Author Kim Stanley Robinson released a new novel this year, Aurora. I considered it time to gather my thoughts and write a review for this very good book that alas also has some major deficiencies. Aurora is set some 500 hundred years into future on a generation ship. It’s goal is the Tau Ceti system. Freya, daughter of Devi, the de facto chief engineer, is struggling with her late adolescence. Her parents are worried she is not up to the challenge of colonizing, Aurora, their destination in the Tau Ceti system at which they will arrive soon.
Summary of Aurora
Once there over a hundred of their ships compliment out of two thousand die when they are poisoned by Aurora’s dangerous micro-organisms. They have learned a bitter lesson. Any planet with live is probably poisonous while a live-less planet would take far too long to terraform. Freya wants only one thing, to get back to earth and tell everybody how stupid their idea was. Her desire is strengthened by the death of her best-friend on Aurora. Eventually a ship-wide mutiny breaks out between those that want to attempt terraforming and those who want to return to earth. The mutiny is quelled by Ship, the onboard AI and the most important secondary character of the story. Ship decides that those who want to terraform can stay and will get resources but he will take the rest with them back to earth. Along the way the onboard ecology slowly deteriorates as micro-organism begin to become immune to methods of eradicating them. A famine forces everybody to undergo hibernation, a technique they only just learned from feeds sent from Earth. Back in the Sol system Ship has to attempt a dangerous aero breaking maneuver. The crew and passenger are saved but Ship burns up in the Sun. Instead of heading the warning of the dangers and cruelty of Generation ships (the descendants have little choice in life) people on Earth see the success of Hibernation as an opportunity. The crew of the ship, Freya included, go on a self-imposed exile with a group of people attempting to reconstruct Earth’s beaches after they have been flooded by Global Warming.
Aurora was an easy book to read, but a lot harder to review. I find myself struggling to pass judgment. So I will simply say what I feel is right. Because Aurora was such an easy read it wasn’t Robinson’s best. The Mars Trilogy wasn’t easy to read, but the in the end paid off handsomely. Aurora’s ending is also very good, just getting there was too easy. The characters lacked the depth they normally did in the authors work and so did the explanation of the hard-science that so pervades his work. I got a sense that Robinson really loved the topic of generation ships sailing to other stars and explain their shortcomings. Yet, it seemed the ending was never really in doubt. Only a return to earth would see Freya, her father and the all the others live happily ever after. The payoff was thus never in doubt, which made reading the book less important. The death of Ship and Sochi were heartfelt losses, but also felt as if Robinson was correcting the very mistake I am trying to point out. Sochi was for most of the book a secondary character who would disappear in a self-imposed exile for dozens of pages. Like some other aspects his character felt like an addition to a later draft. Ultimately, Aurora is a good book, easy to read, but not a great book.
Author Kim Stanley Robinson has a penchant for writing space operas with hard-sf elements. I have read pretty much every part of his work. That is only true for a few other authors such as Alastair Reynolds, William Gibson and Frank Herbert. Yet I feel as if the author should tackle a different topic. Authors such as Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow frequently experiment with stories straddling genres. Even Alastair Reynolds tried it with Terminal World, with success. Can Kim Stanley Robinson try something different?
For those eager to Aurora a try, note that his novel 2312 is set in the same universe though they are only loosely affiliated. Neither are a prerequisite to read the other.