Book Talk: 'Aurora' by Kim Stanley Robinson - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'Aurora' by Kim Stanley Robinson

Alexander Wallace faces the future.

Think back, for a moment, to the time when you were twelve years old or thereabouts, having just discovered written science fiction. You were captivated by the sheer wonder of it all, of different worlds and humanity reaching for the stars and for the boundless promise of technological innovation. For just the briefest of moments, the sheer wonder of it all allows you to escape the torpid textbooks from which you must study, or the cliquishness that is endemic among your peers. To that twelve-year-old, science fiction is a promise that humanity can transcend its mortal foibles and create a civilization full of wonder and joy.

Now imagine a masked man breaking into that twelve-year-old’s house who then strangles them with a pillowcase.

That masked man is Kim Stanley Robinson, that twelve-year-old is the romantic aspirations of science fiction, and that pillowcase is his novel Aurora.

The book concerns a generation ship sent by Earth, in its lofty idealism, to colonize an earthlike planet orbiting Tau Ceti, which has been named ‘Aurora.’ The ship itself is a column with an upper and a lower ring surrounding it. Within these rings are various biomes that replicate different locations on Earth, an oft-spoken of homeworld that the people on the ship, as of the time the novel commences, have never seen, and never expect to see. They are cast-off with noble intentions, but are left with a degree of confusion as to who they are serving and why they were sent on such an expedition.

To go on much farther describing the course of the plot would be to spoil the utter power of the novel. What I will say is that Robinson intends to take a sledgehammer to the notion of space as endless bounty and adventure. He euthanizes your cherished notion of what the genre can be, injecting it with a syringe of cold, hard practicality. Space is enormous beyond our capacity to understand. Space is cold. Space is hostile to life. Life is a planetary phenomenon. These are truths that Robinson means to impress upon you, being the immensely learned man that he is.

Perhaps more than any other science fiction writer I regularly read, Robinson’s work shows such a skillful grasp at the interplay between humanity and technology. These are people who have been locked for life in a prison built out of the dreams of others, and they are beginning to see what they have been denied. Their society is a deeply fragile one, one that was engineered to the most minute of details by those who had the sheer hubris to believe that they could declare war on entropy and win. In the pages of Aurora, entropy shows that it will always win in the end. The characters themselves are vividly realized and completely believable, their squabbles and their civil unrest aboard this ark are just as believable as those that happen right on our doorstep.

Aurora, ultimately, is a challenge to the science fiction reader. It is a demand that we stop using our dreams of the future as an excuse to remain comfortably asleep, snuggled up in the blanket of complacency. It is a call for us to abandon the myths of what the future could be, and to force ourselves to deal with what the future will be. It is a commandment to take off rose-tinted glasses and to view the world with clear eyes. In that regard, this novel is not merely compelling; it is necessary.

As much as I long for a future like Star Wars, I fear it will be Aurora.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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