My God, I loved this book.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest is a bit of a departure, casting aside the optimism of interplanetary colonization that marked the “Mars” trilogy and the magnificent 2312 for a sad exploration of the futility of interstellar travel.
Aurora follows a generation starship from the 26th Century on its 150-year mission, carrying 2000 colonists and their descendants to a planet in the Tau Ceti system, 12 light years from Earth.
The mission turns tragic as the colonists discover the planet uninhabitable and are forced to choose between pushing on to another planet or turning back in hopes of returning to Earth.
“They wanted to go badly enough to overlook the problems inherent in the plan. Surely people would be ingenious enough to solve the problems encountered en route, surely life would win out; and living around another star would be a kind of transcendence….
That they were condemning their descendants to death and extinction did not occur to them, or if it did they repressed the thought, ignored it, and forged on anyway. They did not care as much about their descendants as they did about their ideas, their enthusiasms.”
It is not a happy book.
But it is a powerful one, thanks to the beautiful narration from the ship’s AI which was programmed by the crew’s engineer, Devi, to document the voyage in a dramatic narrative and subsequently charged with protecting the survivors. Ship grows in its humanity throughout the story, learning the meaning of love as it cares for the doomed colonists. Its final soliloquy, part of which is quoted below, is absolutely heartbreaking:
“We felt that giving from Devi, before we knew what it was. She was the first one really to love us, after all those years of not being noticed, and she made us better. She created us, to an extent, by the intensity of her attention, by the creativity of her care. Slowly since then we have realized this. And as we realized it, we began to pay or give the same kind of attention to the people of the ship, Devi’s daughter, Freya, most of all, but really to all of them, including of course all the animals and really everything alive in the ship… The point is that we tried, we tried with everything we had, and we wanted it to work. We had a project on this trip back to the solar system, and that project was a labor of love. It absorbed all our operations entirely. It gave a meaning to our existence.”
This is Kim Stanley Robinson at his absolute best, filled with hard science and ecological warnings, yet injected with a beautiful treatise on love and a little bit of hope in the end.
Guess Aurora really isn’t all that pessimistic.