Friday 4 May 2012

Quoth the Scotsman | Kim Stanley Robinson on Seizing the Day

This week, instead of catching up on all the reviews I've abandoned in the to-do queue, or playing Mass Effect 3, say - which we'll talk more about shortly - I've been reading 2312, the forthcoming space opera from that setter of standard, Kim Stanley Robinson of Red Mars renown.

As I said on Twitter after the first night I spent with 2312: it's been incredible, obviously.

And it's continued as awesome. I haven't been able to set aside as much time as I might like to devote to it this week - with everyone's exams either here or nearly, the tutoring has gotten all serious all of a sudden - but those moments I have had to spend with 2312 have basically, if you forgive me the hyperbole, blown me away.

I should have a full review of 2312 ready for public consumption well ahead of the book's publication in late May, but for the very moment, I wanted to share at least this little snippet with you. It's excerpted from from an early chapter, so never fear: there are no spoilers in sight. All you need know is that Wahram - one of our impetuous protagonist's co-conspirators - is considering how to keep things interesting in the midst of a long interplanetary voyage:

"Habits begin to form at the very first repetition. After that there is a tropism toward repetition, for the patterns involved are defenses, bulwarks against time and despair.

"Wahram was very aware of this, having lived the process many times; so he paid attention to what he did when he traveled, on the lookout for those first repetitions that would create the pattern of that particular moment in his life. So often the first time one did things they were contingent, accidental, and not necessarily good things on which to base a set o habits. There was some searching to be done, in other words, some testing of different possibilities. That was the interregnum, in fact, the naked moment before the next exfoliation of habits, the time when one wandered doing things randomly. The time without skin, the raw data, the being-in-the-world. 

"They came a bit too often for his taste. Most of the terraria offering passenger transport around the solar system were extremely fast, but even so, trips often took weeks. This was simply too much time to be banging around aimlessly; doing that one could easily slide into a funk or some other kind of mental hibernation. In the settlements around Saturn this sort of thing had sometimes been developed into entire sciences and art forms. But any such hebephrenia was dangerous for Wahram, as he had found out long ago by painful experience. Too often in his past, meaninglessness had gnawed at the edges of things. He needed order, and a project; he needed habits. In the nakedness of the moments of exfoliation, the intensity of experience had in it a touch of terror -- terror that no new meaning would blossom to replace the old ones now lost.

"Of course there was no such thing as a true repetition of anything; ever since the pre-Socratics that had been clear, Heraclitus and his un-twice-steppable river and so on. So habits were not truly iterative, but pseudoiterative. The pattern of the day might be the same, in other words, but the individual events fulfilling the pattern were always a little bit different. Thus there was both pattern and surprise, and this was Wahram's desired state: to live in a pseudoiterative. But then also to live in a good pseudoiterative, an interesting one, the pattern constructed as a little work of art. No matter the brevity of a trip, the dullness of the terrarium or the people in it, it was important to invent a pattern and a project and pursue it with all his will and imagination. It came to this: shipboard life was still life. All days had to be seized." (pp.50-51)

I bet you can imagine why this passage spoke to me so. If not, consider the epic holiday I just had, and the soul-crushing feeling that often accompanies coming home. I only wish I'd read these words a week or so sooner.

2312 is magnificent, incidentally. Already one of the year's best in my book, and I'm still not quite finished... a situation I aim to remedy this evening.

Seize the day yourselves on May 24th!


  1. I'll have to add this to the now dangerously teetering pile, thanks :)

  2. I just stumbled onto your site while googling this very quote. I'll have to read your review, I loved 2312. Anyway, thank you for posting this and saving me the small pain of deeper research.


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