Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Hardcover, 466 pages

Published July 2015 by Orbit

It's a short century, I know we are only sixteen years into it, but I think it is fair to say That Kim Stanley Robinson has written two of the 21st century's best Science Fiction novels. The two novels I am talking about are 2312 and this novel Aurora. KSR is on a heck of a roll writing Arthur C. Clarke worthy hard SCIENCE fiction that honors the genre. That is not Hyperbole, These two novels explore important concepts about the future of the entire human race while balancing a page turning story.

It is what the best do. Your Heinlein, Leguin, Asimov, Clarke or Brunner. There might be more Gonzo sci-fi novels that I had more fun reading in this century, The Skinner by Neal Asher or Old Man's War by John Scalzi. They are fun, but These Robinson novels are important. They stand up tall next to the classics of the genre. Don't get me wrong, They are not just important I had fun reading these novels, and despite being big thick books I read them quickly.

Ok so Aurora. It is hard to discuss this book and it's message with out spoilers but I will give it my best shot. The story of A interstellar starship traveling to the system of Tau Ceti. KSR tries to stick to the facts and get as much of the science right as possible. Spanning over hundreds of years the journey of the ship has already seen generations pass. Our main human character is Freya, who was born on the ship and lived every moment there in fact there is no human alive in this story who was not born during the journey. As the novel begins the ship is slowing down toward the moon that will become their new home. A planetoid they name Aurora. Once their they find that spreading the human race out on to other worlds is not so easy.

The narrative is unique here, it is not possible to call it first person, the story is told by the generational starship's computer. KSR uses this for humor early on, but eventually he is telling the story very much from this point of view. Ship becomes a character and it's point of view is important. The lens with which the journey is seen by a computer is fascinating. Ship like any fully realized character has an arc. Ship grows, changes and in that sense feels very alive.

Aurora is a thrilling novel, it places in the universe of the story. It feels lived in and believable, and the saw time providing jaw dropping awe. The most fascinating aspect is that it uses science to put roadblocks in front of the characters who have to survive incredible odds. Thick of the Apollo 13 astronauts trying to survive, but on a much larger and insane scale. While scientists and engineers often say that some day we will be able to make these journeys this novel is 466 pages of Robinson calling bullshit.

These thinkers are just looking at the nuts and bolts of the travel time and propulsion. What Aurora does is look at the science not only of the travel but biological, ecological and sociological. Because that kind of journey will be effected by all those things. Some science fiction readers might find KSR's point of view to be a total downer. A surprise after the uplifting story and message at the heart of 2312.

The reality is this novel when you boil it all down is this: Earth is a starship, and it is the only one we as a species can count on. Aurora is a epic science Fiction novel with a simple message one important enough for me to call it a masterpiece. I was blown away.

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