Ben Oldham (Engelbrecht) grew up reading the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, forever ruining his chance of enjoying bad genre writing…. While in college, he worked for a time at A Change of Hobbit bookstore, the store in which Harlan Ellison began writing stories in storefront windows. His username comes from Maurice Richardson’s The Exploits of Engelbrecht, one of his favorite books. This is his first review for WWEnd.
2312 is something of a post-Accelerondo space opera, pinballing back and forth between our suns various planets, moons, terrariums (terraformed asteroids) and spaceships, all the while pursuing the mystery of an attack on a city on Mercury, possibly by AIs with unfathomable motives.
On the surface, 2312 seems to invite comparisons with Corey’s Leviathan Wakes. But 2312 is a far superior novel, packed with speculation: the expansion of the human race into the solar system, the many varied and ingenious ways in which asteroids and larger bodies may be modified in order to accommodate human needs, the many varied and ingenious ways in which the human body can be modified to accommodate human needs, including longevity, sexual options, and accommodations to the various environments. The political and economic consequences of this expansion are well considered, as are all the postulated extrapolations.
In contrast to Leviathan Wakes (which seemed like it might just as well have occurred in some generically seedy Earthbound archipelago), 2312 makes every community throughout the solar system authentically reflect its environment and circumstances.
The exploration of this dastardly mystery is entertaining enough, but the real story here is a fascinating and unlikely love affair between the mercurial Swan and the saturnine Wahram. The protagonist Swan is a great character, interesting and all too human. Her bickering with Pauline, her personal AI, is the source of much humor (humor which is to be found throughout the book, especially in the form of subtle shout outs to some of the sci-fi greats).
This love affair is, in a sense, the heart of the book. But in truth, the book has two hearts: KSR’s love affair with the universe is the true inner heart here. The amazing complexities stemming from a few simple laws of physics are brought to life time and time again, all in vivid Technicolor™. And it’s all right here in our own backyard, waiting for us to embrace it, waiting to embrace us.
KSR’s joyous optimism here is sublimely irrepressible: despite the dire picture he paints of our poor, hag-ridden, raddled old Earth, he almost makes us believe that it’s still possible to overcome our own perniciously destructive nature.
2312 is probably Robinson’s best book to date, and should, at the least, be considered to be amongst the best of 2012.