On Books: 2312


Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson – click image to see Amazon author page

Early in a writer’s career, the difference between a good book and a great book depends on the skill of the editor. Later in a successful writer’s career, the difference depends on the writer. During the first stage, the editor has all the power and can act with near impunity. During the later, the writer’s stature and ego can prevent an editor from making vital changes.

Following the unexpected death of her grandmother, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 follows Swan Er Hong, artist and retired asteroid terrarium designer, as she finds herself caught up in the investigation of a solar-system wide conspiracy with the potential to spark the first space war. Disgruntled earthlings, privileged spacers, and even quantum computers like the one implanted in Swan’s brain, nobody can be trusted. Despite the high-stakes, Swan maintains a lassie-faire attitude until the destruction of Terminator, her Mercurian home city, becomes one of the first major casualties.

From the beautifully conceived, perpetually moving city on Mercury to the countless Terra-formed asteroids, Robinson proves in 2312 that he is as much a master world builder as his protagonist, Swan. His ability to take an imaginative leap, e.g. humanity has lengthen their lifespan through hormonal therapy, followed by a logical step, e.g. “The XX/XY dichotomy still exists, but in the context of a wide variety of habit, usage, and terminology”, makes his vision of the future all the more real. His thoughts are as large and as alien as something from sci-fi’s golden age, but lack the deus ex machina like the magical computer, ray gun, special chemical-x, or other gimmicks popularized during that era.


Click image to visit the Amazon page for 2312 (Kindle version)

This should come as no surprise to anybody with a passing familiarity with modern science fiction. Between 1984 and 2010, Robinson won six Locus, two Hugo, two Nebula, two Ignotus, and several other awards. The book, itself, won the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2013 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. There’s no doubt that 2312 is a good book, but it clearly needs a ruthless round of editing to make it a great book.

Through lists of words, species, etc., and pages of “excerpts” from unnamed fictitious sources, Robinson builds his world in an indulgent way. While clever and sprinkled with literary allusions to other writers, these interruptions to the story repeatedly jar readers out of the narrative so the author can shout, “See! This is how this world works!”

The device might be necessary for a lesser writer and in that case, a good editor would be standing by with a machete of a red pen to chop out the excessive. When worlds are as well written and beautifully built as Robinson’s, the effect is akin to having a magician explain away the mystery after each illusion or a comedian tell an audience why they laughed at a particular joke. Robinson is a skilled writer who has rightfully earned the many laurels rested upon him, and it’s easy to imagine that editing his work could be intimidating. By not pruning the excesses of 2312, the book has been done a great disservice.

Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit (May 22, 2012)


Joseph Thompson’s work has appeared in several publications including Foreword Reviews, Greenman Reviews, and Aphelion Webzine.


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