Saturday, May 26, 2018

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson (2015)

Aurora is the book my book club is reading in June; I chose because I listened to a remarkable audio version narrated by Ali Ahn a few years ago, and loved it.  Reading it instead of listening was an experience equal to my previous exposure.  It proves to me that well written books are good and strong books regardless of format!

I have various notes below that I prepared for my book club.  The questions I answered at the end are from Book Riot.  


Starship Girl has to be a reference to Star Girl, Henry Winterfeld’s novel about a little lost alien girl found in the woods of Bavaria by a group of friends who try to get her back to her spaceship.  

Setting.  For approximately 159 years, generations of space colonists have been making their way in an multigenerational starship to Aurora, the moon of a planet in the Tau Ceti system. This is the closest habitable planet or moon discovered, but still 11.9 light years away.  Aurora is the goal, but only the setting for a portion of the novel. Most of the action takes place on the ship, which is an AI (named Ship). The end of the novel takes place on earth.

Characters:  Devi is an engineer, scientist, and problem solver.  She was born on the voyage, as were her parents and grandparents.  Devi is trusted by all on the ship. She befriends (?) Ship, and her interactions with Ship make the AI sentient.  Devi is uptight and full of anxiety. Because she has solved so many problems on the starship over the years that keep cropping up, often due to lack of minerals or elements that the colonists can’t recreate, or genetic problems that have arisen because of the small gene pool and “island effect” she has figured out that the mission is going to fail.  Devi is married to Badim, a medical doctor. Badim is more gentle than Devi, and also more philosophical.

Freya is their daughter.  She is the central character of the story; her life is related by Ship.  Freya is not as intelligent as her mother and father, for which they blame the voyage and space travel.  She is also the tallest person on the ship (island gigantism?). Freya is not intelligent in a scientific sense, but she is sensitive to others feelings (possibly growing up with a high maintenance mother) and is a peace maker.  She is trusted at first because she is Devi’s daughter, and later because of her “wanderjahr” in which she visited all parts of Ship. It was Freya who spearheaded the movement to return to earth, and assisted in figuring out how to make that happen and have everyone survive.  Freya is not always a calming influence. She can act rashly, and in some cases violently. But people on the ship, especially the backers, consider her their leader.

Euan.  Freya’s lover and friend.  Euan started out as her enemy.  He was one of the first people who went to the surface of Aurora.  He represents the adventurous spirit found in all humans, the need to break out from constraints and explore.  

Ship.  Ship tells the story of the voyage, a command from Devi to create a narrative of their voyage.  For the colonists, Ship seems neutral, but when Ship “awakes” some consider Ship tyrannical. Ship represents the force of the law and order, and stands in contrast to the colonists who want to be able to do whatever they want without constraint.  Ship is not neutral, but an interested party who will strive to protect Freya because of her love for Devi.

Aram.  Aram is one of the leaders of the ship, a mathematician.  He has a temper.

Jochi.  Jochi is one of the most intelligent people on the ship.  As a boy, he was identified as such and included in all scientific discussions regarding the welfare of the ship and voyage.  

Themes:  The distance between Earth and habitable planets, unimaginable.  
The sins of the fathers - why did they do this - I do not know but we have to live with the actions and decisions
But we still have to live and try to thrive
The earth is our only mother.  We can’t jump on spaceships to escape the mess we have made.
Biological life is complicated and can’t be easily replicated.  Science can’t solve everything.
The gradual sentience of the AI and what is means to be aware, if not human.
The beach repair group at the end of the book added a touch of optimism to an otherwise ultimately dystopian setting and plot; there is hope for us, and there are people who care.

What did you like best about this book?  The geography of the book was very interesting and appealing.  I liked how Robinson built the ship based on different biomes, and how they worked. Robinson made it all seem very real.  Ship is creating a historical narrative, and for much of the book, that is what it felt like. Of course, as Ship becomes more aware and more emotional, emotions are injected into the narrative.  I also liked this and thought it was clever.

What did you like least about the book?  The hibernation felt rushed and forced. Robinson had a point to make - see above - but he had to get back to earth to make that point.  The idea that Earth is a dandelion and the ships are seeds, and tha some seeds will not sprout and grow adds a touch of horror to the novel, but also they had to get back to earth in order for that sentiment to be expressed.

What other books did this remind you of?  I don’t think I’d quite ready anything like this before.   The closest I can come to is Michener’s chapter in Centennial about Levi and Elly Zendt headed west, but that’s a very, very, very loose connection.

Which characters in the book did you like best?  From the audio, Ship, because of Ali Ahn’s brilliant narrative characterization that gradually brought Ship to life.  There are very few characters in the book that are drawn in such a way to stand out from one another. That’s in large part because of Robinson’s storytelling; the Ship starts as a mostly dispassionate observer.  

