“The sun is always about to rise”(p 1). The opening sentence of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 takes us unwittingly into the heart of this novel and perhaps his work since The Years of Rice and Salt (2002).
After the death of her grandmother, Swan begins a journey which takes her from the relative comfort of Mercury across the universe and a return to Earth. A cryptic message takes her out to Jupiter where she is reminded of the dangers of space, and perhaps leaving comfort zones. Whilst musing on the moon, Io, the narrator comments that “[w]e think that because we live on cooler planets and moons, we live on safer ground. It is not so”(p 65). Nature and space may be red in tooth and claw but there is almost a sense that the escape to space will somehow reveal a space which can be made home.
There is a constant questioning of whether First Sf’s dream of uplift through interstellar travel might be realised or is a fool’s errand. This would appear to echo Alastair Reynold’s view in Blue Remembered Earth which treats us to an interstellar archaeology. Space is not intentionally sleek and shiny and neither is it necessarily hostile and alien. Our initial travels, and perhaps bungling, have made the area that way. Yet the move into space is not necessarily a bad thing but the culmination of a dream, the chasing of the dawn.
Robinson’s criticism of the move is that it is short sighted. Largely limited to rich and those helped by them, the social move to space has been one of escape rather than a plan to extend civilisation. The Earth that has been left behind is ecologically damaged and wrecked. In a counter to the dreams of escape, Robinson dares to dream about terraforming Earth and making it habitable again. Wahram and Swan are talking about what needs to be done and comment “I mean out here on Venus and Titan, out here doing everything. … Make it that kind of revolution, one of the nonviolent ones” (p 356). Echoing the maker theme of science fiction and making its argument much more directly, 2312 is moves between the poles of calling for direct action and making something happen.
So are we still chasing the sun? Permanently hiding in the shadow? Perhaps. Robinson’s books move from the idea of small things by individuals can add up but also need those in a position to do so to dare to dream and then act on the dream. In the midst of space junk and a dangerous environment, he moves from the wreckage of First Sf’s dream and into making one for current readers. As with the Reynolds novel, this a book that dares to dream and work on those dreams.