What Will Be
Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a sci-fi novel so brilliant, it reads like an account of the past.
Because there it always is, with its 457 countries, with the canals of New York, and Florida a dirty reef. And how could you save it? How, born in space, could you effect change on poor slobbering Earth? "Wahram"—one of the politicians of space and the person with whom Swan develops, slowly, a romance—"had thought it generally agreed that the whole development-aid model had been demonstrated to be an example of the Jevons Paradox, in which increases in efficiency trigger more consumption rather than less; increased aid had always somehow increased suffering, in some kind of feedback loop, poorly theorized—or else theorized perfectly well, but in such a way that revealed the entire system to be a case of vampiric rich people moving around the Earth performing a complicated kleptoparasitism on the poor."
What's not to love about a book with that in it? If that's not enough, the book contains these magical two words: "her penis." (And a sex explanation: "The best way to engage there once he was aroused was for the one with the big vagina to slide down onto the big penis most of the way, then lean out but also back in." Lots of things about the future seem complicated, but that's change, baby.)
Photo by SFXFuture Publishing Ltd.
Swan does not find an answer to the problems of space, with the rise of the thinking machines, with acts of interplanetary terrorism—those thriller problems aren't her problems—but she does find an answer to the problem of Earth. It's a pretty magical answer, one that lets Robinson rave on in great crazy useless wonderful detail—and one that I won't ruin.
Robinson’s books don't feel architected; he glosses over plotty things that a writer would normally hammer out in boring detail, and then he expends all his energy and time on the magical moments. Our real lives as global citizens are made up of a great emptiness of thinking, feeling, sussing, being. After the reading is done, those things are what you remember: bodies alone in space; lovers whistling in an endless, world-long corridor; a wolf in a hole; a planetary wind forcing itself into a space-person, now free and heavy under a big blue endlessness. What you remember most of all are the ever-worsening conditions of people abiding by capitalism and how we now dither. As an account of several past eras, one wishes it were already behind us.
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Orbit.
Choire Sicha is a co-proprietor of the Awl.