Rising up from the earth on an equatorial elevator that pierces the troposphere to the soundtrack of Phillip Glass' Satyagraha. Resonant and otherworldly hymns in Sanskrit begin slowly and in low voices. Then, the voices rise, the music ascends as do you. As the blue world looms below you, simultaneously bigger and smaller with each passing minute, you realize the scope of Robinson's vision.
On Mercury, Terminator, the planet's principal and only city rolls across its surface on rails just hours before the ever moving line of breaking dawn. A dawn that brings a sun that scorches and melts all it sees. Alex, a Mercurial leader and a VIP in an interplanetary forum dies under what could be deemed suspicious circumstances. Her volatile and fiercely independent granddaughter, Swan Er Hong is drawn into an intricate plot that spans the human colonies across the solar system.
In Robinson's world, a terraformed Mars has revolted and seceded from the embrace of its mother planet. Venus, on the verge of being terraformed, is a wavering vassal state of China. The biggest Jovian and Saturnian moons are settled each ruled by its own league. And thousands of asteroids have been turned into terraria, harbouring both humans and biomes from earth with their respective flora and fauna. Microscopic life is found on Enceladus and alien marine life in the subterranean oceans of Europa. Earth, however, hasn't changed much. "A pathetic Götterdämmerung, stupid and banal, and yet still horrible." Disease and hunger are rife. Rising sea levels have destroyed much. Things aren't helped by the fact that there are twice the number of nation states as there are today.
Space, conversely, is a utopia. Free (mostly) of oppressive religions, death and even gender. On Mercury, the sun walkers perform sun salutations by circling the planet, keeping just out of the reach of the all-powerful sun they worship. Wombmen give birth. Gyanandrogyns father children. Husband and wife are relative terms.
2312 is like a Klimt painting on steroids and LSD. It's a credible, awe-inspiring portrayal of our future. But, it's Robinson's writing, intricate, dreamy and scientific that transforms this novel into something magnificent. "The Jovian moons were huge, with Jupiter itself a gargantuan oil painting of overelaborate genius, viscous blogs swirling around from one gorgeous paisely orangerie to the next; every border between the bands was a fantasia beyond compare." Robinson's allusions are rich, his knowledge vast - mingling science with art, music and philosophy. His grasp of the world as we know it allows him escape the conventional shackles of English speaking writers. His characters sit "cross-legged like ... Tara, slim and stylized."
As much as 2312 is a vision of our future, it's also a comment on our present:
"Earth the bad planet. Despite its wind and its sky, she was coming to hate it again, and not just because of the awful g but rather because of the evidence everywhere of what her species had done to the place, and was still doing. The dead hand of the past, so huge, so heavy. The air seemed a syrup she had to struggle through. Out in the terraria one lived free, like an animal—one could be an animal, make one’s own life one way or another. Live as naked as you wanted. On the God-damned Earth the accumulated traditions and laws and habits made something that was worse than any body bra; it was one’s mind that was held in place, tied in straitjackets, obliged to be like all the others in their ridiculous boxed habits. Here they were, on the only planetary surface on which you could walk freely, naked to the wind and the sun, and when they had a choice, they sat in boxes and stared at littler boxes, just as if they had no choice—as if they were in a space station—as if the bad old days of the caged centuries had never gone away. They didn’t even look up at the stars at night. Walking among them, she saw that it was so. Indeed if they had been people who were interested in the stars they would not have still been here. There overhead stood Orion at his angle, “the most beautiful object any of us will ever know in the world, spread out on the sky like a true god, in whom it would only be necessary to believe a little.” But no one looked."
Outstanding. Inspiring. I didn't want it to end. 2312 is what all science fiction should aspire to be. To make mortals dream. And in these dreams, to help us transcend life and become gods.