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Literature / 2312

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The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity's only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.

The first event takes place on Mercury, on the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. It is an unexpected death, but one that might have been foreseen. For Swan Er Hong, it is an event that will change her life. Swan was once a woman who designed worlds. Now she will be led into a plot to destroy them.

The book won the 2013 Nebula Award for Best Novel.

2312 provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: Played with. There are no intelligent aliens, but a well developed microbial community has been discovered in the seas beneath Enceladus.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: It turns out a poorly constrained qube was responsible for the attack on Mercury, or at least one came up with the method of attack.
  • All There in the Manual: The chapters are interspersed with snippets of various books and lists that provide some background information or are thematically related to the chapters they appear near.
  • Arc Number: 2312. Several allusions are made to the year in the snippets of future history sprinkled between the chapters, and is said to be a pivotal year for humanity in general.
  • Animal Motifs: Swan and Warum. Warum is often described as toad-like by Swan's narration and has a deep rumbling voice. Swan's motif is birds, and it goes a bit deeper - she has a cluster of skylark song tissue implanted in her brain, giving her a great facility with whistling.
    • She also has the ability to purr like a cat.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Fairly ubiquitous and responsible for coordinating an unsettling amount of the system's infrastructure. They come in two flavors - classical A.I.s and Qubes.
    • Classical A.I.s are basically very powerful but ultimately limited supercomputers.
    • Qubes combine quantum computers and a large classical computer to act as a database to create a much more versatile system. While Qubes are incredibly powerful compared to classical AI and some are capable of passing a Turing test, they are explicitly mentioned to be non-sapient. The qubes implanted in android bodies cast doubt on that assertion and make up a significant sub-plot.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Some factions within the Venusian Working Group are less willing than others to commit mass murder to achieve their goals. One such faction is willing to work with Swan and her allies in Interplan to thwart their less scrupulous rivals.
  • Boy Meets Girl: Warum meets Swan. The book chronicles their protracted courtship on a backdrop of interplanetary intrigue.
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: A trip from Mercury to Pluto via Terraria is measured in weeks. Relatively fast, but still leading some of those traveling to get temp jobs for the duration.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: Ubiquitous and the only practical source of large scale simulated gravity in the setting.
  • Colony Drop:
    • Terminator is the victim of one early on.
    • Played with, as instead of being attacked by one large object, it is attacked by what they call a pebble mob, with many small objects that converged only seconds before impact to avoid activating the city's automatic warning systems and defenses.
  • The Con: Turns out a lot of the plot has to do with a particularly egregious real estate scam on Venus.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Venusian Working Group, although some are worse than others. Of particular note is Lakshmi, who is rumored to spend her year long trips to Earth managing a Chinese extortion racket.
  • Cult Colony: There are a few in the various Terraria, running the gamut from fairly benign fringe groups to full on Crapsack Worlds. The Big Bad has the misfortune of coming from one of the latter.
  • Death from Above: Most of the bases around the solar system have advanced systems to detect and protect them from meteor strikes. But they can't see the "pebble mob" - lots of tiny rocks launched independently with exact precision from millions of miles away, to land on the same spot at the same time.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Kirin stumbles into being one once he gets to Venus. To his credit, he realizes he's in way over his head and just tries to stay alive until he can get out.
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: Played straight, and many Earthers resent Spacers who they see as abandoning the planet to live a hedonistic life style in space. It's worse in some places than others, but by the time of the book Spacers on sabbatical rarely travel alone outside a few friendly countries.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Each chapter is preceded by quotes from in universe books, or lists of topics and subjects related to the focus of the chapter.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Spacers, for the most part. Although it's more like "everyone has had so much tinkering with their physiology that the concept of gender breaks down into a complex jumble of hormones and modified genitals".
    • Examples include womb-men, androgenes, gynadromorphs, hermaphrodites... The list goes on.
  • The Federation: The Mondragon Accord is the closest thing Spacers have to a unified governing body, primarily composed of Mercury, most of the Terraria, and the Outer Planets. Think something along the lines of a practical take on Communism mixed with vestigial elements of Capitalism IN SPACE!
    • Mars rejoins it in the final chapter, adding considerably to its effective power.
  • First-Name Basis: Inverted - Given the physiological tinkering most Spacers undergo, sex and gender is a fairly complicated topic. Therefore, referring to someone with a traditional gendered pronoun is either a minor insult or implies a degree of closeness and familiarity, roughly comparable to the informal tense of most European languages.
  • Free-Love Future: Not true in general, but it's an ideal catered to by the sex-liners, where spacers can spend their weeks long voyages from place to place in the solar system by screwing in every possible combination imaginable. And in this setting, that means a lot of screwing.
