Space travel – it’ll screw you up. That’s one of the big lessons of Kin Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, a book about a generational starship on the verge of reaching its destination, where the descendants of the original crew are due to found humanity’s first colony among the stars.
It’s hard to discuss the plot of this book without getting into spoilers. It takes a lot of dramatic turns, breaking from the structure you might expect from such a novel. I often found myself saying “how can I be only this far through if we’ve reached event x already?” Then low and behold, KSR would show me how. This is an author unafraid of breaking out of his audience’s comfort zone.
Which brings me to the problem with this novel.
Intellectually, it’s fascinating. KSR delves deeply into physics, ecology, AI and the social sciences. While I’ve seen the science criticised by those in the know for taking certain elements too far, to me as a non-scientist it offered fascinating insights into how the world works. Or perhaps more accurately, how it breaks down.
Because this is a bleak book. Bad things happen, as is necessary to create drama. But because of the way the story is told, the bad things have far more emotional impact than the good. There are pauses in the deep darkness, rather than breaks into the bright light. For me, that made it gruelling to read at times, despite the smooth prose. And not gruelling in an “I’m deeply emotionally engaged with these characters, I feel their hurt” kind of way. Gruelling in a “can’t they catch a break?” way.
If you like hard science fiction or are interested in the potential for inter-stellar colonisation then this is worth reading. But though it’s skillfully constructed and full of fascinating science, I can’t say it hit the spot for me.
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