This was another novel I came across while going through a number of “Best of 2015” lists earlier in the year. I was a little wary of this method based on my experience with the last book it lead me to, but the author, Kim Stanley Robinson, has an excellent reputation and this book was near the top of almost every list I came across. Seemed worth a shot.
Taking place in 2704, Aurora introduces the reader to 2,100 would-be colonists traveling to a habitable moon 11.9 light years from Earth in the Tau Ceti system. They are 159 years into their 170 year voyage and the descendants of the ship’s original pioneers are making their final preparations to arrive in-system and make planet-fall at their destination. Their story is told from the point of view of the ship’s quantum computer, which has been tasked with expanding upon its original programming by creating a narrative account of the journey. It does this by examining the lives of the passengers aboard the ship through the life of a girl named Freya, the daughter of the ship’s de-facto leader and chief engineer. It is through this narrative of Freya’s life, that we are given an in-depth analysis of the trials and tribulations faced by the colonists as they attempt to arrive at and settle the new world.
As part of the story, the book covered a wide variety of theories and concepts within the realm of the natural sciences. The author in particular spent a lot of time examining the technological, biological, and ecological concerns facing the colonists on every step of their journey. What I particularly appreciated about these aspects was that they were brought up in a way that was approachable for someone like me who finds these ideas fascinating but isn’t necessarily coming at them with a degree in the field. I was particularly interested in the author’s musings on the Turing Test and the Fermi Paradox, though I was also inspired to read up on things like prions and LaGrangian Points as well.
There was also a compelling human element as many social, psychological, and political issues were raised alongside the more technical ideas mentioned above. Via the computer’s narration, the author did an excellent job creating a diverse and dynamic group of characters facing a variety of personal and societal challenges as their journey goes on. I found myself actively taking sides in some of the conflicts that developed and feeling emotionally invested in how they were resolved. The main action sequence towards the end of the book I found particularly exhilarating and couldn’t bring myself to put the book down until I found out what happened to the crew.
While on the whole I found this story quite engaging, there were two areas in which I felt like it stumbled a little bit. The first of these was that there were a few places in which the text got a bit too long-winded or overly verbose, usually on account of a drawn out explanation or some deep introspection on the part of the computer. This was done intentionally (and explicitly acknowledged) to good effect in some sections, but at other times it was just a drag on the action. Secondly, there was an idea raised and mentioned sporadically throughout the story (I won’t give it away to any potential reader) that seemed to have promise, but ultimately never went anywhere.
Those points aside, what I liked about this book far out-weighed these momentary frustrations. Although it did take me a few pages to really get into the story, once I did I was hooked and found this to be an immensely enjoyable and satisfying read that somewhat unexpectedly ended up being equal parts exhilarating, informative, and thought-provoking. This was a bit heavier on the science than the other books I’ve posted about lately, but don’t let that get in the way of picking it up. I am really happy I did, and if I get nothing else out of going through all those book lists, this one made the effort worth it.