6 June 2016

Science Fiction: A Review of Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson

Nestled within the secure gloom of a rainy morning, looking through my living room window out onto flowers bowed to raindrops' glistening weight, I think of home. Growing up, home was less a place and more a state of mind; as a Mountie family life was a shift of places, schools, backyards, friends. Even after 7 years of property ownership, I still glance down the street, looking for a moving truck to pack me and my little family onto a new adventure. It astonishes me that my son knows only of one house to call his own. When he reflects on his childhood, hopefully he will marvel at how big this house once seemed, how it would magically expand during the summer, creating living spaces on the front and back porches. Will he reminisce grubbing for slugs, snails and caterpillars under the green canopy of Toronto, while a city hummed around him? 

The idea of home pulses within. We meander through life, captivated by avenues of memories that we either cling or escape from, striving to actualize a personal haven of our own. This very human desire may very well be why Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora resounded for me so strongly. A self-diagnosed space opera addict, who just came off a May-long run of Vorkosigan re-reads, Aurora renewed my love of pure science fiction.

Humanity has launched the first colonization ship bound for the system Tau Ceti. 160 years have passed since this historic fulcrum with six generations having lived and died within it's 24 biomes. And now as the 2000 survivors of a lost dream approach their new home, survival of the mission is in peril. Many a reader has touted Aurora as the best generation starship novel and while my ventures in SF are somewhat deep I cannot confirm nor deny the acclaim. What I can attest to is that Robinson wrote an honest, raw account of the fragility of life. By encapsulating the reader to the dramas of interstellar life, Aurora becomes less a novel of the trials of space travel, more a ballad of Earth's unique place in the universe. 

We follow Freya, whose unfortunate birthright as the daughter of Devi, Ship's leading engineer and Savour must find her own path. She begins by journeying through the biomes, wandering, eventually enacting the role of Mother to a people quite literally lost in space. Information from Earth takes 12 years to reach the Ship. Every molecule, element, compound within the Ship is part of a complex reclamation system that must co-exist for all life within the biomes to survive. Imagine knowing only a spaceship as home, never knowing the power of wind, the unbelievable expanse of the sky. 

The biome of Labrador upon their children's twelfth birthday dress them in a space suit, casting them into space where he/she are awakened to the shocking reality of their world. Devi through her life speaks to Ship, befriending the AI, expanding it's understanding of self, demanding Ship to, in essence become more human. She rages at her ancestors who deemed it worthy for generations of people to die within the confines of a space ship, all in the mad faith that a moon light years from Earth will be humanities second home. This visceral perplexity of space life, the strain of living within a self-contained ship, the overwhelming scientific complexity, is all masterfully understated. Aurora is a science fiction book, a novel in space, enriched with mundane science and the ever present will to live. 

Kim Stanley Robinson brought back the science fiction to science fiction.