The Hugo Voter Packet includes electronic copies of the nominated works, including the one book nominated for best novel that we didn’t already own: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. There was a time in the mid-1990s when I wouldn’t have missed a new novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, but I fell behind in the early 2000s, when I was reading less fiction; I still haven’t read The Years of Rice and Salt, though I bought it when it came out in hardcover, and I’ve only read the first of his “Science in the Capital” trilogy.
2312 reminds me of why I liked Robinson in the first place. Set three hundred years in the future, in the eponymous year, it’s a big-picture look at the solar system, at a grand scale, with digressions and essays, snippets and transcripts, in the style of John Dos Passos (John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and Joe Haldeman’s Mindbridge being earlier science-fictional iterations of this style), dealing with terraforming on many worlds, interplanetary economics, artificial intelligence and the environmental rehabilitation of a substantially warmed and distressed Earth.
There is considerable, understated grandeur here as Robinson describes his transformed future solar system: a city on rails on Mercury, fleeing the Sun; asteroids converted into wildlife refuges; a frozen Venus hidden by a sunshade. But in the foreground there’s this odd-couple romance between the Mercurial Swan and the Saturnine Wahram, whose roles in a secret project undertaken by Swan’s late grandmother bring them together again and again.
Its style is quintessentially Robinson: contemplative and focused on his characters’ inner lives, tinged more with melancholy rather than excitement, thoughtfulness rather than adventure. It draws upon the planetary romances of his early career, e.g. The Memory of Whiteness — Terminator, the moving city on Mercury, comes from “Mercurial,” a story first published in 1985 — and infuses it with the environmental concerns and critique of capitalism that are nearly always present in his near-future science fiction. It can, in a way, be seen as a summation of Robinson’s entire career.
And it won the Nebula Award last weekend. I suspect it’ll be the heavy favourite for the Hugo Award as well. It’s up against Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon (my review), Lois McMaster Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Mira Grant’s Blackout (my review) and John Scalzi’s Redshirts — I’ve read all but the Bujold, and so far I’m preferring 2312.