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2312: A Novel
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times

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While I love science fiction, I am not an expert on the genre, so I can't speak to the past, award-winning work of Kim Stanley Robinson, but I can give a huge shout-out to his newest book, 2312.

I felt transported to new worlds in 2312, a book set around that era on Earth as well as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and beyond. This is a wonderfully imagined future, part love story and part scientific voyage.

Robinson knows how to blend the knowledge of today with a potential of tomorrow, but in a way a layperson can appreciate. The city of Terminator on Mercury rolls on tracks to keep ahead of the burning sun; Venus is protected by huge sun shields; Mars was terraformed using the chemicals of other planets; and thousands of space objects have been transformed into terrariums. These terrariums are custom-made to mimic all kinds of environments, from New England towns to vast farms and jungles, ice villages and sexual free-for-alls.

A wonderful twist in this book is the future of gender, so all our queer and transgender folks have something to relish in these pages. Robinson goes all-out in creating this future where people actually live longer (and perhaps forever) by becoming "bisexual"—which in this case means having the physicality of both genders. Swan, our hero of the book, is among those thus treated, and she is now more than 130 years old. Some Earth-bound minds are, of course, against such a "perversity," so there are moral battles to be fought. It doesn't stop there—some humans also experiment with splicing animal genes into their brains as well.

In creative "extracts" throughout the book, the author gives us snippets of discussions, often ending mid-sentence: "it is not a case of 'there is no gender,' but rather a complex and ambiguous efflorescence, sometimes called a fully ursuline humanity, other times just a mess … ." Plus this: "gatherings composed entirely of gender-indeterminate people are a new social space that some find intensely uncomfortable, eliciting comments such as 'like a nakedness I hadn't thought could happen' or 'you're only yourself, it's terrifying.' And so on. Clearly, a new kind of psychic exposure." Indeed.

While the book is about the future, there are, of course, many lessons for 2012: "She often felt nostalgia for the present, aware that her life was passing by faster than she could properly take it in." It marinates grand ideas, such as the existence of evil. As one character states: "Sometimes I think it's only in post-scarcity that evil exists. Before that, it could always be put down to want or fear."

I could go into detail about Robinson's imaginative social and gender forays, but I will leave that to you to read how 2312 may shape up for humans. That is just part of the book's pleasure, as Robinson takes you on a journey to our planet neighbors, making for a great escape from the scorching temperatures on Earth, which can't hold a solar candle to the temperatures faced if you lived on Mercury or Venus—or the Earth of 2312.

One measuring stick I use to judge a book is how much separation anxiety I have once I have turned the last page. With 2312, I already miss the wonderful characters and worlds Robinson created, and hope he revisits them again.

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