into such creation. Pages 36-40 in the hardcover edition of “2312” are a prosaically straightforward instruction guide for transforming an asteroid into a customizable enclosed terrarium. Also fascinating are the “extracts” chapters in the book which include quotes from works that are never explained or put into context, but provide an insight into the culture, scientific research, history, and development of the present society. The qubes, or implanted artificial intelligence devices, play an important role in the story, but also serve to point out the downsides of being continually connected and monitored by a computer. I also really liked that Swan Er Hong is an unconventional scientist, a woman who has explored many different fields and engaged in rituals of many cultures — which shocks Warham and others around her, but she remains unswayed by public opinion.

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