Monday, 10 September 2012

2312: A Book Review of Sorts

How would you live your life if you had 10 years to live? What about 200? What about a thousand?

The year is 2312, and humans have spread throughout the entire solar system during the Accelerando, a period of major technological advancement of humanity. Mars has been terraformed, terraforming of Venus is in progress, and various domed cities exist on several Jovian and Saturnian moons. The main character, Swan, is from a city on Mercury called Terminator, which is a domed city of around half a million people that sits on tracks, forever staying just out of reach of the Sun. In addition, many asteroids have been hollowed out, given a bit of spin, and inhabited. These are called terraria.

People in space ("spacers") enjoy extended lives thanks to longevity treatments. Some are living beyond 200 years in relatively youthful condition. Medical research is progressing, though, and maybe they can extend it to a thousand. The economic system functions as a series of cooperatives divided mostly into planets, with the economy (distribution of resources) being run almost entirely by computers. While it is certainly not a utopia, people's needs are generally provided for.

Hybrid quantum and classical computers are becoming more common. They call them qubes: 30 qubit quantum computers paired with very fast conventional computers. Of course, they are small - you can have one on a wrist pad or even embedded on your person*. And most of them come with their own AIs, which people tend to name. They basically run the show: economy, space flight, construction, you name it. You can give your qube a verbal instruction, such as "make our security system better", and it will go ahead and communicate with other qubes and get the job done in some way, though perhaps not the way you may have intended...

Earth then is like Earth now. It's a mess. There are 11 billion people, a high sea level thanks to global warming, widespread poverty, but also many places with very good conditions. Again, like now. Not everyone gets longevity treatments, and there is a lot of resentment of spacers. Many animals are extinct, and the kind of wrecked climate makes growing food hard. In fact, a lot of terraria are used to grow food for Earth, as well as acting as wildlife reserves, preserving animals extinct on Earth.

I won't go into much more detail. The book is a spiritual successor of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, which I would recommend to anyone. 2312 fits somewhere between the Mars Trilogy and Galileo's Dream** chronologically, and the universes are similar, though I think not intended to be the same. Mars has a different history in 2312, for example, but Terminator existed in the Mars Trilogy.

What I love about Robinson's writing is that it's so plausible. His ideas aren't totally fantastic like a lot of science fiction. Everything is very well thought through and researched. There isn't silly stuff like faster than light travel and made up science (there are obviously postulations of future science and technology, but that is what makes it sci-fi). If you want to get somewhere in the solar system, it's going to take you a few weeks!

Back to my opening questions. I thought of them throughout reading the book. Our lives now are dreadfully short. A ten year time frame is not long; it's such that you would want to throw everything into it and experience as much of life as possible. I am 28. If things go well, I can expect 20 or 30 years of life without health problems bogging me down and keeping me from being active, maybe a few more if I'm lucky. That's not long at all! It's short enough that I have to make choices. This or that? Children or no? Am I in the right career? Probably, but there are so many other things I want to try that I have no time for!

Two hundred years, however, is a lot more reasonable. I wouldn't worry about choosing this or that. I could take my time with stuff. It would be fine to take a few years off to have kids, because it's a much smaller percentage of my life. There wouldn't be a constant rush to cram as much in as possible.

A thousand years changes everything. Assuming that everyone else also lives as long, it would be a very different world. I think people would value life much more than they do now. There is a lot more to lose.

"You could live for a thousand years ... But so, you... you should take care."

* And the present quantum computing research community lets out a collective LOL.
** There is a character that appears both in the Mars Trilogy and Galileo's Dream.

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