Read This Book: Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312
The most memorable moment of Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 is the quiet admission of a profound loneliness. If the fastest we can fly is a tiny fraction of the speed of light, then humanity is forever limited to the vanishingly small region of warmth surrounding our star, a candle in a vast darkness. Science fiction is full of hopeful inventions allowing the exploration of the entire galaxy, but Robinson makes a strong case that it's more interesting to stay near home.
Robinson is not optimistic about the ability of this generation of leaders to confront our challenges, calling the period 2005-2060 "The Dithering." Nevertheless, terraformed asteroids ply the solar system, transporting privileged spacers between the moons of Saturn and the new oceans of Venus. This is a book about economic and social stratification, as much as anything else. The twin spectres of Mars and Earth hang over the narrative, each offering the other a counterpoint. Mars has been fully terraformed, and is the most populous member of the post-scarcity economy which enables the lives of people like our protagonist, Swan Er Hong of Mercury.
Earth, on the other hand, is both the home of the majority of humanity, and the continued site of much human suffering. Attempted terraforming, unlike on the largely uninhabited worlds of Mars and Venus, has had disastrous effects, and the Earth is paralyzed by many of the same problems we face today. Most of the narrative surrounds Swan's bleeding-heart attempts to instigate change on the "problem parent" of humanity, but to be fair, there isn't that much narrative to be found here. 2312 is more concerned with constructing a world of remarkable clarity. We should be lucky to find ourselves there in 300 years.