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A quick catch up: I'm reading the Clarke List, the female writers not submitted, and a handful of perceived "near misses", and will do a long write up just before the awards on May 1st. You will find the original post here

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)


I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did, because while the premise is sound, and some of the descriptions are stunning, I was constantly niggled at by the 1940s plot and a subtext that I really didn’t need.


There was also a certain "follow the man in the white hat" element to the plot: Swan (and the reader) just had to *believe*. There wasn't a lot of room left for skepticism.



Outline: Swan discovers her grandmother is dead, follows a message to pass on some messages, gets caught in a disaster with one of her grandmother’s colleagues, helps a young man leave Earth and settle on Venus where he finds crucial information that unravels a plot that Grandma had been hunting. Swan falls in love with the Colleague, and “marries” him (of which more in a minute) and the plot—to prevent a man using reprogrammed computers placed in humanoid bodies to destroy the world. You see what I mean about a 1940s plot. Anyone would have thought Asimov never existed.

On to all the subtexts.

Now the plot is basically Robots Run Amok, but I could have handled that—there are only so many plots after all—but it was the social world building that continually niggled. Swan is 135 years old. She is long lived. She loved her grandmother. But I never did get her in my head as more than about 20 years old: for a woman with so much life experience (work, relationships, children), she has not aged emotionally. KSR tries to treat this by saying Swan purposely lives in the moment, but her colleague Wahram (115) is no different although he is portrayed as slightly pompous and middle aged. This may be deliberate, I tend to give KSR the credit of being a deliberate writer: Wahram is positioning himself as the elder and the guide to a different kind of emotional life. Hmm.

When Wahram and Swan are trapped in a tunnel they discuss their emotional pasts: now, I do realise that almost all narratives about past relationships are by their nature narratives of failure, but KSR positions these relationships less as failures of personality than failures of structures. Six person creches are about child rearing not emotional connection; threes, and groups and other combinations are about having fun, they are in the moment. I started to feel very uneasy, flipped to the end of the book and discovered, Yes, wedding ring and a promise “forever” (though there is no promise of exclusivity that I could see). And this kind of marriage is clearly positioned as something different from other relationships.

There are of course interesting twists, this is a KSR book after all and he is a very smart writer. This is a world with “ursuline” sexuality in that bodies come in lots of varieties and many are capable of both fathering and mothering. Interestingly he holds with current understandings of gender and leaves that in the head. I’d usually be applauding this, except that the relationship I describe above — “older” man taming wild “young” woman is uncomfortably heteronormative, and because there is no sense of complex gender, and, because as far as I can tell, the book doesn’t pass the Bechdel test ie there is no occasion when a (living) female character (as opposed to walk on) has a conversation with a (living) female character (as opposed to walk on). Sorry, that’s tangled. And there is one character, Zasha, who is never gendered, which is cool, but… The overall result for me was of a book not unlike Frances Hardinge’s Fly By Night, in which a young woman wanders around a world bringing chaotic resolution to old men’s plans. Not in itself a bad plot, but….

One last aspect is a rather orientalist take on the huddled masses on Earth: I have mixed feelings about this. I disagree with neither the diagnosis nor the cure, but wish KSR could have found a different rhetoric—but that, I suspect, is less about KSR than all our difficulties finding non-alienating, non-orientalist rhetoric for planet rescue.

Clarke potential: it’s a pretty good book for all my caveats. It might even end up getting my Hugo vote because the landscape is described stunningly.
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