There are many themes in the sci-fi world. There are Star Trek type intergalactic adventures. There are weird aliens encounters. There are intergalactic wars. But somehow, the one that has the most profound effect on me is the one that is closer to home, the one that is set in our solar system.
The year is 2312, humanity has spread to the entire solar system, and colonized not just planets and moons, but also asteroids. Human now has the technology to terraform an asteroid, or they call it now a terrarium, a biosphere floating in the space. The terrarium itself can be use for space travel, it has docking facility and propulsion system. So, by hitching in a terrarium we can travel from Venus to Saturn in style (there are even some weird theme terrarium, you have to read it by yourself). In order to see how to build a terrarium, you can check it here: http://www.orbitbooks.net/2312/
The plot itself is following two characters, mercurial Swan (planet of origin: Mercury), and saturnine Wahram (planet of origin: Saturn). Notice the pun, the planetary adjective serves for both their characters and planet of origin. Swan is investigating the death of her grandmother, Alex, a pivotal figure not just for Mercury but for the entire solar system. Wahram is one of Alex’s agent in an secret works to save the solar system. The investigation will bring her into life threatening situation beyond her capacity, together with Wahram.
Usually it is the setting that serves the plot. But for this novel, it is the plot that serves the setting. The story is just a tour guide to the world created by Kim Stanley Robinson. It is indeed a remarkable world! I can imagine myself living in it. The description of the living in Venus, Mercury, Io, Iapetus and Titan is so vivid. So does the description or post-deluvian Earth, after sea level rising, which drown all major coastal city. New York is transform into a new Venice! I wish I were there, as one of the spacers, returning to Earth only in sabatical.
The terraforming part is very good that you can cut and paste the parts of terraforming and therefore have a small handbook on terraforming. I wish I could major on the subject in university! Imagine that you can cut a comet, put a mass-driver in it, and then smash it into another planet for water vapor and angular momentum! WOW! It is as close as playing god.
If I have to pick my home base, I would pick Titan, the second largest moon in our solar system. Imagine that when you look outside you window and see Saturn with its majestic rings. For the best view, actually you have to live in Iapetus, but it is considerably smaller than Titan, and it cannot be fully terraformed like Titan to have its own atmosphere. So, Titan it is. In that case, I will be joining Saturnian League, and together with the Jupiter League, we can form the Outer Planet Alliance. Hail the Giants!
But the best part of this novel is that it gives us a glimpse of “not-so-far” future, when we colonize our beloved solar system. It explores the possibility and how it will change our lives. Well, actually I agree with Kim. Not much will change. Human history has proven that no matter in which technology stage we are, we are as foolish as who we are thousands years ago. We are still going to wage war, worship god, and hoard wealth. Even in a post-scarcity economy, because now we have almost-unlimited resources, because now we can mine asteroids, comets, planets, and moons, there will be still the gap of the rich and the poor, the have’s and the have-not’s. There is something wrong with our brain, not in our technology. Maybe we need to transcend this humanity to make us a better being. It is a bleak prediction, but I am afraid that it is as true as it gets. It is easier to make the revolution outside our mind; the most difficult part is to make the revolution inside our mind.
There are some discussions in politics, but they are not as comprehensive as The Dispossessed, which is the pinnacle of soft sci-fi. Some gender issues are also described. Most of them is related with the biological part, not the sociological part. Again if you want to see the sociological impact for gender issue, The Left Hand of Darkness is for you. As you can see, both books are written by Ursula LeGuin, the queen of soft sci-fi. But for the hard sci-fi, 2312 is the cream of the cream.
Even though the plot is not as mind blowing as I expected, I still consider this novel the best of its kind. The world building is already so marvellous, that I accept some lacking in the plot. Final conclusion: a MUST READ for hard sci-fi fans. 5 stars.
PS: Many surprises in the interludes between chapters. Some I ignored, until later I understand what it is, and then I scream, WOW!