#RRSciFiMonth Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Orbit (7/7/15)
Author Information: Website
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s interesting how just the other day I was writing about how much I love colonization sci-fi, a fascinating subgenre which celebrates the faith and ambition that comes with setting out into the unknown—with the hopes that a brand new home can be found at the end of that journey. Of course, closely related to the theme of colonization is the idea of the generation starship. The original occupants of an interstellar ark might not live to see their final destination, but they know their descendants likely would, and that potential alone holds much room for the pioneer spirit.
But what happens if it all goes wrong? What if, after all the time and lives invested, you and your group reach the end of your journey to find that your destination is not as it seems, and now all your hopes are dashed to pieces, your hard-made plans gone to shit?
This is the tale of Aurora, a book about a starship launched in the year 2545, carrying two thousand of the Earth’s best and brightest, all on their way to find humanity a new home in the Tau Ceti system fourteen light years away. Thus to get there will take many generations, and indeed more than 150 years have passed when the novel actually begins.
The story follows Freya, our main protagonist, though there is a twist here that makes Aurora special—almost the entire narrative is told in the perspective of the ship itself, a vessel equipped with an intelligent and self-aware A.I. Freya’s mother Devi, the Chief Engineer of sorts, has charged the ship to construct a historical narrative detailing the lives of the people aboard, using her own daughter as the central focus. Following Devi’s direction, the ship begins to scour the databases and literature in order to do the best job it can, ultimately developing its own presence and personality as it tells this story.
But while Freya is the book’s main character, her mother Devi is the one who has held everything together, making sure everything is running smoothly as their ship approaches its final destination, a moon in the Tau Ceti system called Aurora. But Devi’s own time is short, and her daughter will find herself stepping into her shoes sooner than she realizes. Freya, however, is nothing like her mother, lacking Devi’s knack for crunching numbers and problem solving, but what our protagonist does have is the cunning and charisma to gain the trust of the people. And with what awaits them on the alien planet, perhaps those qualities in a leader is what everyone needs.
Freya’s rapport with the people becomes all the more important when things go wrong, and as a group, all of them must face the harsh reality and decide on the best course of action to ensure their own survival. What happens next is an experience I can only describe in feelings: exhilaration at the passengers’ arrival in the new system; incredulity at what they discover after making planetfall; sorrow at the way these new developments tear the ship’s community apart. I don’t want to go much further into the story’s plot for fear of spoilers, but thankfully there is hope that comes after too, as well as much admiration for the strength and will of the characters. Also noteworthy is the novel’s atmosphere, created by the vivid description of the ship’s various biomes and the way their inhabitants lived, both before and after the watershed moment that changed the course of all their lives.
It’s amazing what human beings are capable of, when push comes to shove. What conclusions might a sentient artificial intelligence like a ship reach, after a century and a half of observing its occupants? Perhaps it’s that humanity is driven by purpose; we become lost and disillusioned once that purpose is taken away, or when we are presented with difficult truths which force us to rebuild towards a new direction. Some will buckle under the pressure, while others persevere. But when it comes to down to survival, humanity can achieve great things as a collective group as long as there is hope.
Aurora is a very beautiful and powerful novel for this reason, thought-provoking and deep. It’s a very different breed of generation ship story, infused with more misery than optimism, to tell the truth. Nevertheless, it is a feast for the mind, full of descriptive wonders, interesting personalities, and engaging relationships. A very satisfying read.