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2 312 by Kim Stanley Robinson Orbit, May 2012

...Feels more like postmodern bricolage than modernist experiment. Reviewed by Paul Kincaid

I

n 1936, he Big Money, the inal volume in the U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos, was published. he trilogy was immediately recognised as one of the deining works of American Modernism, combining stream of consciousness, newspaper headlines, dramatic shifts in focus and other devices to form a kaleidoscopic portrait of the age. hirty years later, John Brunner incorporated those same techniques in a vivid picture of a world bursting with overpopulation, Stand On Zanzibar. Brunner’s bravura deployment of a range of techniques openly taken from Dos Passos was tacit recognition that the British New Wave, of which this was a leading example, was a belated incorporation of modernism into science iction. Now, another ifty years on, those techniques have been used once again. But 2312 is not a modernist novel. And while Dos Passos used the immediacy of newsreel and stream of consciousness to capture the experience of the age he was living in, from the end of the First World War, through the Jazz Age to the Depression; and while Brunner set his story just barely into the future, using equivalent literary devices to capture a fear that was very vivid and very immediate at the time he was writing; 2312 is set 300 years in the future and depicts a society that has spread across the solar system, in what appears, from our point of view, to be a time of plenty and riches. Kim Stanley Robinson’s appropriation, and updating of techniques from Dos Passos feels more like postmodern bricolage than modernist experiment. And where Dos Passos (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Brunner) could use a welter of abbreviated images to signal a world that was already familiar to their readers, Robinson’s book is about unfamiliarity, it is not a world we have experienced or a world we have foreseen. In other words, it should not work. But it does. In fact, the way Robinson uses this technique is far and away the best thing about this novel. Using extracts from documents, passages 46

of historiography, science papers, sociological reportage, he builds up a feeling for how this future works that is richer, more detailed, and hence more convincing, than just about any work of science iction I can recall. We don’t just see those bits of the universe that the characters happen upon, we don’t just learn about the workings of machinery or social systems that are directly relevant to the plot, rather we get a sense of the complexity of the entire system. We are given a taste of medical advances (some individuals are now extremely tall, some extremely short, all beneit from longevity), political changes (Mercury and Saturn are in an unlikely and uneasy alliance, Venus is riven by rivalries that are invisible to most of its inhabitants), ecological developments (climate change has brought catastrophic sea level rises to Earth, a host of moonlets and comets have been hollowed out and transformed into wilderness parks where wildlife has been preserved), advances in technology and physics, even the arts. Only music, which features more heavily in this book than in anything Robinson has written since he Memory of Whiteness, seems not to have changed much; or, at least, the only composers anyone seems to listen to are Mozart and Beethoven. Lest I give the impression that this is one of those utopian futures where all problems have been solved and the march of science is ever upwards, I should point out that one of the joys of this book, and one of the beneits of the complex technical structure that Robinson has chosen, is that he can show a far more nuanced picture than is usual. he extracts are littered with political, technical and scientiic disagreements. here are doubts galore. People engage in big actions for the best of motives without being sure that they will actually turn out for the best. People then, as now, are ham-isted, often wrong, inclined to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and liable to ind that some new discovery or development has undermined everything they have so far believed. Some of

Bull Spec #8+9 - Sample  

Sample pages from Bull Spec #8+9.

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