It has been a coon’s age since I last read anything by Kim Stanley Robinson. His trilogy of Mars books are very likely the very best Science Fiction books about that popular planet. I still remember them as being very true to the actual idea of transforming Mars into a livable environment. Since then, as often does happen Mr. Robinson wrote in other directions.
But now with 2312 he has returned to Science Fiction. Good move Mr. Robinson. Back to what matters namely the Imagination. In 2312 Robinson envisions a Solar System of Humanity/Huwomanity and because the book is from Kim Stanley there is a better view to this very, very unlikely possibility.
Robinson pins his book to a very angry woman living on the planet Mercury in a city called Teminator, Swan Er Hong, whose greatest influence ‘Alex’ her beloved and influential step-grandmother has just died.
This is a world and solar system where people now live to be over 200 years old, with longevity packages and what not. The grief of Swan is very telling in her loss of Alex who was over 150 years old and just simply died of natural causes. Her husband, Mqaret’s grief is in evidence in this passage:
“Not so well. How about you?” “Terrible,” Swan confessed, feeling guilty; the last thing she wanted was to add to Mqaret’s load somehow. But there was no point in lying at a time like this. And he merely nodded anyway, distracted by his own thoughts. He was just barely there, she saw. The cubes on his desk contained representations of proteins, the bright false colors tangled beyond all hope of untangling. He had been trying to work. “It must be hard to work,” she said. “Yes, well.” After a blank silence, she said, “Do you know what happened to her?” He shook his head quickly, as if this was an irrelevance. “She was a hundred and ninety-one.”
“There’ll be no conquering death,” he said at last. “It’s too big. Too much the natural course of things. The second law of thermodynamics, basically. We can only hope to forestall it. Push it back. That should be enough. I don’t know why it isn’t.”
“It’s true.” He heaved a big sigh, looked up at her. “But—things won’t be the same without her.” Swan felt the desolation of this truth wash through her. Alex had been her friend, protector, teacher, step-grandmother, surrogate mother, all that—but also, a way to laugh. A source of joy. Now her absence created a cold feeling, a killer of emotions, leaving only the blankness that was desolation. Sheer dumb sentience. Here I am. This is reality. No one escapes it. Can’t go on, must go on; they never got past that moment. So on they went.
Alex was working closely with a sort of consortium headed by two of her close friends before she died, these two, Warham and Inspector Genette play a large part in the novel as Swan attempts to understand what her Grandmother was up to. Turns out Alex was worried about “Qubes” the so called ‘artificial intelligence’ of the book that seem to have created themselves of late and are looking human. Alex wants the artificial people exited in some manner, which does indeed happen towards the end of the novel. But Robinson is only adding a few little pieces here, and they simply do not fit, the ‘solution’ to the threat is very odd indeed, showing us that Robinson needs to leave the ‘environment’ scene and wake up a bit to the actual danger of life. Not everything works out to the betterment of humanity, of course.
I understand that you three are claiming that you are qubes, that you are not biologically human? Is that right?” The three people sat there staring at her. The one who looked slightly female in body proportions smiled and said, “Yes, that’s right. Sit down with us and share some tea. I’ve got a pot almost ready,” gesturing at a little portable stove on the ground, and a little squat red teapot resting over its blue flames. There were cups and spoons and little pots on a blue square cloth next to her. The other two also met her eye and nodded at her. One gestured to the grass beside them. “Have a seat, if you want.” “Thanks,” Swan said as she flopped down. “It’s pretty heavy in here. Where do you all come from?” “I was made in Vinmara,” the most female one said. “What about you?” Swan asked the other two. “I cannot pass a Turing test,” one of them replied stiffly. “Would you like to play chess?” And the three of them laughed. Open mouths—teeth, gums, tongue, inner cheeks, all very human in look and motion.
