My book for Antwerpen, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 is up for a Hugo this year, and needing something sci-fi to read I thought it might appeal. I also have Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon sitting here, which is the only other one I think it’s possible to read without getting lost mid-way in a series.
It’s a curious book – obviously I’ve finished it – and the similarities to Charles Stross’ Saturn’s Children are uncanny, notably the Terminator rail city on Mercury and the Smalls; the dismantling of moons in turn, as well as the name given to the technological era also recalls a work of Stross, one of the first I read: Accelerando. The former work is perhaps a good comparison, being one of my favourites in the genre, and having a humour that sits well with the imagining of a near-ish future solar system and the feats of engineering and technology that are required.
Stanley, like so many sci-fi writers these days gets all the details correct. I think of this somewhat as wiki-writing. It’s a particular feeling I get when I know the writer has done their research, but doesn’t really conceptually grasp it. Neal Stephenson and William Gibson both suffer from this. I’m thinking here of descriptions of southern China cities and inner-city Melbourne that were accurate yet missing something. Perhaps it’s a bit like how Germans in Berlin make croissants, as if they’ve heard and seen everything about them, but never tasted one.
Another problem of writers both recent and not so, which often combines with the above, is the imagining of a future in which what is now speculative technology has become real, yet with scant extra in the universe; imagining a future 200 years from now from the perspective of the ’70s where video is still being saved to VHS. This also was a evident in the US-centricism of his writing, despite populating Venus with Chinese (who seemed to have all adopted Native American names and culture) and other multi-culturalism dressing. Particularly so in how he handled gender, which of course is a quick way to piss me off. Really, naming one type of post-human genders ‘Wombmen’ smacks either of complete ignorance of second-wave feminism and all the essentialist genital-centric crap that went with it and the subsequent refutation of that corporeral nationalism, or simply a not caring because it sounds so clever, or worst of all, somehow thinking the likes of Daly have something to offer a near-future understanding of identity. And that’s before I spent a good fifteen minutes frowning at the physiological unlikeliness of the dual-genitaled coupling scene, wondering how he might explain such erogenous zones.
The ending, a post-human marriage of two such complimentary genders (a wombman and the protagonist, with genitals going the other way, so to speak), was insipid, unsatisfactory, and substantially reifying current-day gender identities and roles, whatever the configuration of genitals might be. That, along with plodding denouements that didn’t really make sense left me yearning for a good Stross or Banks or Mieville, people who actually understand this stuff. At least it gave me something to read for a few days.