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Customer Review

227 of 249 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong asteroid building, weak story development (3.5 stars), May 22, 2012
This review is from: 2312 (Hardcover)
"Worldbuilding" has been a popular buzz word in the modern era of science fiction, and Kim Stanley Robinson has always scored points for his detailed construction of alien environments. In 2312, he turns his attention to asteroid building: asteroids are captured, hollowed out, fitted with propulsion systems, made into terraria that double as transport vehicles, and populated with animals like arks designed by futuristic Noahs. He also gives Mercury a city that travels on rails to avoid sunlight and imagines an Earth that has seen better days (particularly Florida, which is mostly underwater). Yet worldbuilding alone does not a successful novel make.

2312 gets off to a promising start as a terrarium designer and cutting edge artist named Swan Er Hong, rocked by the unexpected death of her elderly mentor Alex, discovers that Alex left her a message to be delivered to Wang Wei. Accompanied by Saturn's liason, Wahrum, Swan travels to Io where she learns that Alex had a plan to revivify a moribund Earth. Alex was also worried that the quantum computers (qubes) that run everything appeared to be going rogue. Another of Alex's friends, Inspector Genette, enlists Swan's help as he tries to complete the investigation he started with Alex. On a visit to Earth, Swan arranges for a kid named Kiran to escape his dreary life (the reader knows, of course, that Kiran will eventually reappear and play a crucial role in the story) before she returns to Mercury, where either a natural disaster or (more likely) a devastating attack briefly energizes the novel.

The energy, unfortunately, fizzles out, reigniting in spurts from time to time but never sustaining. When the plot moves along -- when things happen -- 2312 is an imaginative and entertaining novel. When, for long stretches, nothing happens, 2312 is a mediocre novel. Most of the text in the initial three-quarters of the book does little to advance the plot. It's a long slog through a deep bog to get to the final quarter where the story finally comes into focus.

Throughout his career, Robinson has demonstrated a tendency to explain his many thoughts -- ranging from physics and geology to economics and politics -- at length, resulting in novels that are needlessly wordy. That's the primary fault that weakens 2312. I often had the impression that Robinson was worried that his plot would get in the way of his ideas so he relegated plot development to the last few chapters. I also had the impression that Robinson was more interested in showing off his considerable knowledge than in telling a tight, compelling story. Knowledge, like worldbuilding, is valuable, but tedious discussions of seemingly random ideas that do little to advance the plot reflect a sort of self-indulgence that detracts from the novel.

Robinson doesn't write with literary flair; sometimes, in fact, his prose reads like a dry textbook. Explanatory sections of the novel entitled "excerpts" are a thinly disguised excuse for the sort of expository pontification that kills a fictional narrative. Fortunately, most of them are mercifully short. Robinson also throws in a few meaningless lists (e.g., names of craters ... who cares?). Breaking up the narrative with these frequent digressions seriously disrupts the story's flow.

Swan is the only character with any personality at all. Robinson takes a stab at human emotion by putting Wahrum and Swan together, but the effort isn't convincing, and the sex scenes (complicated by extra parts) are more silly than passionate. Robinson is clearly more comfortable with ideas than people.

For all the worldbuilding, Robinson is at his best when he focuses on Earth as it exists three hundred years from now. His vision is bleak but credibly grounded in environmental, political, and economic trends. Even here, however, his writing sometimes devolves into a scolding lecture. Some of his chapters would make excellent essays or editorials; as fiction, they are too disconnected from plot or characterization to be riveting.

Alex's creative plan for a revolution and an imaginative means of launching an interstellar attack give the novel its best moments. A shorter, tighter novel that focused on those elements would have been a great read. As it stands, 2312 leaves the reader drowning in ideas and fails to deliver a truly engrossing story. I would give it 3 1/2 stars if I could.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 24, 2012, 11:59:56 AM PDT
Kelli says:
Thanks for the excellent review. I was teetering on the edge for exactly the reason you stated. Sometimes Robinson is excellent...other times he is just a little too fulsome.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012, 5:47:09 PM PDT
I totally disagree with this review, and also with Kelli's agreement. I think that if you want an action/adventure or space opera book, this is not for you. However, all the things that TChris and Kelli hate is what I love: the lists were fascinating, the excerpts as well; I fell in love with the characters; the plot is smart; and the flow very human. And really, to call anything that KSR writes 'pontification' is ludicrous. Heinlein pontificates; Robinson, never. Perhaps TChris and Kelli are simply jaded?