Swan turned and pushed her off her feet, so that she splashed hard into the shallow water. “What are you doing!” the girl cried fearfully, and Swan popped her on the mouth with a left jab. Immediately the girl’s head flew back and her mouth started to bleed, and she cried out and rushed away. The two nondescripts splashed between her and Swan, blocking Swan from her, shouting at Swan to get back. Swan raised her fists and howled as she pummeled them, and they splashed backward to get away from her, amazed and appalled. Swan stopped following them, and after they climbed out of the pool they stopped and huddled together, looking back at her, the hurt one holding her mouth. Red blood. Swan put her hands on her hips and stared at them. “Pretty interesting,” she said. “But I don’t like being fooled.” She slogged through the water toward her clothes.
The real story in 2312 is the Amorous story between Swan and Warham, who is a large gentle giant type, a strong man from a moon called Titan.
Without intending to, he said, “You’ve done some strange things to yourself.” She made a face and looked away. “Moral condemnation of other people is always rather rude, don’t you think?” “Yes, I do. Of course. Though I notice we do it all the time. But I was speaking of strangeness only. No condemnation implied.” “Oh sure. Strangeness is so good.” “Well, isn’t it? We’re all strange.” She turned her head to look at him again. “I am, I know that. In lots of ways. You saw another way, I suppose.” Glancing at her lap. “Yes,” Wahram said. “Although that’s not what makes you strange.” She laughed weakly. “You’ve fathered children?” he asked. “Yes. I suppose you think that’s strange too.” “Yes,” he said seriously. “Though I am an androgyn, myself, and once gave birth to a child. So, you know—it strikes me as a very strange experience, no matter which way it happens.” She pulled her head back to inspect him, clearly surprised. “I didn’t know that.” “It wasn’t really relevant to one’s actions in the present,” Wahram said. “Part of one’s past, you know. And anyway, it seems to me most spacers of a certain age have tried almost everything, don’t you think?” “I guess so. How old are you?” “I’m a hundred and eleven, thank you. What about you?” “A hundred and thirty-five.” “Very nice.”
He didn’t know what to say. If he was going to be badgered by this kind of peremptory bullying and yet still be expected to love her, then he refused! But it might be that it was already too late for that. The hooks were already in him pretty deep; he could feel them tugging in his chest; he was in fact hooked; he was very, very interested in whatever she might say or do. He was even willing to consider stupidities like birdflight in the clouds of Saturn. How could it be? To a woman not even his type—ah, Marcel, if only you knew—this Swan was worse even than Odette. “Maybe someday,” he said, trying to sound agreeable. “But right now we are looking for this ship of yours.” “Indeed,” Inspector Genette interjected. “And we appear to be nearing it.”
Now it was said that their particular combination of genders was the perfect match, a complete experience, “the double lock and key,” all possible pleasures at once; but Wahram had always found it rather complicated. As with most wombmen, his little vagina was located far enough down in his pubic hair that his own erection blocked access to it; 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, in a somewhat acrobatic move for both partners. Then with luck the little join could be made, and the double lock and key accomplished, after which the usual movements would work perfectly well, and some fancier back-and-forths also. Swan turned out to be perfectly adept at the join, and after that she laughed and kissed him again. They warmed up pretty fast.
“Is it bad?” Swan asked, thinking it over. “I mean, they can’t band together into some kind of hive mind creature, because of decoherence. And so ultimately they’re just people with qube minds.” “People without emotions.” “There have always been people like that. They get by.” Wahram squinted. “Actually, they don’t.”
Warham is right… but it’s funny because he’s in 2312, so Nihilism isn’t doing well.
It’s true that we ignore anyone who is not ‘like’ us, these people who aren’t looking for emotion, feeling, reason or religion. They don’t count but I wonder when they will?
So it’s more conjecture in Robinson’s universe and mind, but some very interesting things are going on in 2312. Too much in fact but Kim Stanley is a very good writer and there is a depth to his thinking that is not the usual. In fact even though his book isn’t amazingly long it does read longer.
Swan, Stanley’s main character is surely not a friendly, her abrasive and wild nature are telling indeed in the book, and I found her more interesting as the book progressed.