Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel works as a story about interesting people in a difficult situation and a metaphor for a great many real-world concerns.
It also raises the possibility that the stars are not our destination.
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
First published in July 2015
A generation ship decelerates as it reaches the Tau Ceti system, with planets for human settlement. Unfortunately, we evolved to live on earth, and the universe is a harsh mistress.
Robinson’s harsh and convincing look at space exploration won’t please everyone, but I found it mesmerizing. He never takes the easy way out, but examines the limitations of technology, psychology, sociology, and hypothetical exobiology that would come into play if we ever tried to leave our system. The novel works as a story about interesting people in a difficult situation and a metaphor for a great many real-world environmental and social concerns. Even our considerably larger starship, Terra (like its societies), has limitations.
The ability to recognize, truly recognize, that “Human history, like language, like emotion, was a collision of fuzzy logics” and reflect the fact in writing represents a challenge as daunting as spaceflight. In Aurora Robinson incorporates more of these difficult elements and creates more convincing societies than some writers manage in a career.
Much of the story is narrated by Ship, the artificial intelligence guiding the voyage. It is a convincing and touchingly human depiction of a non-human being, and of necessity it must at times address lengthy passages of history as exposition. Alas, for my taste, the novel features too many overly long philosophical musings, historical narratives, linguistic conundrums, technological explanations, and consciousness developments.
At one point two groups diverge from one. Given the length of novel remaining, I thought perhaps we’d follow the lives of both.
I was wrong.
Originality: 4/6 The tropes concerning generation ships and space colonies have grown old and worn, but few writers play them as Robinson does here…
Imagery: 6/6 …and few writers describe alien worlds and big not-so-dumb objects like Kim Stanley Robinson. Even future earth contains elements that seem remarkably convincing, including a small society of terraforming surfer dudes.
Story: 4/6 The story meanders, but it takes us to some interesting places, and gives us a first contact quite unlike most readers will have encountered before.
Characterization: 6/6 The story features a few very convincing characters, such as the non-human Ship and the very human Freya. The psychology of relationships and societies have been handled with particular deftness, showing humanity’s best and worst qualities.
Editing: 5/6 Robinson remains a writer worth reading, and one able to turn clever phrases. This book would benefit, nevertheless, from a good editor.
Emotional Response: 5/6 Despite some negative elements that will challenge the assumptions of many SF fans, I found the novel ultimately affirming.
Overall score: 5/6 Robinson may have penned the best generation ship novel to date. Controversies notwithstanding, Aurora will be up for the Hugo and Nebula Awards next year, or I will eat my space helmet.
In total, Aurora receives 35/42