  • Global Warming: Sea levels have risen 11 meters by the time of the story, but things have more or less stabilized. Keeping what little ice remaining on land from melting is a major concern for the continued well being of the Earther society, as they likely wouldn't be able to cope with another rise.
  • Hollow World: The Terraria are made by spinning hollowed asteroids. They provide a large fraction of the solar system's habitable real estate and serve as a strange combination of wilderness preserves, collections of allied city states, and interplanetary transports/bulk shipping freighters.
  • I Owe You My Life: The main reason Swan helps Kirin off planet after he saves her from an altercation with some of his rougher cousins.
  • In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: Heavily averted. In addition to existing races and other divisions there are entirely new distinctions like Earther vs Martian vs Venusian vs Spacer; Tall vs Small vs Baseline; and then there's the complex ways gender identity break down.
  • Long-Lived: Spacers in general will live well into their one hundreds, barring accident. The Smalls take particular pride in not yet having an established natural life expectancy, with the oldest being well into their 200s.
  • Longevity Treatment: While there is no single treatment, the various hormone therapies commonly available to spacers have life extension as one of their primary benefits.
  • Mercurial Base: The aptly named Terminator, the sole permanent settlement on Mercury, perpetually moving along a track powered by thermal expansion.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: Interplan is the closest thing the solar system has to a unified monitoring body and police force, being nominally sponsored by the Mondragon Accords. Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes their authority.
  • Older Than They Look: Most spacers, due to various longevity therapies.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Genette and the other Smalls, though it really only comes up in high-g environments - while they still weigh more than they are used to, the strain on their bodies is still within the weight range human body materials naturally evolved to handle, so they are more capable of functioning normally.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Alex's death disrupts a lot of the existing agreements in the Mondragon and sets up Swan's involvement with them as she tries to carry out her grandmother's last requests.
  • Polyamory: With longevity treatments allowing people to regularly live to 200, the idea of a "permanent" relationship became strained. One solution to provide a stable family life for children was a creche system with many parents in a single relationship.
    • Swan marries into Warum's creche in the epilogue.
  • Posthumous Character: Alex, Swan's grandmother, and one of the primary minds behind the Mondragon Accord.
  • Ramming Always Works: Used to save the Venusian soletta array from a debris swarm near the end of the book.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: The Qubes put into android bodies, though it seems to vary on a case by case basis, with some better at posing as human than others.
  • Sharing a Body: Swan has a qube implanted behind her right ear named Pauline. While not strong enough to pass a Turing Test (or so she likes to claim) Swan programmed her to be a conversationalist and she often gets distracted by Pauline's words, causing her to be turned off frequently.
  • Single-Biome Planet: The Terraria, which are too small for anything more complex.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the Red Mars series. Word of God has it that the two are not set directly in the same universe, although they do share a broad-strokes history with one another.
  • Stealth Pun: The plot of the book boils down to the courtship of a mercurial Mercurian and a saturnine Saturnian.
  • Terraform: Mars has been terraformed for centuries by the time the book takes place and the tail end of the Venusian terraforming effort plays a large part in the story. Indeed, it turns out most of the events in the book started from one of the terraforming concerns trying to force their favored course of action on the planet.
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay: At one point Pauline calls out Swan for attempting to use antiquated measuring units (inches, in this case) to reinforce a point she's trying to make.
  • Thematic Series: Forms one with the Red Mars series, New York 2140 and Aurora. They all share a similar broad-strokes history, but Word of God has it that they are not directly related.
  • Theme Naming: The members of the Venusian Working Group like to borrow names from Hindu mythology. Since most Venusians are of Chinese extraction, this is seen as a way to symbolically break ties from China and the other existing powers on Earth, and claim a wholly Venusian identity. How true that break is is a matter of intense speculation for outsiders.
  • Time Skip: The book covers most of the decade preceding 2312 and weeks or even months are frequently glossed over, typically while traveling between planets and habitats.
  • Title Drop: The year 2312 gets mentioned repeatedly in the snippets of future history as a pivotal year in human history.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Warum, who is frequently described as toad-like, and Swan, who isn't depicted as physically exceptional but is incredibly outgoing and charismatic.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: A charitable interpretation of Lakshmi's faction on Venus. Their actions removed a potentially deadly security issue for the future of Venus, at the cost of a mere 3000 lives and approximately 100 years of wasted terraforming effort.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The Qubes in android bodies create a bit of a headache for everyone when they are rounded up at the end of the book. The immediate decision is to exile them on the first experimental interstellar colony ship. The reasoning being that the solar system isn't equipped to deal with them at the moment and if they ever get the resources together to come back it will be far in the future. Needless to say, this leaves a bad taste in Swan's mouth and she immediately flouts the decision the first chance she gets.