Novel Review - Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
by Kim Stanley Robinson, 2015, 480 pages (Hachette audio)
TLDR: 4 out of 5 for a high concept hard SF novel with interesting ethics and conundrums.
Aurora is the story of the crew of a generational colony ship which is heading to Tau Ceti, a distance of 160 years and seven generations. The story picks up as the ship is about to reach the Tau Ceti system and follows it as it decides to settle on Aurora, a moon of Tau Ceti E.
I'm going to write this without spoilers, which means this will be vague, but what they find on Aurura causes a schism in the crew and three choices present themselves - to stay, to try and settle a different body in the system, or to head back to earth. Violence erupts on the ship and this is quelled by an unexpected person. The crew splits and half with one half attempting to return to our solar system. This is a risky venture because it requires that the ship to rely on the people back home to slow it down using the same laser that propelled it into space some 320 years earlier. Obviously, only some of the people think this is the least risky option.
This is Kim Stanley Robinson, master of Hard SF, so naturally there's a lot of scientific exposition - and this is pretty dry at times. If KSR earned a dollar for every time he used the words loess, graben, and atabatic , he could buy himself a nice thesaurus. He also speaks a lot about astro-navigation and biology in closed environments. But between all that some pretty interesting concepts emerge about life in the universe and the feasibility of interstellar colonization, so in the end it feels like it all pays off.
Robinson does a really good job of exploring the ethics of a generational ship. The people we get to know, the seventh generation, are pretty remote from those who embarked on the journey. They are trapped in a menagerie, having had no say in where they live out their lives - until they do, and they don't cope all that well.
The writing is at times stiff (the story is narrated in part by the ship's computer, who is learning to be a chronicler) but at other times quite lively, and I was thoroughly absorbed by the last section of the novel in which the lead character, Freya, experiences a beach for the first time in her life and comes to grips with life on a rock, rather than in tin can. Robinson captures the experience beautifully; we see it through fresh eyes and it rings entirely true.
I'm going to be thinking about this book for a while. So far, it is the most moving of the KSR books I've read (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, and 2312) and, I think, the most thought provoking.
Recommended if you're interested in generation ships, interstellar colonization, and don't mind some hard science to go with your stories and concepts. 4 out of 5 for me.