Kim Stanley Robinson talks about his latest novel, 2312

The latest episode of the always-excellent Agony Column podcast features an interview with one of science fiction's greatest living writers, Kim Stanley Robinson, discussing his latest novel 2312, a mammoth, epic story of a future built upon realistic and attainable space exploration -- a kind of meditation on life within lightspeed, which is nevertheless extremely personal and close-felt and on human scale.

"'s a somewhat Utopian situation in space, and still a somewhat grim and screwed up situation on Earth..."

—Kim Stanley Robinson

In the statement above, is Kim Stanley Robinson describing the present or the future? That's not an easy call until you hear it in context. In this case, the future as written in his latest novel '2312' is certainly an outgrowth of the present, and there is more than enough "funhouse mirror" material in the novel to let you know Robinson has a lot to say about how things are here in the present.

It has been almost a year since I last spoke with Robinson and it was ever so kind of him to battle apocalyptic traffic to make it to the Capitola Book Café for a live conversation about his latest novel, '2312.' For a book that is chock-a-block with ambition, it is a really a racing, bracing read; I read most of it in a single day. That should signal readers that Robinson is hitting the sweet spot with both content and pacing. This is big-idea science fiction that doubles as pacey thriller.

Agony Column podcast: Kim Stanley Robinson



  1. I loved the first two thirds of the Mars trilogy and I am giving this one serious thought. I hope it is available on Kindle because I reckon it will actually make sense to buy a kindle and this book in electronic form rather than the paper version. Could be the tipping point for me.

  2. Why is space always the place of utopias? At least since Earth ran out of places to colonize.  It seems like people who think this way think that way because the only people out there are chosen to go there, so you can select for whatever traits you like and leave the rabble of humanity behind.

    Well, great. I want space travel so all of you will leave.

    1.  You don’t know what the hell you are talking about.  KSR is a thoughtful, humanist writer whose main concern is the ‘rabble of humanity’ and how the future offers potentialities that the present can take advantage of.  Read someone before you offer grand critiques of them and their work.

        1. Is this a trick question? You seem to have already answered it yourself. 

          It’s because at the moment space seems to offer a blank slate. If we already lived in space, like we already live in the colonies, it wouldn’t.

          But yeah (to build a bridge between you and Gabriel): KSR grapples as honestly as anyone with the question of how to make the messy transition between rabble and utopia. He’s worth reading just for this.

    2. KSR doesn’t have a better life start in space because the rabble is being left behind, it’s because the rabble that goes will have the benefit of applying hundreds of years of thought on how best to treat people without the repressive overhead on Earth- not to mention all the practice they get in being cooperative by living in fragile, interdependent habitats doing freely disseminated science. The question of how to apply what they have learned and built to suffering on Earth is a major theme in several of his books, this one included.

    3. Space in sci-fi offers a place to build a new society. If you want to place your setting in Rand wet dream of a libertarian society with free banking, or a collectivist anarchy without central government or corporations, or direct democracy cyber Republic, and you want those places to exist in the same roughly recognizable world that we have now, space is a nice and clean answer. Imagining the centers of power in this world shifting their forms of government and society radically and ushering in something new without the hangings of the past, while not impossible, is difficult.

      Space gives you… well… space. It gives you a place to imagine new structures. It isn’t that your chosen people are the ones who show up. It is that you have a clean slate to work from. If I dumped YOU into a mining colony in the rings of Neptune, would your first thought be to ape your favorite western democracy, import there few hundred years of precedents, and encourage your fledgling colony to build as many law schools as humanly possible? Hell no! You would probably push for something new. It might hold the basic outline of a representative democracy (and it might not), but I bet it would be different than anything on Earth.

      As far as governments go, Earth has gotten boring. It doesn’t matter where you are these days. You get three options. Straight up autocratic governments with only the barest lip service to democracy (China), fake democracy (Russia), and slightly less fake democracy (USA). The Arab Spring (failure or not) didn’t usher in direct democracy, new forms of legislative branches, or anything even vaguely innovative. They just dusted off generic parliamentarian blue prints, slapped a couple of Islamic crescents on it, and demanded that.

      Space isn’t about getting your chosen people to come hang out. It is about having a place outside of our current nationalistic world where you can build something that ignores the rules.

  3. I have this sitting on my nightstand at the moment. I’m torn between reading it right now or waiting for my vacation in July.

  4. Loyal opposition here: Greatest living writers? Did not like Mars and The Years of Rice and Salt was so very bad, and stupid, and such an awe inspiring waste of time that I really won’t read Robinson again without a damn good reason. That’s sad because I liked The Wild Shore and the other California novels, Icehenge, The Memory of Whiteness, A Short, Sharp Shock — for a long time, he was one of my favorites. But TYORAS was just goddamn dumb.

    On the other hand, just finished last night McDonald’s River of Gods and what I’m reading now (by the normally great Robert Charles Wilson) just seems pale by comparison. Now *that* was a big bulldozer of a novel.

  5. “one of science fiction’s greatest living writers”? Please.

    The first Mars book was absolutely inspired, but the second one was mostly waiting for something to finally happen.

    To be a great writer, you shouldn’t just write one good book. Every book should be good.

    1.  In that case I offer up Blue Mars, The Martians, Antarctica, The Memory of Whiteness, The Years of Rice and Salt… What planet of magical uniform artistic output do you come from? Is Henry IV Part II really compelling theater there? Can I come see? :-P

  6. I grabbed 2312 the day it was on the shelves, and inhaled it in another day or two, and found myself well satisfied- if maybe not as wholly immobilized as I found myself when I concluded the Mars trilogy- which seems to take place in a universe just next door, with a few variant bits of history (though one trilogy character’s exploits are mentioned in a little song/poem- it’s a bit like how all of Clarke’s Space Odyssey novels didn’t actually share uniform history.)

    What keeps drawing me back to Robinson is his complete command of landscapes-both of physical ones and the landscape of the human psyche. His books have a full array of whizbang components- self-replicating robots and genetically engineered cyborgs with immortality pills and problem-solving conversational AI and fusion rockets, all rendered by an informed eye- but they aren’t the playing the role of fetish objects or panaceas or weirdness fuel that they are in so many other books. Instead, they are remarkable for the ways in which they subtly mold the behavior and thoughts of human beings (and the places they live,) all of whom are carrying a lot of history on their shoulders- personal, social, and biological. Everyone is unified by hanging on the ragged edge between shaping their world and adapting to the shapes wrought by others, and watching them squirm, and resist, and eventually blossom is moving.

    2312 brings more of the same.  The two ostensible protagonists are both over a century old, but there are still some open questions about just who it is they are supposed to be, and using their technological and political powers for good is not just a matter of applying fairy dust, but about wrestling with the demons of history. And my goodness, we go to some interesting places.

    2312 is theoretically held together by a mystery plot, which, while a fine mystery, might be the weakest link. Most of his other novels manage to replace mustache twiddling villains with more universal forces- nature, either refusing to yield or to thrive, want, avarice, personal bitterness- and that always brings a lot of gravitas for free. Hunting for actual doers of evil deeds creates some terrific setpieces, but it seems a little weak compared to, say, their efforts to save Earth from its centuries-long mass extinction event.

    All the same, the book is big in theme and scope, all while remaining tethered to people worth caring about, a balancing act I don’t think many other science fiction writers, or writers in general, have mastered. Read it. Roll around in the moments of poetry (or proetry, I suppose.) Then go outside, and howl a bit.

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