Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Earth, Planet of Sadness

with 9 comments

The Los Angeles Review of Books has my review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, the fantastic 2312.

But at the same time, 2312 could be Robinson’s least utopian novel — beginning, as it does, from the rejection of the “Mars Trilogy”’s happier historical trajectory in favor of a world(s)-system in which the ongoing historical struggle between the residual (feudalism), the dominant (capitalism), and the emergent (none dare call it communism) never crests, but just goes horribly on and on and on. Indeed, there is a suggestion late in the novel as pessimistic and unhappy as any I can recall Robinson making: that perhaps some people are just bad, that (worse still) perhaps true evil will only exist after scarcity.

“Before [post-scarcity], it could always be put down to want or fear. It was possible to believe, as apparently you did, that when fear and want went away, bad deeds would too. Humanity would be revealed as some kind of bonobo, altruistic, cooperative, a lover of all. … However you explain it, people do bad things. Believe me.”

A suggestion that the last thousand years of human history could be best described as “the late feudal period” is immediately countered by an even worse possibility: “What makes you think it’s late?” Another of Robinson’s interstitial chapters is simply a list of all the reasons that utopia can’t happen, from original sin to greed to “because it probably wouldn’t work” to “because we can get away with it.” Maybe things are bad, and people are bad, and maybe both will always stay that way…

9 Responses

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  1. I’m about 100 pages from the end… I look forward to reding your review after I finish the book. So far I’d say it’s fabulous, but not quite up to the level of his masterpieces (Mars trilogy, Antarctica & YoRaS). But I’m withholding judgment until I see how he draws it together.

    Stephen Frug

    June 14, 2012 at 9:38 am

    • It’s hard for any writer to “top” an established classic — I haven’t read Antarctica yet but the Mars Trilogy and Years of Rice and Salt are both among my favorite SF books of all time. I really like 2312, though, both as an intertext with said beloved Mars trilogy and in its own right; in particular I think the experimentation he’s doing with the interstitial chapters is both formally successful and has some interesting things to say about the pleasures of SF. If we read SF for the background details and the pleasure of decoding an absent paradigm, then these sorts of brief fragmentary glimpses are in some ways closer to “pure SF” than even narrative would be…

      gerrycanavan

      June 14, 2012 at 9:42 am

      • I’m in the minority, I think, but for me Antarctica is right up there. Actually I tend to make it my “starter” recommendation for KSR – many of the virtues of Mars books but shorter, good way to see if it’s your thing or not. Anyway, highly recommended.

        And I agree about the interstitial chapters, although I think some work better than others. And I’m not ure they’re all *that* original – even aside from Dos Passos/Brunner, there are somewhat less formal but clearly analogous precedents in the Mars books IMS. But more once I finish 2312!

        Stephen Frug

        June 14, 2012 at 9:53 am

      • Terrific review. I hadn’t thought of the Asimovin connections (including to he interstitial bits), but it’s spot-on.

        I think it says something about our genuinely terrifying trajectory that even KSR’s utopian novels are getting grim.

        And is it really “post-scarcity” at all, or just a mirror of our current class system, with 2312′s earth = today’s 3rd world, Swan & Wahram being the wealthy cosmopolitan elite, and Kiran an illegal immigrant from the 3rd world to the poorer sections of the first, which S&W know little about? I mean, sure, the wealthy elite is organized along socialist lines (and can’t we call it *that* rather than communism?) but they’re still an elite in a starving, class- stratified world. Personally, I think it’s a neat future, but I’m not sure it’s utopian at *all*.

        Stephen Frug

        June 14, 2012 at 8:14 pm

  2. Dang, did that long comment I made just vanish?

    Stephen Frug

    June 14, 2012 at 8:16 pm

    • It looks like it. Can it be recreated?

      gerrycanavan

      June 14, 2012 at 8:23 pm

      • It was in spam. Obviously WordPress just takes any complimentary text and assumes a bot must have written it.

        gerrycanavan

        June 14, 2012 at 8:23 pm

  3. I think it says something about our genuinely terrifying trajectory that even KSR’s utopian novels are getting grim.

    Definitely.

    And is it really “post-scarcity” at all, or just a mirror of our current class system, with 2312′s earth = today’s 3rd world, Swan & Wahram being the wealthy cosmopolitan elite, and Kiran an illegal immigrant from the 3rd world to the poorer sections of the first, which S&W know little about? I mean, sure, the wealthy elite is organized along socialist lines (and can’t we call it *that* rather than communism?) but they’re still an elite in a starving, class- stratified world. Personally, I think it’s a neat future, but I’m not sure it’s utopian at *all*.

    Well, it’s post-scarcity for the elite, and arguably (as the argument is made in the book) for everyone if resources were being distributed more equitably. You do raise a good question though about whether the claims to post-scarcity in the novel are really just the system’s own PR.

    gerrycanavan

    June 14, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    • Fwiw, I just saw an interview w KSR where he made the spacers = today’s rich, earth =.poor comparison (without comment on how it affected claims to post scarcity.). I don’t know if he sees, or meant us to see, as strong a lass divide between Kiran & Swan/Wahrum as I in fact saw.

      Oh, and thanks for digging tat comment out of the spam folder.

      Stephen Frug

      June 14, 2012 at 9:09 pm


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