Aurora (2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson

aurora1It was as if she were the steward on the boat crossing the Lethe. It was as if they were dying. It was as if they were killing themselves. (loc. 4226)

How to share the essence of a breathtaking space drama without spoiling the most enjoyable discoveries? How to present the humor, the tragedy, the joy, the humanity, the realism without revealing the important parts? How to convey Aurora’s “as-ifness” without overblowing it with hype?

Narratives, Robinson’s narrator tells us, “are futile and stupid” (loc. 1643).

Lots of talk about analogies and metaphors in this generation starship novel that starts with a boat wreck and ends on a beach. It’s an emotional Hard SF journey into the stars over the course of more than three hundred years. In between the plot, the drama, and the don’t-you-dare-call-them-infodumps, Robinson plays literary games. He switches philosophical gears. He dissects his writing style. The construction of the narrative is part of the journey, and so much of that story seems to be telling us something important.

But it’s a different message from what we’re used to getting from Robinson, his particular brand of utopian realism being more real than utopian compared to his celebrated Mars series.

This pessimism, or dark realism, whichever it might be, enraged Speller and Heloise, and everyone trying to make the best of things, trying to find a way forward. Why be so negative? they asked.

“It’s not me being negative,” Aram would reply. “It’s the universe obeying its laws. Science isn’t magic! We aren’t fantasy creatures! We have been dealt a hand.” (loc. 2572)

For readers who have abandoned KSR in the past, the don’t-you-dare-call-them-infodumps are more polished, entertaining, and, by a charming bit of magic in the narrative voice, almost conversational. The psychology takes on complex group and family dynamics over Robinson’s favored planetary temperaments and mood disorders. Robinson is relaxed. And no matter what kind of epic Kim Stanley Robinson is writing, he always finds creative ways to resolve character continuity over these vast stretches of time. Characters are important to him, and Aurora‘s depictions are as smooth and sophisticated as it gets.

A question, though, because I really don’t know: can an EVA be that floaty and peaceful when the starship is travelling at one-tenth the speed of light? (I’m guessing the answer is yes, because KSR researches everything.)

Also, I’m surprised by the lack of sexual diversity and queer representation. This is not typical of Robinson, but not too surprising given the structured lifestyle on board the ship, where everything is matter of survival and propagation. Robinson is depicting a very different culture from what we’re used to seeing from him, and we really only get to know a few characters. But it sure as hell ain’t Mars.

But my biggest question: Why doesn’t this starship have a name?

Because names are just silly. You can call anything anything, but that doesn’t make it so. (loc. 163)

Well, I know what I would name the ship. (Oh, our favorite AI, Pauline, has a bit of a cameo here, but it’s shot down quickly.)

Aurora is the only 2015 release I’ve read so far, but I know it will be my favorite of the year. Kim Stanley Robinson is the only author I’ve read who makes me feel like I am actually reading the future, with real people, real events, and, yes, real science. He invokes humanity, while poking at our dreams with a screwdriver.

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25 thoughts on “Aurora (2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson

  1. Steph says:

    What a fantastic review. You made me want to try Kim Stanley Robinson. Is this what you would start with?

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Aurora is a great one to start with. His other books can be daunting for readers new to his style. This one is very gripping and beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just picked this book up last weekend! I’ve been looking forward to reading it for a while.

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  3. libbycole007 says:

    Isn’t it great when you find an author that really takes you to another place, and believe it. Sounds like a great book!

    http://libbycole.wordpress.com

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  4. “The construction of the narrative is part of the journey, and so much of that story seems to be telling us something important.” Well that sounds fucking great.

    Me finally reading Robinson will be entirely on you. So I should probably say thanks in advance. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yay! I think you’ll really like him. If you want thoughtful, leftist, progressive fiction, he’s your man.

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      • Somehow Shaman was just the wrong place for me to attempt to start with him, as I never did manage to finish it. Though I still semi plan to, and it wasn’t that it was bad or I didn’t like it, I just sort of vaguely lost intense interest. I am going to go for his apocalyptic books next (California or something they’re called? anyway I am sure you know which I mean without me remembering the title)

        Liked by 1 person

        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          Other than THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT, I’ve only read Robinson’s space stuff, but I can easily see how his work can be wearisome. I’ve heard good things about the California trilogy, so maybe you’ll like that better, but I do think Aurora is a closer attempt at Robinson trying to reach out to a bigger audience, including the people who don’t have patience for his textbook-ish geological meanderings.

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  5. This one sounds awesome. I got a review copy sent to me by the publisher, and at the time I admit I had little interest – but that was before I realized it was a generation ship story (love those) and my husband is also a fan of KSR so his enthusiasm also rubbed off on me. Glad to hear this one is a good place to start, because I’ve never read anything by Robinson before either. I will hopefully get to Aurora before the end of the year.

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  6. I haven’t read much of KSR since The Years of Rice and Salt (which I loved), but you’re convincing me with reviews like this. I’ve always liked his stuff, and I’m glad to hear he’s improving on the don’t-you-dare-call-them-infodumps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      A definite improvement. With the Mars series, there were times when I had to caffeinate myself and barrel through some of the passages about fines and regoliths and other such Martian terrain, but Aurora didn’t require any of that sort of preparation. It was just as informative but easier to process, with smooth transitions into and out of the story.

      I honestly expected this would be heavier. 2312 wasn’t so heavy, either, but the story of 2312 was a bit disposable, whereas Aurora, I think, will have an immense impact on how we view interstellar space travel.

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  7. I haven’t read much KSR since the Years of Rice and Salt (which bored me to tears). I’ve never been tempted since. I am now. Hard SciFi is not my usual fare, but I think this would make an interesting comparison with Stephenson’s Seveneves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Stephenson is someone I have not read yet, though I will get to him soon enough. I don’t think I will bother with Seveneves just yet. I’m not sure how it will compare to Aurora, but I think (I hope) KSR detractors will find this one as thrilling and thought-provoking as I did.

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  8. Jesse says:

    I’m only halfway through the book, but I think I may be able to answer your question about why the ship doesn’t have a name: I think Robinson did not want to mythologize (a word?) the ship like, for example, the Enterprise, Millennium Falcon, and other space-faring vessels whose names most everyone knows. The name of the novel is the planet, which would seem to focus on “terrestrial” concerns, i.e. much closer to home than space… But that’s just a guess. I’ll see how it plays out as obviously it was deliberate on Robinson’s part to leave the ship unnamed…

    Any ideas pop into your head since?

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    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I’m completely with you on that, primarily because, as you say, this novel is intended to focus on terrestrial concerns. At home.

      Originally, that paragraph listed a number of questions that I think tie-in to the same answer: Do they really need all those biomes? Do they really need a Labrador biome?

      The answer is no. This book is not realism as we know it. It is an argument, an allegory, to which the ship and biomes serve. I think the real name of the ship is Earth or Terra or Home, and KSR, heavy-handed as he is with this argument, isn’t going to be THAT heavy handed. So he omitted ship’s name. Poor ship. Because I really liked ship.

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  9. […] books of the month: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. You have to read Aurora. You must read Aurora. Also, Cien Anos de […]

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  11. […] In this sense, Solaris achieves a similar level of dissension as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora (2015) or (and I haven’t read this yet, but) Barry Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo (1972), […]

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  12. […] Hugo Noms this week. It was a haze of sleepy-eyed frequent changes, but I think I settled on Aurora, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, Europe at Midnight, and The Thing Itself. I selected The […]

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  13. […] glorious expositions of real world terrains and ideas, daunting though they can be (though perhaps Aurora employs more of that plain old “as you know, Bob” infodumping, but that’s its […]

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