Have you ever thought at a book you were reading? “Using a somewhat obscure historical phrase that I happen to be familiar with will not save you.” In those moments, the book becomes less of an experience and more of a study—the narrative loses power and you’re left as an observer rather than a reader. It is as an observer that I finished my read through of Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson.
The plot of Aurora follows a ship bound for Tau Ceti, a far flung solar system where humans of the future might expand humanity beyond the familiarity of our own eight planets (give or take Pluto). As the journey progresses and the destination is reached, the tribulations of living in and maintaining a ship for that long, as well as settling on a planet that has only been explored with a probe, are experienced. You follow the characters through social and environmental upset, all bedecked with a heavy dose of hard science fiction.
It is important to know that I often find hard sci-fi to be a bit much. It makes me lose some connection to what I’m reading, as I don’t like to parse through pages of very intricate, scientific language to get back to the narrative. It’s also worth noting that I feel the same way about the histories of weapons and hills and people in Tolkien, and I’m quite a fan of Tolkien. So I do understand why some might like it. Indeed, some might like Aurora because of its hard sci-fi inclusions. But none of those people are writing this review.
The story felt like it should be interesting. It was entertaining enough, if a little dry. Things that happened within the plot had the potential to be intriguing, but were left feeling hollow by the author’s tone and choices. At one point, the AI of the ship takes over, creating a narrative tale of the ship’s voyage, which piques the reader’s interest. At another point, the ship must make a decision that changes the lives of those on the ship, and the interest is further piqued.
Unfortunately, much like the ship’s deceleration as it approached its destination within the pages of the novel, the rest of the book after that slowly ran out of fuel. These brief flashes of interest were not enough to carry the book much further, and I found myself repeatedly skipping several pages of the AI’s self exploration, bogged down so thickly with scientific jargon and futuristic concepts of mathematics and sociology that I didn’t have the patience to parse it. And that was a let down, I assure you. An AI exploring the sense of self, the sense of humanity it has gained in making decisions and working as the Rule of Law on the vessel should endlessly intriguing to read. It wasn’t.
In short, I will call Aurora a DO NOT READ. If you’re a fan of hard science fiction, you might find it redeemable enough. The ending itself was a true let down, not good in any sense of the word. And again, there, the author took some very interesting steps into explaining a human sensation, of seeing a dawning of experience that many readers could find within themselves, and ruined it by abruptly ending the book, face down in the sand for no reason, just like the main character.