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Aurora Mass Market Paperback – April 26, 2016
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"A rousing tribute to the human spirit."―San Francisco Chronicle on Aurora
"The thrilling creation of plausible future technology and the grandness of imagination...magnificent."―Sunday Times on Aurora
"[Robinson is] a rare contemporary writer to earn a reputation on par with earlier masters such as Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke."―Chicago Tribune on Aurora
"If Interstellar left you wanting more, then this novel might just fill that longing."―io9 on Aurora
"Aurora may well be Robinson's best novel...breaks us out of our well-ingrained, supremely well-rehearsed habits of apocalypse - and lets us see the option of a different future than permanent, hopeless standoff."―Los Angeles Review of Books on Aurora
"Humanity's first trip to another star is incredibly ambitious, impeccably planned and executed on a grand scale in Aurora."―SPACE.com on Aurora
"[A] near-perfect marriage of the technical and the psychological."―NPR Books on Aurora
"[A] heart-warming, provocative tale."―Scientific American on Aurora
"This ambitious hard SF epic shows Robinson at the top of his game... [A] poignant story, which admirably stretches the limits of human imagination."―Publishers Weekly on Aurora
"This is hard SF the way it's mean to be written: technical, scientific, with big ideas and a fully realized society. Robinson is an acknowledged sf master-his Mars trilogy and his stand-alone novel 2312 (2012) were multiple award winners and nominees-and this latest novel is sure to be a big hit with devoted fans of old-school science fiction."―Booklist on Aurora
About the Author
Kim Stanley Robinson is a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt and 2312. In 2008, he was named a "Hero of the Environment" by Time magazine, and he works with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. He lives in Davis, California.
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I enjoyed “Aurora” more than any other book Robinson has written since the Mars series. The style and pacing has been criticized by some, but I found the framing (the story is narrated by the starship’s computer) valid and certainly much more readable than a lot of recent experimental styles.
In truth, I enjoyed the first half, maybe two-thirds, of “Aurora”, but the last third was so depressing that I believe it actually made me feel moody throughout the days I finished the book. I don’t usually like to spoil in a review, but this book takes such a turn that I feel disclosure of its nature is necessary. First, the book is mistitled, as “Aurora” is the name of the planetary body the colonists attempt to settle. That implies the story focuses on that place, but in fact, less than 10% of the book involves it. A more apt title for this book would be, “The Failed Mission to, and Attempted Return from, Aurora”. An even better title might be, “Two Thousand People Leave Earth and Die”. Here’s a summary:
1. 2,000 people in a generational starship reach a planet they name Aurora.
2. 200 of those people go to the planet’s surface, which seems highly promising for colonization.
3. An unidentified infectious agent on that planet makes them sick, and about 100 of them die on the planet.
4. Another 100 try to return to the starship, and the people aboard kill them.
5. The people still on the starship fight each other about what to do, and some kill each other.
6. About half the remaining people stay in the new system to try to establish a colony anyway. The book never relates any more information about them except to say that they failed and died.
7. The other half decide that space colonization is a terrible idea and try to return to Earth.
8. Their starship starts failing on the voyage, a famine strikes, some people starve and some commit suicide.
I actually think that in KSR’s first draft of “Aurora”, at this point the famine and system breakdown progressed and killed the remaining voyagers and his book / humility lesson ended here. If so, his editor made him add a *slightly* less depressing ending. He inserts an uncharacteristic “technological savior” in the form of human hibernation, and from this point ignores the points he had made about hyper-evolved bacteria damaging the ship’s mechanisms, so I truly wonder at this turn. So:
9. The starship’s AI puts the remaining survivors into hibernation and flies them back to Earth.
10. Some people die during hibernation, some die upon awakening.
11. About 600 people land on Earth, though some – you guessed it! – die during reentry.
12. The survivors keep dying after landing on Earth. The rest feel their lives are pointless. Oh, and the starship’s AI itself tries to reach a stable orbit but fails and crashes into the sun.
Now, I don’t need all stories to be unrelenting optimism and tales of the inevitable, easy, human conquest of the galaxy. The trials and challenges, especially when supported by serious scientific analysis and speculation (which KSR does superbly), make a story stronger. I’m certainly not unhappy that I read “Aurora”, and I recommend it – to people who know its dark perspective and want to consider it. Just understand that this book is essentially “Anti-Science Fiction”, as Robinson seems to be on a mission to debunk all the Heinleinian / Asimovian tales of space colonization. This is really apparent when, near the end, he adds – almost spitefully - that not only did the colony attempt that remained in the Aurora system fail, but that Earth had sent out many other starships attempting to colonize other star systems, and they ALL failed, too!
The book ends with an odd-feeling section on Earth in which Robinson expounds on humanity’s abuse of the homeworld’s environment, and even says that the belief in space colonization contributed to people taking Earth for granted. It seems as if one of the most respected science fiction writers of his time is disavowing the genre, even pointing a finger at hopeful speculation as harmful.
Here we have a multi-generational spaceship approaching its destination after 160 years of traveling at one-tenth the speed of light. Supplies are running low as mutations and devolution alter the ability of the ship to maintain a healthy balance between all the species producing and/or absorbing various by-products of other species. The slowing of the ship and changes in gravitational pulls from the looming star system they intend to colonize further stress all things living and mechanical. Still, the colonists are able to land a small party on the moon they intend to inhabit before matters turn more deadly.
The main character turns out to be the ship itself, whose quantum computer is trained to think and write a narrative of the voyage by a latter-day engineer just as the group arrives at its destination. As the years pass, ship does gradually take on a personality, and its own ruminations are fascinating to watch.
I'll say no more on plot but mention one of the ideas Robinson explores: the question of whether any species, having evolved within a certain set of factors in one solar system, can transfer to another system where they have no outside support or natural affinity. For instance, if the colonized planet or moon is dead (completely void of lifeforms), can it be developed quickly enough to support the colony before reduced supplies and, again, devolution, being about their demise? Or, if the planet or moon does have life, even at a cellular or viral scale, can the incoming species ever develop immunity quickly enough to avoid being killed off? These are the kind of questions Robinson is so good at illustrating and making the reader remember and think about long after finishing the book.
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Ok just a couple things.
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