A short review of Aurora,
a science-fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, Orbit Books, New York, 2015.
This is the story of humans and their attempt to spread to planets that orbit other stars. Aurora is the name of the multi-generation starship heading to Tau Ceti. Specifically, the humans’ goal is a moon of a giant planet in orbit around that star.
Aurora then becomes the name of the moon on which the landing party encounters first, a bit of trouble, then a lot of trouble. Decisions have to be made about the fate of the thousand people on board the starship, difficult decisions.
I then begin to think that the novel is really the story of the starship as the ship becomes more and more a central character, the narrator. Specifically, the Artificial Intelligence that controls almost all ship functions, known simply as “ship” becomes more central to the story. The humans on board the starship probably have no better friend than ship.
The problems inherent in a multi-generational starship are set in stark relief to the hopes and dreams of the founders of the mission and the fears of the current human inhabitants. Some of the issues addressed are:
- the different paces of evolution between the smaller creatures (bugs) and the larger creatures (humans),
- the governance on board a starship after all the original generation are dead,
- the children and grandchildren of the original volunteers did not volunteer to live on a starship. Do they have rights?
- the fate of the humans in the hands of machines.
And for me the most startling issue surrounds the idea that Earth is the cradle of humanity, and it is our destiny to leave the cradle. The counter-argument presented in Aurora is substantial and maybe even persuasive.
If we humans live and dream with the assumption that Earth is our cradle and we are bound to leave, what does that do to our obligation to the cradle? If we’re going to leave anyway, does it matter if we use up all the resources and trash the place on our way out? If we know we’re going to leave, do we need to worry about pollution and climate change here on Earth?
And if we allow the pollution and climate change and then discover that Earth is not merely our cradle but is our permanent home, what price will we pay, what hardships will we and our children endure before the planet regains its balance.
The characters in this novel are very three dimensional and easy to believe. When humans on board the starship die, ship provides a uniquely human touch. Robinson surprises me often enough to upset my balance but still desire more story. The circumstances of the launch of the starship, the desperation of the settlers, and the growth of the heroic ship were timed just right and were not expected. Memorable.
The book was an easy read, it took me less than a week to devour the 466 pages. The astrophysics and science are woven in appropriately and with enough depth to keep this reader’s attention. I recommend this book.