Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

book cover Funny how these things turn out. After finishing Proxima, by Stephen Baxter, which was also about humans colonizing the planet of a nearby star, but in the end was very little about the planet itself, I've stumbled upon Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson, which does pretty much the same. I don't want to spoil things, but really, just a small percentage of the book is even related to the planet they briefly called Aurora.

Let's get one thing out of the way, though. Aurora is way better than Proxima ever intended to be. It is philosophical and filled with information and science and raises questions that are essential to space colonization. That's the great part. The bad part is that it feels like an old man book. It is introverted, focused on people, their feelings, their shortcomings and ultimately advises we care more about our planet, the one we are perfectly adapted to live on, rather than imagine we can always find a replacement in deep space. That was a disappointment, not only because I am in Tsiolkovsky's camp, who famously said Earth is our cradle and we can't stay in the cradle forever, but also because the future, as seen by Robinson, is stagnant, with no evolution, no desire, no dreams other than those he considers foolish and even criminal. Stay in the cradle till we finally die, enjoying the golden age of our senescence. Bah!

Other than that I really appreciated the attention to details, taken from all kinds of disciplines, that the author put in the book. Stuff like the difference of evolution rate between complex organisms like people and the microbiomes inside them, or mineral balances, the effect of Coriolis forces on the well being of people and machinery, and so on and so on. It was ironic that the person everybody in the book revered was Devi, an brilliant engineer who always thought outside the box and solved problems. When she couldn't do that, everybody else just gave up. There is also a moment in the story when the colonists split into two groups. I found it almost insulting that the book only described the adventures of one of them and completely forgot about the other.

Bottom line: I liked most of the book, if not its ending moral. The style is a bit difficult, almost autistic, as half of the story is from the standpoint of the ship's AI and the other from the perspective of the protagonist who is unusually tall (for no reason that has any impact on the story) and a little slow in the head. I understand why some people actually hated it, but as we can learn from every viewpoint, and often more from one that is different from ours, this book has a lot to teach.

Here is an interview with the author, but be careful, only the left audio channel has voice, the other is an annoying music.