Kim Stanley Robinson established himself as one of the great modern science fiction writers with his Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars), as well as an assortment of other works like Antarctica and The Martians. His latest endeavour is 2312, an odyssey of the solar system and human experience 300 years in the future.
The story begins with Swan Er Song, an eccentric engineer who has spent her life building terraria (hollowed out asteroids) throughout the solar system, as well as indulging in a host of genetic enhancements. When her grandmother dies unexpectedly it reveals a secret that starts her on a trek that crosses back and forth across our solar system.
What struck me foremost in this novel is Robinson's big picture take on the future that the vast majority of science fiction writers seem to miss. We get the usual fantastic technology and space travel, but we also see the focus on humanity itself, and a culture dealing with advancements in longevity, the beginning of human speciation and transhumanism, living in space, and integrating artificial intelligence. It presents a fascinating look at our future that is equally hopeful, optimistic, disturbing, and sometimes horrific.
2312 is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. It is simply a logical presentation of a future 300 years from now, with an Earth that has endured the most destructive years of global warming and rising oceans, and now deals with the legacy of it.
It's been ages since I read the Mars trilogy, but what struck me then was Robinson's chapters devoted exclusively to scientific details which could prove quite dry to get through. Here he's vastly improved his style—creating excerpts amid the chapters that detail various aspects of the future and are much more palatable. I should note that 2312 does not take place in the same universe as Robinson's Mars Trilogy, and Mars itself is oddly absent for most of this book in favor of the other planets.
2312 is one of those novels I lazily enjoyed, not wanting to rush through it. The characters' journey through the solar system was enough to carry the story on its own merits, but it is also a mystery novel. Unfortunately that actual plot proved to be a bit more low key, as I was expecting something a lot more epic given the build up early on. And the ending does wrap up a tad neatly than one would expect.
Ultimately the story is about human beings, and this future represented in Mercurian Swan, Titanian Wahram, Martian Jeanette and Terran Kirin, among others. The characters are all quite interesting, representing various factions and aspects of this strange humanity that is quickly branching off into new species, but occasionally pine for the homeworld. This novel successfully presents a culture that feels 300 years different from our own (compared to early 21st Century humans in space ships which a lot of writers create).
So I highly recommend 2312. While the story might have reached a little more towards epic levels, it poses a lot of ideas of human society, technological advancement, and what we might achieve. In that respect it's a very intelligent read.