Kim Stanley Robinson
Although Kim Stanley Robinson has a very high and, indeed, burgeoning reputation, I had rather avoided his books since the first of the Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy. That first book featured the rebellion of the Mars people against their being controlled by Earth agencies and the partial destruction of some of the painfully and expensively installed infrastructure. It seems unlikely that I will ever live on a world on which a serious attempt to colonise another world will take place (although I retain hope) and, even if I did, my role in that colonization would almost certainly be restricted to paying my taxes and wishing the efforts the best of luck. Consequently, reading about privileged and extremely fortunate people destroying what would have been the results of countless taxpayers denied their opportunities irritated me to the extent that I could not enjoy the book at all and, as mentioned, persuaded me not to buy any more of his books. However, I was in Taipei in a bookshop with a limited number of English language books and I wanted to support the shop so I bought Aurora. I am glad that I did so because this is an enjoyable book with a pleasingly wide theatre of action and one that is sufficiently thought-provoking.
The concept of the book (and presumably this is the first in a series of volumes) is that of a multi-generational spaceship transporting a crew of 2,000 people to a distant planet identified previously on Earth. Of course, identifying a habitable planet in the remoteness of space is not yet a fully developed skill even in the future when building such ships becomes feasible and, consequently, several options have been prepared against negative contingencies. The ship is able to move at about one tenth of the speed of light and, while fast enough to ensure that acceleration and deceleration are not processes to be entered into lightly, this means that people will have many years to get to know each other and, of course, discover that they did not really like each other. The crewmembers are initially divided into separate communities and that enables them to retain some cultural identifiers. However, isolation has led to some evolutionary missteps and the principal engineer, Devi, must constantly work to keep things going as well as possible despite unintended secondary effects resulting from previous fixes. This part of the story represents the first half of the book and it is perhaps the better part. The second half – and this is not really a spoiler as it is on the book cover – is less satisfactory as it recounts the adventures of that portion of the crew who decide to return to Earth after having faced planetfall that convinces them that life away from Earth is not going to be sustainable. This might well have been a rational decision in the circumstances but it does not really conform to the kind of heroic science fictions readers expect from books in excess of 500 pages. It is, perhaps, that sense of anti-climax that makes the characters seem fundamentally disappointing in nature and contributes to a sense of schadenfreude in their trials and tribulations.
Although the book is quite well-written, it would not be science fiction if at least some of the principal protagonists were more believable as plot devices rather than real life people. It is equally unlikely that any attempt to transfer the action to the screen would be successful without considerable attention being paid to the dialogue. However, these are minor quibbles since the story’s the thing and I will be interested in finding out what happens to the other half of the crew, who take the more heroic alternative and try to find a way to survive in space and who, I am assuming, will have their adventures described in the sequel to Aurora. Even if it turns out that they are unsuccessful and all are killed, this is likely to take place at length and in satisfying detail.