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Aurora  By  cover art

Aurora

By: Kim Stanley Robinson
Narrated by: Ali Ahn
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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.

©2015 Kim Stanley Robinson (P)2015 Hachette Audio

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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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Beautiful

I'm a longtime fan of Robinson... and this is one of his best. It's not often I wish I could unhear a book just to have the pleasure of hearing it again. Aurora is a slow meditation on not only the physics, engineering and biology involved in space travel, but also on the psychology behind the desire to explore and escape. Really lovely writing and narration.

66 people found this helpful

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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.

50 people found this helpful

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Slow, hard sci-fi essay against space travel

Kim Stanley Robinson is a brilliant writer. Each of the shifting narrative perspectives he used to tell this story was expertly done... But most were not engaging. There is a little something for everyone in this book. Everyone will find a part they will enjoy. But most parts they won't.

This book is based on good research and is filled with fascinating ideas. The author's intent was carried out perfectly. But his intent simply wasn't a good idea. This is a long essay about why space travel may be impossible, filled with great ideas that made me thing. Most of this book simply wasn't an engaging read, despite being filled with awesome ideas.

44 people found this helpful

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Best book I've listened to all year

"Wherever we go, there we are." -- I can't imagine being born and raised on a starship six generations after it left Earth, but Kim Stanley Robinson can. Unlike their distant ancestors who volunteered for this mission, the space travelers we meet bound for Aurora have no choice but to be where they are, fighting to get to a habitable planet before they run out of food, fuel, and time. We experience some of the psychological burden of a lifetime spent on a spaceship, and come out at the end of the journey appreciating our home planet for the treasure that it is. Like Robinson's other books, this one is rich with both scientific and emotional detail. I grew to care deeply about the characters, and didn't want to stop listening.

35 people found this helpful

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Deus Ex A.I.

Aurora struck me as a short story or novella that the author padded the heck out to keep from having to return his publisher's advance. Thinly drawn human characters lacking any vestige of self-awareness and stilted character arcs. The AI's character arch was properly developed and even interesting through the first half of the book though the story it was narrating wasn't.

After half a book of anticlimactic crises narrowly avoided through human ingenuity the second half is straight up "Deus Ex AI" with the Ship's AI swooping in like the god-machines of Greco-Roman plays saving the now-bumbling idiot humans again and again. The ending was anticlimactic and the way KSR disposed of the only properly developed character of the entire novel was just plain lazy. Would not recommend.

30 people found this helpful

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I have no idea what people heard in this book

Any additional comments?

I'm in the 3rd chapter, over 2 hours into it and I'm bored to tears. I simply can't take it anymore. Nothing significant has happened expect a stuck valve, oh yeah, and the phosphorus levels are low on the farms. They've just arrived at their destination after traveling for over a 100 years and there's not even a yippee of excitement from the crew.....OK, whatever. No real character development other than a matter of fact account of a few people and their daily lives. The story so far is told by a AI computer.which is learning how to tell a story. Almost makes me think the author chose this method to have an excuse for lack of emotional attachment to the story. In the first chapter the computer names what seemed like 50+ of the crew before the trainer stops it saying it was not necessary. I was cringing after the first 20..what was the point of that? Must have taken close to an entire page in the physical book.I read the reviews prior to purchasing the book and many had stated it contains a lot of detailed scientific explanations which I thought would be cool...I would now disagree. It came across to me as the author buying a reference book of logic theorems, scientific and programming terms, and attempted to fit every single reference described in to this book. I'm a programmer with over 25 years of experience and the way she tells the computer to analyze information, using those logic terms, was just silly. It was an obvious attempt at trying to sound intelligent. It was akin to telling a AI computer how to use its memory, just pointless page filling nonsense. I guess if you're looking for something to preform literary analysis on to find inner meaning and intent this might be a good book. Perhaps I'm just not refined enough to grasp the true meaning...eyes rolling. Maybe if I'm REALLY desperate I might start this book up again before I go to bed...at least I'll get to fall asleep fairly quick if it's still a fail.

23 people found this helpful

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Perfect book for those who do not like fiction

After having listened to this book, I probably should relax my mostly non-fiction only rule. I would say this was probably the best book I've listened to all year.

In the future when they decide to build a spaceship to travel across space to a faraway distant earth like planet for possible colonization, the planners should definitely read this book and have contingency plans which cover the situations that arise in this book. The author blew me away with what the real problems will be and opened my mind to possibilities I never thought about.

So, not only is the science, the artificial intelligence, the sociological implications, and a host of other situations spot on in this book, the science fiction narrative keeps the listener glued to the story (in addition it was a marvelous narrator). I listened intently during the science parts and my wife listened intently during the other parts, and both of us were completely satisfied and thought this was a superior story.

One thing about the story I would like to clue into the listener (like me) who struggles with following fiction, there is a theme the author presses, 'our ideas give us our meaning' and make us who we are, and what we believe in can be as important as our experiences.

16 people found this helpful

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The non-halting halting problem

This book tells the story of the first generation ship heading to establish human life in the Tau Ceti star system. The story of the long journey and the things that happen to the society on the ship and the evolution of the ship itself is compelling and enjoyable.

I did not rate the book higher for two reasons though. First, the frequent references to a handful of scientific and philosophical concepts starts to grate after a while. I heard phrases like “the halting problem” and “Zeno’s paradox” way too many times. Perhaps this was an effort to indicate the big-brainedness of the AI’s evolving thought patterns. If so, though, I got the point the first few times.

Second, the ending was too “literary” for my tastes. What was its point? What was I supposed to take away from that final scene? Hey, author! Please be less subtle next time and throw dummies like me a bone!

15 people found this helpful

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Tried to like this, but came away disappointed

I have enjoyed many of Kim Stanley Robinson's books in the past. Maybe I had different expectations regarding this generation ship story. I suppose it conflicted with my desire for some "happy ending" scenario. The science is very accurate, the Ship voice was excellent --- but the overall story was just depressing. The end -- maybe I missed the point -- was just disappointing. If you are looking for escapist SF -- it is not here. This is a VERY realistic look at how a generation ship journey may turn out.

14 people found this helpful