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Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora is a 2015 novel by American science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. The novel concerns a generation ship traveling to Tau Ceti in order to begin a human colony. The novel narrating voice is the starship computer’s artificial intelligence. The novel was well received by critics.




A generation ship is launched from Saturn in 2545. Consisting of twenty-four self-contained biomes and an average population of two thousand people. One hundred sixty years and approximately seven generations later it is beginning its approach to the Tau Ceti system to begin colonization of a planet’s moon, an Earth analog, which has been named Aurora.

Devi, the ship’s de facto chief engineer and leader, is concerned about the decaying infrastructure and biology of the ship: systems are breaking down. Each generation has lower intelligence-test scores than the last. And bacteria are mutating and evolving at a faster rate than humans. She tells the ship’s AI, referred to simply as ‘Ship,’ to keep a narrative of the voyage. After having some trouble with understanding the human concept of narrative, Ship eventually elects to follow the life of Devi’s daughter Freya as a protagonist.

As a teenager, Freya travels around the ship on her wanderjahr, and learns that many of the ship’s inhabitants are dissatisfied with their enclosed existence and what they perceive as a dictatorship. Movement is strictly limited for most people, reproduction is tightly controlled, and education in science and mathematics is mandatory. Freya’s wanderjahr comes to an end when she is called home as Devi grows sick from cancer and dies.

The ship arrives in the Tau Ceti system and begins to settle Aurora, a moon of Tau Ceti e. It soon becomes apparent that extraterrestrial life is present in the form of primitive prions, which infect and kill most of the landing party. The surviving settlers attempt to return to the ship, and some of those remaining onboard kill them in the airlock to maintain quarantine, leading to a violent political schism throughout the ship. Ship itself, which has been moving towards self-awareness, takes physical control of the situation by lowering oxygen levels and separating warring factions, referring to itself as “the rule of law.” Under Ship’s moderation, a more peaceful debate takes place between the inhabitants about what to do now that Aurora is known to be inhospitable. Unable to reach consensus, the factions agree to part ways, with those who wish to stay retaining as many resources as can be spared to pursue an unlikely attempt at terraforming the Mars-like planet Iris while the other group, led by Freya, opt to try and return to Earth.

On the voyage back to Earth, the ship’s biomes continue to deteriorate as bacteria flourish and crops fail. The humans soon face famine and experiment with an untested form of cryogenic freezing, which is largely successful. Upon returning to the Solar system, Ship is forced to decelerate by means of gravity assist between various planets, a process which takes twelve years. During this time, with the full communications data of humanity available to it, it learns more about why it was launched in the first place – simply for expansionism – and denounces its builders as “criminally negligent narcissists.” Ship manages to safely drop its humans off on a pass of Earth but fails to successfully make a final gravity slowdown past the Sun and is destroyed along with the last survivor of the landing on Aurora.

Freya and the other “starfarers” have trouble adjusting to life on Earth, especially with many Terrans hostile to them for a perceived sense of ingratitude and cowardice. At a space colonization conference, a speaker says humanity will continue to send ships into interstellar space no matter how many fail and die, and Freya assaults him. Eventually she joins a group of terraformers who are attempting to restore the Earth’s beaches after their loss during previous centuries’ sea level rise. While swimming and surfing, she begins to come to terms with life on Earth.

Editorial Reviews


“A rousing tribute to the human spirit.”―San Francisco Chronicle on Aurora
“The thrilling creation of plausible future technology and the grandness of imagination…magnificent.”―Sunday Times on Aurora

“[Robinson is] a rare contemporary writer to earn a reputation on par with earlier masters such as Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke.”―Chicago Tribune on Aurora

“If Interstellar left you wanting more, then this novel might just fill that longing.”―io9 on Aurora

Aurora may well be Robinson’s best novel…breaks us out of our well-ingrained, supremely well-rehearsed habits of apocalypse – and lets us see the option of a different future than permanent, hopeless standoff.” ―Los Angeles Review of Books on Aurora

“Humanity’s first trip to another star is incredibly ambitious, impeccably planned and executed on a grand scale in Aurora.”―SPACE.com on Aurora

“The Apollo 13 of interstellar travel.”―SciFi

“[A] near-perfect marriage of the technical and the psychological.”―NPR Books on Aurora

“[A] heart-warming, provocative tale.”―Scientific American on Aurora

“This ambitious hard SF epic shows Robinson at the top of his game… [A] poignant story, which admirably stretches the limits of human imagination.”―Publishers Weekly on Aurora

“This is hard SF the way it’s mean to be written: technical, scientific, with big ideas and a fully realized society. Robinson is an acknowledged sf master-his Mars trilogy and his stand-alone novel 2312 (2012) were multiple award winners and nominees-and this latest novel is sure to be a big hit with devoted fans of old-school science fiction.”―Booklist on Aurora

“Intellectually engaged and intensely humane in a way SF rarely is, exuberantly speculative in a way only the best SF can be, this is the work of a writer at or approaching the top of his game.”―Iain M. Banks on 2312

About the Author

Kim Stanley Robinson is a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. He is the author of more than twenty books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt and 2312. In 2008, he was named a “Hero of the Environment” by Time magazine, and he works with the Sierra Nevada Research Institute. He lives in Davis, California.

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Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
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