Wait, let me recheck the title. 2312 is not this year's round-up of what I played but a book title. I've not read lots of books this year, snacking rarely between mealtimes. However this was probably the one that stuck with me. There's an amusing divergence between books and games. If I said I hadn't finished a book and tried to review it, I'd be laughed out of town. Yet some games are downright unfinishable, with bugs out to here or gameplay that loops round like Finnegan's Wake(which I promise to review as soon as I finish it). Anyway, no more digressions. It's time for the review.
2312 is a book by Kim Stanley Robinson, who I know through The Mars Trilogy. Ol' Kim's good on the hard end of science fiction. Positing scenarios that are plausible with today's science and staying away from the big mess that is faster than light travel. 2312 for example is set in the solar system and travel between planets is done using the magic of momentum. The scenario of 2312 is both personal and solar. It deals with the main character's tragedy but also events happening across worlds.. The opening perhaps best demonstrates that as it's a cinematic pan inwards, across the landscape of Mars to meet Swan, our point of view for most of the novel. Swan is an inherently flawed character with a long history. She's an artist ostensibly, with a mercurial ever moving forward attitude. Most of her older works are "childish fancies" or just plain embarrassing to her. At the start of the novel she's confronted with the death of her grandmother and slowly she starts to unravel secrets about a person she thought she knew. Before the story's over we've travelled to Venus, Titan even Earth as the conspiracy intertwines with ecological problems and political ones. There's the spacers vs Earthlings, the half-drowned Earth left behind and terrorist attacks that devastate entire cities to face.
2312 has a lot going on though it's possible to discern two main plots. One is Swan's personal journey, the other the progress of a society both alien and familiar to us. These people are changed irrevocably by technology. Gender and even sex is fluid. New forms of family have sprung up to replace the old and people deal with unfamiliar dangers like high gravity or solar radiation. However the book doesn't quite bring it all together. In the classic mistake of authors with ambition Robinson fails to tie it all together satisfactorily. For me, the ending just didn't bring closure to anything besides Swan. Maybe that was telegraphed by the introduction, maybe that's all we could ever hope for but it wasn't enough.
Tied to the above is the feeling of the novel being undercooked. Between chapters lie extracts, ostensibly from the setting. These mostly give the impression of writer's notes, scribbled between the margins. While some find them interesting I skipped them and went back to read them afterward. I didn't need a distraction from the story and it seems they might have distracted Robinson because he ties some pretty critical clues up in them. Another thing he tries later on is switching the point of view character, allowing a few others to share the spotlight. However apart from one, Wang, they rarely seem to have much to say, they're simply more viewpoints. To look at the author's other works, Mars trilogy similarly obsessed over building a world rather than its characters. In comparison 2312 would represent an improvement. It's more balanced than previous efforts, it's just not all the way there yet.
It might sound like I'm being down on the book. Why? Is it really so bad if our ambition exceeds our grasp? Robinson's humans often stumble but they never give up on their dreams of a better world. Neither does Robinson.