Posted on Jun 6, 2012, 6:42:46 AM PDT
Smith's Rock says:
Nicely done review. Your thoughts helped me know exactly what I was getting into when I did decide to read the book, and I appreciate the accuracy with which you wrote the review. I'm a long time reader of KSR, but not exactly a fan. He brings worth to the pages, but with all the flaws that you mentioned. He's a "net" author, i.e., one has to decide whether the net experience is worth the distracting flaws. For me, with a decided bent toward hard sci-fi, and a delight in thinking about where mankind might eventually go, 2312 was definitely in the "net positive" category. For those with more of a taste for character development, impatience with silly sex scenes, and those that break out into hives with authors that suffer from chronic logorrhea, this book is probably a net negative.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 6, 2012, 10:06:34 PM PDT
TChris says:
That's a very reasonable way of looking at KSR, Daniel. I also enjoy "hard" science fiction, but only when the fiction isn't short-changed in favor of the science. Some readers value ideas over storytelling. There's nothing wrong with that, and for those readers, KSR is probably a writer to be treasured. Readers (like me) who place a higher value on the conventions of storytelling (including fluid prose and strong characterization) are less enthused by KSR's novels than those written by hard sf writers who more carefully balance ideas with the requirements of storytelling. I don't think that makes me "jaded," as Deborah suggests, nor do I think space opera is the only (or even the most) enjoyable form of science fiction. I don't even think I'm right and KSR's hardcore fans are wrong, because there is no right and wrong here. There is plenty of room for diversity of opinion. I appreciate that you took the time to express yours.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 26, 2012, 11:38:16 AM PDT
Father-o-3 says:
hi TChris
Thankyou for your excellent review. I do think I'm closer to your view in terms of SF/story telling. Can you please recommend some titles or authors?

Posted on Jun 26, 2012, 5:20:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 26, 2012, 5:21:36 PM PDT
Snaz says:
Some fascinating stuff on terraforming but the rest of the technologies seemed badly shortchanged, even stunted. This was three hundred years in the future yet aside from the scale of the engineering projects it was less removed from 2012 than 1962. I believe in one secton I saw where the period from 2005 to 2060 was labeled "The Great Dithering," when nothing happened. Really? We are just seven years in right now and that is not going to be the case (but hopefully, although it is too early to tell yet, it won't be quite as extreme as in Accelerando (Singularity), either). The real problem here is not the story or tech but that the characters were very bland other than Swan. It's a small thing (literally) but, as has been mentioned, the sexual encounters were not a plus, either. Worst, in my view, is that the main character would wander off on page after page after page of introspection. I finally started skimming through these parts (checking to make sure I wasn't missing anything important or good -- I wasn't) and the book got a lot shorter. Author needs to play to his strengths or find a co-writer that counters his problems with characterization -- also an editor that isn't enchanted by endless pages of inner dialogues and feelings. The rule is, show, don't tell, and, somehow, this is worse that either as it is valueless telling and lots of it.

Posted on Aug 16, 2013, 2:39:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 16, 2013, 2:43:47 PM PDT
J. Avellanet says:
Spot on review. I just finished the book and my big takeaway is ... meh.

Folks who like "exploratory ideas" in their novels will like this. And if you're into pages upon pages of character introspection, then maybe some enjoyment as well. If you're looking for an actual story with engaging characters and a plot that helps you escape our realities into a fictive dream...then no, this is definitely not going to be that. Mind you - there are moments, but only so much as to make you wish KSR had spent more time on those moments.

For instance, the discussion about what makes a successful revolution was really neat. Unfortunately, it devolved into a story point about the reintroduction in one 24 hour period of all the extinct species onto Earth along with the intimation that this helped turned Earth around positively (I, for one, found that plot point absolutely laughable; the same human species which eradicated all these species was suddenly, through some unseen hand of evolution and maturity, now 300 years later in a much better place to appreciate the animals...while having 80% of the world's people living in poverty and misery...really?)

And the plot with the AI's was weak; it's ending stretching credulity. Sorry to KSR fans, but really, it just doesn't hang together. And it says something when many readers are commenting here how they starting skimming about two-thirds of the way through the book. That's not the sign of an author who's grabbed the reader's attention, or crafted anything better than a mediocre book.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2013, 12:46:27 PM PDT
Autonomeus says:
Too many giveaways in this review! I'm just starting to read it, and I'm trying to forget...

Posted on May 2, 2014, 7:14:23 PM PDT
miclaroc says:
Totally disagree with this review. Story stays tight with some interesting and mind opening "excerpts" that inform us not only scientifically but deepened and clarify the space/time the characters are inhabiting and seemed to me to be views into the characters own minds and scientific/philosophical mind-state for the future space the novel is set in. I think they all add to the story and are a new, unique and very effective way of informing a novel with so much scientific background we need this to help illustrate the word the novel is set in and show what the characters know too. They add immensely to the novel overall.

Posted on May 13, 2014, 7:39:38 PM PDT
Christopher says:
Hey, TChris, this is a GREAT review. It made me want the book. I'm reading another KSR book right now--Sixty Days--but I can't wait to start on this one. Many thanks!
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