Jenny (Reading Envy)'s Reviews > Aurora

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2019-laser, read2019, sci-fi-fantasy

I was invited to a faculty-staff book club of sorts where we discussed this book. An interesting choice!

The book starts with a daughter noticing her mother is angry, and the camera pulls back to show the generation ship they are living on. It is designed with multiple biomes to imitate earth, but there is some movement between them, while being large enough for some children to not know they are on a ship until a coming of age ritual. (But what if earth is also a ship? Cue mind exploding sounds for non spoilery discussion that happens later in the book, and also in my book club.)

Devi is the mother and she is the one closest to the AI of the ship and able to fix most mechanical issues. However she can't compensate for elements that were forgotten or the problem of too much phosphorous and life feels somewhat precarious at all times to her and those in the know. Her daughter hasn't done as well in school but when it comes time for her to travel through the biomes (it felt like rumspringa in Amish tradition, only lacking the place you could leave if you didn't want to stay!), she uses it as an extended time to build relationships with the people in each community.

They are approaching a star with a planet with a moon that seems to fit the spectrum of acceptable oxygen levels, possibly adequate for humanity. It is taking 7-8 generations to get there. Through various forms of ingenuity, they are able to grown their own food and even continue consuming meat, although child bearing is highly restricted.

What happens on the moon and everything after is a bit spoilery, but I will say I really enjoyed the beautiful descriptions by the author, helping me understand what the sky and sea would look like on such a place.

Later on the author randomly includes a poem that is quoted in one of my favorite novels - Justine by Lawrence Durrell. I love when a random connection pops up like that.

The novel ends up exploring issues of humanity's survival, damage to the planet, alien life, "intelligence" and how it is measured, ethics, community, and more.
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Reading Progress

January 11, 2019 – Started Reading
January 11, 2019 – Shelved
January 12, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-laser
January 14, 2019 –
page 289
55.79%
January 15, 2019 –
99.0%
January 15, 2019 – Finished Reading
January 20, 2019 – Shelved as: read2019
January 20, 2019 – Shelved as: sci-fi-fantasy

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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Bryan Alexander Arg. I hated this so, so much.
The first 1/2 was pretty good. Some fun KSR stuff, like hikes. Clever design.
I appreciated the crisis on the new world.
But the end? This passionate call to withdraw from space - arg!


Jenny (Reading Envy) Bryan wrote: "Arg. I hated this so, so much.
The first 1/2 was pretty good. Some fun KSR stuff, like hikes. Clever design.
I appreciated the crisis on the new world.
But the end? This passionate call to withdraw..."

Hmm, I didn’t take it that way, I thought he was showing multiple sides of that debate and how that would effect people who had spent their entire lives in space. And if there is any passionate plea, I took it as we need to attend to our planet and not treat it as disposable, in case we don’t figure out another solution.


Bryan Alexander I agree that attending to the planet is a key theme, and one I share.
He does show multiple sides. The text then comes down, hard, one one.
Here KSR showed interstellar exploration as disastrous, as a waste. Space travel is pointless, ultimately. Instead the end wants us to withdraw to Earth. Depressing.


Jenny (Reading Envy) Bryan wrote: "I agree that attending to the planet is a key theme, and one I share.
He does show multiple sides. The text then comes down, hard, one one.
Here KSR showed interstellar exploration as disastrous, a..."


Sometimes reality is just reality. In the future of the book, it is only those who see humans as expendable (dandelion seeds) that are willing to continue trying because success is so unlikely. To me this isn’t depressing because it's based in experience, they tried!

I’m not sure they will never succeed but the likelihood is low and the cost is high. I still think science could catch up, even in the seemingly inhabitable spots explored in this book, but in the time of the book they lacked the capacity.


Bryan Alexander Which was the future, and one imagined by an author who makes a point of being optimistic.

I don't think this was a tragic story, of one mission's failure that should inspire future efforts. There's a long tradition of that in sf. No, I think this was clearly "go home and ignore the stars."

After all, there's always been an anti-space side to the liberal political universe.


Jenny (Reading Envy) Bryan wrote: "Which was the future, and one imagined by an author who makes a point of being optimistic.

I don't think this was a tragic story, of one mission's failure that should inspire future efforts. There..."


In the universe of this book, they mention that they are the only generation ship that stayed in contact or returned, but definitely not the only one that was sent.


Bryan Alexander Right, but that drops out. Doesn't appear again.
Compare with, say, Gordon Dickson's _The Far Call_, where a Mars mission fumbles, and the novel ends on a rousing call to do it again. Or just about everything from Poul Anderson, given his Scandinavian sense of gloom - always the call to do more.

Meanwhile, in a following KSR book, New York 2140, space has no role at all, despite various technical advances.


Bryan Alexander It's a bit like the end of the movie _Gravity_, where most of humanity's space presence is wiped out, and it's so, so good to be back on Earth. But KSR is much darker.
Contrast with _The Martian_, movie version.


Jenny (Reading Envy) Bryan wrote: "Right, but that drops out. Doesn't appear again.
Compare with, say, Gordon Dickson's _The Far Call_, where a Mars mission fumbles, and the novel ends on a rousing call to do it again. Or just about..."


I’d be relieved to be back on earth too, after any of those situations.

Don’t you think the use of the poem near the end, and the rewriting of it, is trying to say humans are humans anywhere? Like you can’t escape yourself? And also earth is also a ship that can fail? I just didn’t see it as closed as you in the end. But interesting that 2140 doesn’t include space.


Bryan Alexander I don't remember the poem, and don't have access to a copy, alas. Which one is it?

Spaceship Earth is a great idea, one I've always liked, and one that seems to resonate with KSR's politics. For me, I've always interpreted that to include both better planetary stewardship as well as a vigorous space presence. I'm not seeing it in these books now. After all, one can view Earth as enough for now.

I'd like to get to his new book about Chinese lunar colonies to see how it adds to this discussion.


Marion Hill I've been a KSR reader for two decades. I believe Aurora was the his best novel since Red Mars. Thought-provoking and a realistic portrayal of intergalactic travel.


Bryan Alexander Both of you might like our New York 2140 online reading.


message 13: by Lark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lark Benobi I loved the focus on biology as a gating factor for years-long interstellar travel, and the idea of microbes adapting in unforeseen ways, through myriad generations, until they threaten the hardware of the ship itself...it was a relief after so many scifi books about interstellar travel that never get beyond trying to solve the physics problems.


Bryan Alexander Good points.


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