In 2312, first published in 2012 (French translation to hit the shelves in May 2017), SF writer and ecologist Kim Stanley Robinson (aka KSR) imagines a world where, after having (almost) desperately messed up its planet of origin, humanity expands by colonizing and « terraforming » the whole solar system…
… What, another of those stories? Not quite.
Not quite, because KSR clearly intended to describe a whole civilization,
with its strengths, shortcomings, complexities, conflicts, hopes and deceptions,
with its common history – including its complicated relationship with planet Earth, still annoyingly mired in problems that resemble today’s, at time threatening in its nostalgic, yet still an experience that everyone longs for at least once in their (long) life,
with its culture and arts, including massive land art works and complex performances (funnily named goldsworthies and abramovics), though music seems stuck in the early XIXth century,
with its vision of a humanity that lives much longer (though not forever), chooses its sexual identity in a vastly expanded catalog, and relies on ultra-clever technological artifacts while managing to keep a distance…
In order to introduce us to this fairly complete world, between each « regular » chapter, the author gifts us readers with
lists of experiences, states of mind, assertions, types of space accidents…,
excerpts from history or science books,
a manual on how to transform an asteroid into a long-distance space vessel / theme park,
and ultimately, the author’s utopian (in the best sense) vision on how things turn out after 2312, in a generalization of what is arguably today’s largest co-operative corporation, Basque Country’s Mondragon.
As many critics have pointed out, the plot itself suffers a little, as if it were almost a pretext, or a way to let us see how human characters navigate KSR’s imaginary world.
(imaginary dialogue between KSR and his publisher:
—Why didn’t you put in a war with those quantum computers of yours?
—Uh… Because I don’t think there’ll be one?
—This can’t be true. Wars with superhuman intelligences sell real well!
—All right, I’ll think of something. But the computers will lose.
—’Course they will. The lonely human hero will unite all of…
—No, not that. Because the computers won’t really believe in the fight.
—OK, OK, whatever…)
Despite its shortcomings, or perhaps because of them, 2312 is a great book. As an ecologist, KSR is aware of the amazingly complex interactions that make up, and link, ecosystems and civilizations, and he helps us ponder a few of them. As a writer, he believes in the power of imagination, especially when it leaves much to be imagined. His book provides food for thought at every page, sometimes every line. Imaginization at its best.