Thursday, May 23, 2013

2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Now here is a novel!  I have spent the past near-three weeks slowly savoring Kim Stanley Robinson's Nebula (and apparently Hugo) nominated 2312, named for the year of its setting.  Here we get the best of a mature, skilled writer.  The setting is rich, the fun technology gimmicks multifarious, and the characters as fully drawn as any I have read.  I feel like I have met them.

Swan Er Hong is an artist living on Mercury, in a fascinating city called Terminator.  In truth her art is in the way she lives, with works and performances sort of spinning off it.  She is also a high-order designer, having done many of the "terraria" (hollowed out asteriods with environments constructed in them) in the solar system.  She is a very strong and somewhat violent character, cajoling, demanding, and sometimes punching for cooperation.  Her mother Alex was the Lion of Mercury, but Alex has died and left Swan with messages to be passed to her allies.  The solar system is populated all the way out to Pluto, made liveable by a fascinatingly wide variety of technologies, all of which function very reliably.  They make a stable backdrop for incredible creativity by the "spacers", those living off Earth.  Earth itself is slowly recovering from environmental disaster, but spacers still need it--they do not live nearly so long if they do not take an occasional "sabbatical" in full 1 G.  Swan meets Wahram, an ambassador from the Saturn League, and Jean Genette, an exiled inspector from Mars, to investigate the destruction of Terminator.

In this technological mix we have qubes--quantum computers that are high-order machine intelligence.  They may be turning into something more.  Swan has one installed in her head--others carry them or put them in more conventional chassis. 

The social and technical speculations, along with strong and intriguing characters, are the real highlights of the book.  The plot carries these things along.  I would say Robinson is pretty optimistic about physical technology (we are incredibly capable engineers in 2312) but probably behind in terms of computers and AI (I think we'll have something qube-like before I die, if I make it to 80).  But it's by far my favorite book this year so far.  A very strong four stars and my favorite for the Nebula. Go read it right away.

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