Kim Stanley Robinson, bestselling author of the Mars Trilogy, dazzled readers and fans with his previous book about space, 2312, putting a whole new spin on humanity’s future in the cosmos. In his new novel, Aurora, he takes the idea of a colony spaceship traveling to a distant planet to colonize it and what happens. Of course, with Robinson, nothing is ever straight forward and lots of strange and unpredictable things occur.
There is a ship traveling through space and time that has been doing so for centuries. The ship is massive and is featured on the cover of the book: a central core that becomes known as the “spine” with two great rings. The ship in many ways is its own planet, with different “lands” or “countries” and thousands of people all different and unique. The ship is on its way to the Tau Ceti system where there is a new place the 2,122 travelers hope to call home. The ship has been traveling for 160 years, generations have been born, grown up, grown old, and died on the ship. Now, the current generation will reach the ship’s final destination.
The book mainly focuses around a family: Devi, the mother is essentially the ship’s “engineer”; Badim, the father; and our main character, Freya, the daughter. The book opens when Freya is a teenager and having issues with her controlling mother. The ship is still some years away from Tau Ceti, and Freya decides she’s had enough of home and sets out to see the many areas of the great ship. What began as a short and simple journey becomes a multi-year pilgrimage. She travels all over ship, interviewing and talking with many, many different people. She eventually becomes the most renowned inhabitant on the entire ship; during her journey she also learns a lot about her mother and what an important member and woman she has been to the ship and its people.
The ship eventually reaches Aurora and a substantial landing party is sent down to investigate. One of the member’s has her suit penetrated in a fall and her skin is broken, blood flowing, but there appears little wrong with her. She is kept in quarantine for a few days and develops a cold; then she asphyxiates and dies. Then the rest of the landing party become stick. Some commit suicide, while others die in the same strange way. The colonizers now have a decision to make: do they stay in Tau Ceti and try to colonize another nearby planet or moon, do they continue working on trying to adapt and survive on lethally hazardous Aurora, or do they turn the ship around and head back home?
Robinson posits a fascinatingly brilliant theory in Aurora: humanity has specifically evolved to survive on Planet Earth, wherever they hope to travel to in the universe they will be landing on a planet or moon where they have not evolved and face high risk to become sick and infected, much as colonizers and explorers of the past infected indigenous peoples with viruses and diseases that the native people had never experienced before, though in this case its the planet infecting the arriving invaders.
In Aurora, Robinson never holds back on his characters, letting them lead and tell the story. The story goes down avenues readers would never expect it to, and the author explains how it comes out the other side. Like Neal Stephenson’s recent Seveneves, Aurora is a fascinating story about humanity’s drive to explore and discover, and to survive at any cost.
Originally written on August 27th, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.
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