Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: Aurora

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Format: Hardcover, 471 pages
Publisher: Orbit
Cover Art: Kirk Benshoff
Release Date: July 7, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780316098106

"A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.  Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.   Now, we approach our destination.  A new home.  AURORA.".
As you may infer from the blurb, Earth sends a colony ship carrying about two thousand people and assorted plants and animals to the star Tau Ceti.  The ship manages to get up to a tenth of the speed of light and since Tau Ceti is just under 12 light-years away it takes about 180 years to get there.  The story starts just before the colonists arrive.

The story mainly follows the life of Freya, daughter of the main engineer, however it is narrated by the ship's artificial intelligence.  If you think that sounds bland, you would be right, but only at first. The A.I. gets better as it learns and becomes perhaps something more.  In a way, the story is almost as much about the A.I. as it is about the people. 

Like many of KSR's previous books, the importance of the story is less about the individuals than about the broader issues regarding technology, biology, and sociology.  The most obvious is of course what happens when we try to colonize an alien world.  The colonists come prepared, but in the end there's no way to be completely prepared for a different planet.  There is also what happens when locked inside a small biosphere like a ship.  The biology aspect is a big part of it, but also how a small society might work or not socially and politically. 

While I really enjoyed this book, I did end up docking it half a rating point because I disagree with KSR on what he seems to be saying about human exploration and colonization.  Basically, that...
humans probably shouldn't be going out into space.  It seems like he's saying that any spread out from our home world will be difficult if not impossible given that Earth's biosphere is unique and being cut off from it, especially on another planet, means any venture might be doomed to fail.  I don't agree with that because we won't know until we actually try.  I do agree though we do need to work on fixing the problems here at home, but that doesn't mean we can't also explore.

So, like Dark Eden this book takes a fascinating, and perhaps timely, concept and runs with it to see what happens.  I may not agree with what KSR is ultimately saying, but Aurora was certainly a very enjoyable read.  Strongly recommended.

Rating: 8.5/10.

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