The Titans looked out their tent walls with sharp anticipation. Oh my, they said, oh my. If we can just keep our shit together here we're gonna make this a real nice place.
A month or so ago I read Alastair Reynolds' sunshiney view
of the possibilities of a post-Crisis Earth, a couple hundred years further along, humanity busting out into the solar system, getting a handle on its homefront shit (climate, poverty, inequality). He had some nice tweaks on new world order--Africa the hub of global commerce and politics; he positively swooned over assorted techxtrapolations; he wrapped it all up in a puzzlebox, giving us a mcguffin to attend to as he did the world-building thing. It was fun.
This weekend I picked up a copy of Kim Stanley Robinson's take on "utopia," also set some few hundred years out, also "post-scarcity," also tech-bedazzled... hell, even the damn cover looks the same.
And the book couldn't be more wondrously, thickly, impressively different. Not to bash Reynolds, but Robinson's sense of the political complexities is Middlemarchian--the bumbling and probing and bedevilling impact of difference, desire, need, environment, and ideology which ripples forward from where we are to where we might be. He steals structure and tone and some play with character from John Dos Passos, spinning points of view and interchapter "extracts" which allow for infodumps as prose poetry, as contrapuntal harmony to the core melodies of plot. And he, too, has a mcguffin: it opens as if a murder mystery, and KSR coyly strings along a problem which has its payoff without trampling the joy in detail, social-order alleyways, odes to environment, a bubbling undertow around the nature of the human (and of consciousness).
This is why I read science-fiction: because the richly strange what-if provokes in me a wonder at the intersections of identity, art, history, environment, economy, science, technology. It is among the best novels Robinson has written, which is saying something, and a second great novel for me so far this year (the first a dystopia, but equally concerned with these issues