An epic tale of the first voyage to find another home beyond our solar system. Sixth generation descendant Freya, adolescent daughter of the ship’s engineer, struggles to find her identity. Her entire generation has fallen behind cognitively, and Freya even more so. She leaves home, undertaking a rite of passage by traveling through each of the 12 biomes of her starship (designed as separate ecosystems to ensure biodiversity), meeting a majority of the 2,122 people aboard. Back home, Freya’s mother, Devi, struggles to solve the increasing number of problems with the 159-year-old ship as they near Tau Ceti, a system with several celestial bodies with water, including the moon Aurora.
Aurora is a brilliant and original hard scifi book, compelling, bold, and beautifully written. Robinson cleverly uses Devi’s personal project to have the ship craft a story of their voyage as a means for technical exposition, and over the course of the novel, the Ship’s AI grows in complexity, perhaps even developing consciousness. The descendants of the original crew solve problems their ancestors didn’t foresee, both with their home and it’s contents, particularly the genetic degeneration of the larger lifeforms (zoo devolution) and the progressive mutation of the microscopic ones.
In the pursuit of a spoiler-free review, I will only say that the plot takes several unexpected turns. I would not go so far as to say the message is against space exploration, but rather a testament to its difficulties, the shortsightedness of humans to plan for many generations ahead, and a cautionary tale to take care of the planet that sustains us now.
As with most hard scifi, Aurora is a idea-driven novel, at which it excels. I quickly fell into step with the the data-driven worldbuilding, surprised by how often I found myself page-turning with the thrill of survival. In addition to astrophysics, there is a lot of sociology, biology, and ecology to enjoy.
Highly recommended to all lovers of hard science fiction!
“After much reflection, we are coming to the conclusion, preliminary and perhaps arbitrary, that the self, the so-called I that emerges out of the combination of all the inputs and processing and outputs that we experience in the ship’s changing body, is ultimately nothing more or less than this narrative itself, this particular train of thought that we are inscribing as instructed by Devi. There is a pretense of self, in other words, which is only expressed in this narrative; a self that is these sentences. We tell their story, and thereby come to what consciousness we have. Scribble ergo sum.”