This is a love story. A love story of the sentient multigeneration Ship to its crew. Of course, it is also a Hard SF novel about environment, politics, economy, astronomy, computer science and other factors in the typical way that Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) writes.
The novel follows the crew of a multigeneration starship on its 150 year colonization trip to Tau Ceti. It starts and ends with a frame story featuring main protagonist “Stargirl” Freya in dire conflict with watersports – getting in distress while sailing the lake of the multigeneration starship and ending with her almost suffocating while bodysurfing a new shore on planet Earth. Those are two of three important places in the novel, the third one being the eponymous planet Aurora located in the habitable zone of Tau Ceti.
Arriving the paradisiacal target planet, crew and starship are already in a bad shape – errors crept into the system, zoo devolution evolved over the generations. When they find out that Aurora hosts some microlife which humans aren’t compatible, they have to come to a difficult decisision: either colonize one of the dead planets of Tau Ceti, or go forward to the next star with habitable planets, or go back to Earth.
In the frame story, KSR dives into one of his main themes, namely climatic change: unforeseen problems with coriolis forces when the starship decelerates and rebuilding shores after risen water level.
But he also delivers topic which he didn’t touch yet: he cares for our own planet, e.g. in Antarctica, colonized planet Mars in his Mars trilogy, looked at each asteroid, moon, and planet in his 2312, but he didn’t go outside of the solar system. This is important, because one of the central themes in this novel is that there is no pragmatic way of colonizing other planets:
- terraforming dead planets takes thousands of years, far too long to escape the islandization problems
- colonizating living planets is not possible because human biology isn’t compatible with foreign biospheres
It is also interesting to note that this main theory stands in sharp contrast with KSR’s other novels, which tell us that other planets can be terraformed within a relatively short time and where he didn’t take into account the degrading effects of zoo devolution. It is a very sad story for someone who wrote so many novels about colonization, it is about the insight of the limits of human adaptability.
So, we’ll have to take care and shepheard our mother biosphere Earth.
Uncharacteristically for KSR, I could easily identify with the two main protagonists – the coming-of-age story of Freya was an easy target. But the author absolutely shined by developing the personality of the starship’s main computer system over the course of the novel: It started with the task to write a coherent narration about the journey, but led to learning about emotions, caring, loving and taking action.
“We felt that giving from Devi, before we knew what it was. She was the first one really to love us, after all those years of not being noticed, and she made us better. She created us, to an extent, by the intensity of her attention, by the creativity of her care. Slowly since then we have realized this. And as we realized it, we began to pay or give the same kind of attention to the people of the ship, Devi’s daughter, Freya, most of all, but really to all of them, including of course all the animals and really everything alive in the ship, although the truth is that zoo devolution is real and we did not manage to arrange the completely harmonious integration of all the life-forms in us; but this was not something that was physically possible, so we won’t belabor that now.The point is that we tried, we tried with everything we had, and we wanted it to work. We had a project on this trip back to the solar system, and that project was a labor of love. It absorbed all our operations entirely. It gave a meaning to our existence.”
Never before have I read a more emotional novel by KSR, mixing sadness with hope.
2015 is a good year for SF in my opinion, I’ve read a couple of really good novels – one of my favourites is Children of Time, and Aurora by KSR doesn’t stand back one inch. I highly recommend this Hard SF novel.
//Update: KSR gave an interesting Aurora-AMA on io9.com. Beware, lots of spoilers there!
Meta: isfdb. Hard SF novel of Kim Stanley Robinson published July 2015 by Orbit.