Aurora

  • by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Narrated by Ali Ahn
  • 16 hrs and 55 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, Aurora tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system. Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.
Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.
Now we approach our new home.
Aurora.

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Customer Reviews

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The Future is Limited, Get Used to It

Works of fiction can make wonderful and effective means for promoting philosophical and political agendas. As satire they can overcome restrictions of censorship and social punishment for distributing ideas and criticisms. As the “god” of a fictional universe, the author chooses who is bad and who is good, who is right and who is wrong. Even better he or she can demonstrate the terrible consequences of following a path the author wishes to attack. Thus it is very important that readers understands how and for what purpose this tool is being used to influence them.

In the case of this book it is clear that Kim Stanley Robinson does indeed have a very specific point of view about humanities future. In interviews regarding this particular book he makes it quite clear what these are. I believe these can be summarized as follows:

1. Because of biological constraints and the complexity of our biological environment it is very improbable that we can live full and healthy lives off our native planet.
2. It is urgent that we take care of the environment we have so that it remains fit for our continual existence.
3. The distance between stars makes it nearly if not completely impossible for humanity to continue existence outside the solar system. That is it is an illusion to believe that our descendants will prevail beyond the lifetime of our local environment both in space and time. All is finite and we are no exception!
4. The continual advance of science is unlikely to solve the above problem, in particular we can expect to meet unassailable boundaries both in the biological and physical sciences.
In addition to the above our psychological make up is such as to prevent overcoming our propensity for social and political conflict.
5. Contact with alien biological systems is so risky as to best being avoided.

Aurora is the story of how this plays out in an attempt to colonize near by star systems. Robinson is an adept author and the story he weaves on these premises is vivid and exciting, even if pessimistic and gloomy. The question remains, is it reasonable? Of course the challenges of interstellar travel are awesome, requiring vast energies and the overcoming of tremendous problems. The rub is that in this book Robinson, using current scientific attainments and relatively modest extrapolation, allows his characters to reach nearby star systems that are between 10 and 20 lightyears distant. I should warn the reader of this review that what follows does reveal some major plot points, though I at least expected things to turn out as they do in the book after reading some 50 pages. Basically things go bad, illustrating the points made above. Despite a technology allowing velocities of 1/10 the speed of light and a capability to maintain a closed environment for 200 years our colonists are defeated by their own biology and psychology as well as the presence of cell size alien life forms. Some of the protagonists do manage to escape this fate providing an unrealistic “happy ending” that confirms that staying home is best. Thus this is not a book for someone looking for an optimistic future for the human race, at least in the long run. The theme is the familiar one of if something can go wrong it will.

On more specific grounds I find Robinson’s pessimism inconsistent with the main premises of the assumed technology. A technology that can achieve speeds of 10% of light speed and maintain a closed environment between the stars for 200 years is not going to fold as easily as Robinson assumes. Though his story is to take place in the 25th century he seems unduly pessimistic in regard to expected advances in biology as well as physics. Also a planet wide society that can put together not one but many interstellar capable vehicles can be expected to have found solutions to many of the problems of social and political interaction. Yet he seems to be determined to demonstrate certain failure in any attempt to travel profitably between stars.

Another theme of the book, and one that is quite interesting, is that the original colonists that take on the multi generational voyage are not only keen but are the winners of a huge planetary lottery for the privilege of participating. Robinson asks if this is an immoral act in so far as dooms the descendants to the restricted life of living in a closed and limited environment. That is, do the original participants have the right to force their descendants into such a limited and dangerous way of life. It is an interesting question, but one should also realize that it is not a unique one. Mankind would still be living (or not living) in a restricted region of Africa if humans has refused to take chances that might prove difficult for their descendants. Life is designed to evolve by having creatures that take risks and adopt to new environments. Robinson’s ethos seems to say that we have reached the zenith of development and should rest content with what we have, i.e. we should end the process of adaptation and evolution. Indeed there are and probably always will be those that agree with such a view. We can all blame our parents or ancestors for making wrong decisions that have caused us pain. On the other hand we enjoy the benefits that have accrued from the experiences of our ancestors, such as longer life spans and as so well put by Steven Pinker, decreased normative violence in our societies.

Aurora is a book well worth reading, if only to see the kind of arguments put forth by the stay at home and take little risk part of our population. But for those who would like to see an optimistic future for our descendants the book is far from pleasant reading. In fact this reader does not even find Robinson’s future plausible. The book is really not about the future, it is about now. It is a polemic for us to adjust our hopes and plans to expect a circumscribed and limited future. Its message is take care of what we have and limit our risks as much as possible. Face not only our own mortality but the mortality of man. Somehow this theme seems to have a great deal of popularity. Not a healthy sign for our civilization, but understandable.
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- Martin Lesser "Retired professor of theoretical mechanics and fluid dynamics."

Wonderful writing. Complete downer.

I loved this book, and absolutely hated it at the same time.

Seems like KSR is tired and jaded for sci fi. Maybe he's just getting old. Either way, this novel seems like an indictment of all his past grand explorations and world creations. A call to remember the earth and to stop yearning for new worlds. Hmm. Can't say I agree.

What I can say is that the novel is just as wonderfully written and exquisitely detailed as his other works. No one could ever doubt Robinson's scientific prowess and his unflinching commitment to hard facts. It deserves all the stars I gave it even though I really didn't like the story at all.
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- Kenton "Middle-aged, married dad of two, living in Northern Burbs of Chicago. Hard Sci Fi addict, and lover of great storytelling. Almost all of my reading is now in audio format."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-07-2015
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio