book review

Aurora (2015) | Kim Stanley Robinson

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I’ve mentioned before that Children of Time was my favourite novel of 2016 and Aurora was my favourite novel of 2015.

There’s not much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said by more eloquent and experienced reviewers than I. Aurora is the story of a generational ship, launched from Saturn in 2545, consisting of twenty-four self-contained biomes and an average population of 2000 people. 160 years and seven generations later, the ship is beginning its approach to the Tau Ceti system to begin the ambitious dream of colonising a planet’s moon, similar to Earth, which has been named Aurora.

I decided to pick up this novel after reading KSR’s 2312, which deserves a review of its own. For now, though, 2312 was entirely unlike anything I’d ever read. I wasn’t entirely sure what the ultimate plot was – all I knew reading 2312 was that it was bizarre, confronting in its examinations of gender, sexuality, life on other colonised planets and moons in our system, and unique. I still don’t know what the plot was, and I can’t say for certain if I enjoyed it, but I was intrigued enough that I sought out Aurora.

The problems I had with 2312 (just a touch too bizarre, characters I wasn’t overly emotionally invested in, a confusing plot that didn’t satisfy) were not in Aurora. What I read was a gripping, breathtaking, and beautifully written sci-fi novel – unique without being too alienating, a diverse and sympathetic cast of characters, and a plot that broke my heart. What makes this novel stand out from the standard quest for humans to find a home amongst the stars, much like Children of Time, is that it doesn’t go the direction you’d expect it to.

Devi, the ship’s de facto chief engineer and leader, is worried about the decaying infrastructure and biology of the ship: systems are breaking down and each generation has a lower intelligence-test score than the last. Bacteria are mutating at a faster rate than humans can fight them off. The narrator of the ship’s journey is the ship itself, called Ship, which follows the life of Devi and eventually Devi’s daughter, Freya. We watch Freya grow up and interact with the ship’s population; we learn about the different ways groups raise their children, the sacrifices they’ve made and their desperation to finally reach Aurora to call it a home.

I’m not going to lie – this book is devastating. I was unprepared for the direction the plot took, and by that stage I had become so attached to the plight of the characters that I openly wept. It’s not often a book can move me to that point.

Aurora is more than just a story, it’s an experience. If you are after an intelligent, moving sci-fi space opera that embraces diversity, forget about flashy, mediocre cash-ins like The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. Aurora is an instant classic that will be remembered for decades to come. It is elegant, hopeful, and devastating at times, and I’m very glad to have read it.

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