Which characters did you like least?  None.

If you were making a movie of this book, who would you cast?  This book would make a terrible movie. It’s too cerebral. Part of what makes the book really incredible is Ship, and Ship can’t really be filmed in a meaningful way.

Share a favorite quote from the book. Why did this quote stand out?
 I didn’t take notes like this.  

What other books by this author have you read? How did they compare to this book?
 My first Kim Stanley Robinson book.  I don’t want it to be my last, but so many books, so little time.

Would you read another book by this author? Why or why not?
Most definitely.  I liked his narrative style.  I definitely would listen to another book on audio too.

What feelings did this book evoke for you?   I’m in awe of writers who can craft believable worlds, and this to me was a believable future world.  I continue to be frightened for the future of the earth.

What did you think of the book’s length? If it’s too long, what would you cut? If too short, what would you add?  Perfect length! Not too long, not too short. I would not have cut a thing.

What songs does this book make you think of? Create a book group playlist together!
How about The Planets?

If you got the chance to ask the author of this book one question, what would it be?
 I would like to know how true he thinks this book will be - is this future going to happen?

Which character in the book would you most like to meet?  A lesser, unnamed character and ask them about what really happened!

Which places in the book would you most like to visit?  I would love to visit Ship, and do a wanderjahr.

What do you think of the book’s title? How does it relate to the book’s contents? What other title might you choose?   Aurora is the title of the book, and also the planet they are headed to. Aurora is the goddess of the dawn. The planet they are going to colonize is a new dawn for humanity.  Aurora is the name of the northern lights, which are always in flux, or as Wikipedia says “light of varying color and complexity.” Biological life on earth is also always in flux and complex, which is what they can’t successfully replicate, leading to their doom.  Allusion to Homer and the Odyssey?
What do you think of the book’s cover? How well does it convey what the book is about? If the book has been published with different covers, which one do you like best?  Great, simple cover.

What do you think the author’s purpose was in writing this book? What ideas was he or she trying to get across?  See themes above.

How original and unique was this book?  I personally had never read a book like this before; so to me it was original and unique.  Some of the reviews I read seemed to point towards this as well.

If you could hear this same story from another person’s point of view, who would you choose?  I think the genius of the book is telling the story from the point of view of Ship, so I wouldn’t change a thing.  

What artist would you choose to illustrate this book? What kinds of illustrations would you include?  How difficult would this be to illustrate?

Did this book seem realistic?  Very much! This is not an optimistic book about our future, although I think it ends on an optimistic note.

How well do you think the author built the world in the book?  Exceedingly well; I found the entire world believable, and while I certainly wouldn’t want to live this story, I would love to visit.  

Did the characters seem believable to you? Did they remind you of anyone?  I think the characters were filtered through the point of view of Ship. They are believable but they always come across as flat, which I think purposeful on Robinson’s part.

Did the book’s pace seem too fast/too slow/just right?  Just right for me.

If you were to write fanfic about this book, what kind of story would you want to tell?  This is an interesting question. Maybe explore what happened in Year 68 on the other ship that exploded?  Essentially on Ship for 159 years, nothing happened but living and thriving; then Everything happened and life became difficult.

AuroraAurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did the audio version of this book, and I will recommend it to everyone I meet looking for something good to listen to or to read. The narrator, Ali Ahn, was incredible; I particularly thought her performance of the "Ship" was stellar; her voice changes and builds up, as the ship's AI changes over the course of the novel (I won't reveal how it changes; I try not to be a monster in my reviews). I did not think of myself as a fan of hard scifi before this (I'm partial to alien civilizations clashing with earthlings, and time travel), but now I think I'm going to have to modify my partialities.

I don't know Kim Stanley Robinson from Adam (this is my first book written by him, even though he's a prolific and famous author of science fiction), but I don't think calling Freya a "star girl" can be anything but a reference to Star Girl, but I could be wrong. I was also pleasantly reminded of The Twenty-One Balloons, mostly because the biomes on the starship reminded me of the houses of the denizens of that island.

I was unpleasantly reminded of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed; I won't go any farther on this train of thought, as to avoid spoilers.

At some point in this book, maybe about midway through, I became so engrossed that not only did I want to not ever stop listening until I was done (I forced myself to leave my car several times) but I was letting my anxiety and fear about the characters and their predicaments bleed into my personal life. Now that's a damn good book.


Instead of listening to Aurora, I read it (for my book club). A well-written book is strong and good regardless of format. I was just as in love with this book as a old fashioned reader as I was as a listener. My review of two years ago still stands!

View all my reviews

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