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This is it --- the best and truest, most genuinely scientific, most empathic and memorable, most everything-that-matters, speculative fiction ever to come my way in well over a dozen years of reviewing for

And now I have to try and tell you why in prose that’s certain to be light years short of what Kim Stanley Robinson has crafted from beginning to end in AURORA.

For sci-fi fans everywhere, it’s a given that anything by one of America’s all-time great futuristic storytellers will be very good. Robinson’s more than 20 previous books (including the renowned trilogy of RED MARS, GREEN MARS and BLUE MARS) have earned him some of the most prestigious genre and literary excellence awards there are.

For AURORA, however, it would be unfair to start at anything below outright excellence. For while the book is structured around a well-worn premise that multi-generational starships could eventually transport humans toward distant earth-like planets where their great-great-great-great (fill in as needed) grandchildren would be expected to make landfall and start colonies, Robinson deftly adjusts the focus to explore what goes on within the vast ship as well.

"This is it --- the best and truest, most genuinely scientific, most empathic and memorable, most everything-that-matters, speculative fiction ever to come my way in well over a dozen years of reviewing for"

As he introduces the members of a small family that includes Devi, the starship’s troubled chief engineer, her physician-husband Badim, and their rebellious but innovative adolescent daughter Freya, it quickly becomes clear through their interactions with friends among the ship’s various earth-replica communities that doubt has been their constant companion for many years. Over time, those in technical, scientific and agricultural occupations have intuited that there are too many gaps and weaknesses in the theory that enclosed human and natural environments (or biomes) can sustain and regenerate themselves over centuries without the introduction of any new biological material.

Thus the story begins on a note of impending crisis, the realization that every living species aboard is slowly and steadily succumbing to entropy, the gradual loss of genetic integrity and resilience. That constant undertone of apprehension, varying from scarcely perceptible to terrifyingly immediate, drives Devi and her colleagues to the limits of their intellect and resources in solving one problem after another as they approach the Tau Ceti system that promises a new planetary home.  

Out of the collective anticipation, optimism, fear, doubt and apathy of the starship’s 2,000 residents, AURORA unfolds as a complex, delicate, powerful and compelling story of human and artificial intelligence grappling with the near-impossible and the really fatally impossible. Difficult and often irreversible decisions must be made under extreme pressures of time, dwindling resources, polarized conflict, uncertain ethics and unreliable strained emotions.

With more than two-dozen years required for communications to reach Earth and travel back again, Robinson’s starship refugees have no source of grounded, impartial, common-sense advice and guidance, much less any benefit of new technological information from “home.” They are isolated, out in space on their own. Or are they?

Early in the story, Devi is observed talking one-on-one to the ship’s AI control system, which she initially calls Pauline (I was flattered…until the ship-entity suddenly rejected the name). Despite choosing to be called simply “ship,” however, the female character is well established by that time, and little by little Devi teaches “her” to think in multiple layers and dimensions, associating seemingly random facts and memories, as humans do in order to gain new insights on a problem.

Over time (and they mostly have lots of it), “ship” becomes an increasingly vocal and interactive personality. In fact, I couldn’t help hearing the memorable tones of Majel Roddenberry, who has given her distinctive voice to every computer in the “Star Trek” series. As Devi talks her into companionship with the humans she carries, “ship” becomes an increasingly complex and resilient character in her own right, handling the vast computational demands of unexpected and even shocking events that create sudden new imperatives for everyone’s survival. And when the time does come that the human population is forced into hibernation sleep, “ship” is able to continue the narration of the journey and sustain them as if they are her children. Why the long sleep? Why unexpected crises and disasters to cope with? To tell more would spoil a tale whose quality deserves total respect.

But this I can affirm: AURORA is about science, technology, belief, emotion, memory, loyalty, ingenuity, luck, and many other eccentric elements coming together in one gigantic effort to bring humans “home” --- home redefined, reimagined, re-experienced. It doesn’t end as expected; in some ways, it doesn’t really end at all.

Yet even through the most painful and gut-wrenching changes forced on every character and their collective and individual destinies, AURORA remains a generational starship story like no other. It will be a galactic accomplishment for Kim Stanley Robinson himself, let alone anyone else, to better this one. Five stars without a doubt.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on August 14, 2015

by Kim Stanley Robinson

  • Publication Date: April 26, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • ISBN-10: 0316098094
  • ISBN-13: 9780316098090