Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson

Book review by Philip Hall

This massive science fiction novel is perhaps unique as a rather anti space travel work. The plot is fairly simple. A starship is despatched from earth to a prospective planet for colonisation in another nearby star called Aurora. The starship is lovingly described as gigantic containing a series of biomes featuring many types of earth environments and people. There are 32 in all with some 2000 plus people. Because of the massive distance of over 8 light years generations live and die in the biomes as the journey takes over 150 years.

On arrival, after initial success, Aurora is found to be toxic with a tiny virus, a prion. Prions are newly discovered causes of such diseases as BSE and vCJD a few years ago.

Aurora book cover
Aurora – image via Wikipedia

Near civil war breaks out among the prospective colonists with some wanting to attempt a settlement on another much less promising planet and some return to Earth. Robinson intimates that democracy fails with two diametrically opposed factions unwilling to compromise. The expedition splits into two parts with one staying, one returning. On the return journey the ship’s environment steadily declines so that the ships artificial intelligence takes over and the humans enter hibernation.

On entering the solar system the starship is travelling too fast and without enough fuel resorts to “reverse slingshots” to slow down. (A very simple explanation of this phenomena is given in the review of the film Interstellar.)

The returners get a mixed reception. They find that space colonisers within the solar system suffer declines in health and reproductive vigour which are only reduced by periods spent on earth.

Throughout the book the central character is Freya who becomes a form of leader by virtue of her descent from a well regarded engineer. The book concludes with Freya discovering the simple delight of playing at the water’s edge on a newly reconstructed beach and realising that Earth is effectively a giant starship which must be preserved.

That is clearly the overall message of the book which is that space travel isn’t worth while and mankind’s efforts should be on the preservation of Earth.

The book is very wordy with a great deal of philosophising. There is precious little science in this although the authors intentions are worthy and not uninteresting.

Further information: Aurora – Wikipedia

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