Aurora: Earth is a spaceship too

aurora by kim stanley robinsonAurora (Orbit, 2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson is named after a planet on which humanity hopes to found a colony; it’s a long way away, so far it’s a multi-generational voyage in a time without fancy stasis chambers. Instead, the spaceship, simply called ship, is composed of biomes representing different terrain types on Earth, big enough for lakes, glaciers, forests, critters of all kinds. Maintaining the balance of inputs and outputs necessary for agriculture — for life — occupies much of the humans’ time, in cooperation with a quantum computer. Starvation is never far from the horizon. It’s a delicate see-sawing balance, both scientifically and socially.

Things don’t go to plan, of course. And while I can’t reveal too much, it’s not spoiling things to say the colonists have decisions to make about the best way forward — or backward, even.

The first section, detailing the trip and the travails to Tau Ceti, is told in the third person centred on a young girl, Freya. The central story is narrated by the computer, allowing a great deal of info dumping — mostly painless — leavened with humour as the AI grows. It also allows scope for commentary on human foibles, one of the delights of the story. The final scenes are again in our protagonist’s viewpoint, reflecting on Freya’s experience, on the space program, on humanity.

There is a singular moment, a single line of description relating to ship, that defines the power of KSR’s prose, but I can’t repeat it here, because spoiler. It is beautiful, poignant, pragmatic, elegant. It made me love this book.

This is the first KSR book I’ve read — I know, I know — but based on this, it won’t be the last. Note even dubious amounts of repetition in the text can overshadow the deft handling of technical terms and processes; the sheer imagination that manages, mostly, to keep humanity at its centre, even when ship is narrating at some emotional distance.

KSR has something to say, and for the most part he says it well.

For me, Aurora is not just a superbly unromantic story of space colonisation, but also an allegory — would ship agree, I wonder, given its interest in metaphor and the like? Hell, maybe it’s not even — best summed up by this translation of a poem that captures the attention of two characters, talking to how we need to look after this world as man-made climate change threatens to radically change our biome, how we are ‘kleptoparasites’, stealing from our descendants:

‘There’s no new world, my friend, no
New seas, no other planets, nowhere to flee–
You’re tied in a knot you can never undo
When you realise Earth is a starship too.’

  • A review copy of Aurora was provided by the publisher. You can read an excerpt here.
     

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  • Aussiecon4 highs and lows, Voyager blasts off

    Cherie, Kylie, Lindy and Amanda keep me company at the signing desk - a kaffee klatsch without the kaffee!

    Aussiecon4, the 2010 Worldcon, is over, and I’m home snuffling and coughing with a dose of persistent pre-Worldcon flu, feeling totally knackered but yet energised as well.

    This was my first Worldcon and it was thoroughly enjoyable, even with the flu.
    Downsides were:

    • Sean Williams being too ill to attend.
    • Ellen Datlow having to leave early due to sickness in the family — all the more poignant for her Hugo win.
    • The Christchurch earthquake was also worrying, a relief that there were no casualties. The Kiwis are bidding to host Worldcon in 2020.
    • Not catching *anything* involving China Mieville.

    The program was massive, spread across ground floor auditoriums and an array of rooms on the second floor of the convention and exhibition centre, and it just wasn’t possible to attend everything of interest, nor report everything here. What I did catch was generally informative and at times downright inspiring. I particularly enjoyed hearing Peter Brett (The Painted Man) speak of his “survivor’s guilt” after having his novel picked up while pals were still striving to get theirs on the shelf. I also took heart from Will Elliott’s passion and Fiona Macintosh’s work ethic.

    I was chuffed to have people I didn’t know attend my reading and that, despite my hoarse flu voice, they stayed to the end, and was very grateful indeed to have company at the signing desk while the most engaging guest of honour Kim Stanley Robinson made the day for a very long line of fans indeed. His self-interview, complete with coat on-and-off, was a delight. Kyla Ward, who organised the horror stream in which I took part, proved exceptional as an organiser — she also masterminded the horror ball that I sadly failed to attend, though I heard gushing reports. I also really enjoyed talking vampires with a bunch of clued up and inquisitive teenagers and talking taboos with Richard Harland, Deborah Biancotti and Catherynne Valente.

    UK writer Robert Shearman performed a most entertaining reading of a rather poignant story about a boy and his love of love songs, and Kirstyn’s reading of her story from the Scenes from the Second Storey collection (launched at the con) also drew a pleasing response.

    The Hugo awards (full list of winners here) also proved an enjoyable affair, running smoothly and not overlong, with a feeling of camaraderie rather than competition, and absolutely nil ego. MC Garth Nix was, as always, personable and engaging. Lovely to see, amongst others, Aussie artist and con guest of honour Shaun Tan recognised, and to see the splendid movie Moon score a gong.

    My appreciation for George RR Martin has also been cemented thanks to his wit and delightful chuckle. (Do read his Fevre Dream if you haven’t already: one of the best vampire books evah!)

    At the end of the day, after the launches (yay Angela Slatter and Kaaron Warren’s double launch, complete with publisher Russell Farr in a kilt doing the honours; and the massive collection of Aussie horror in Macabre, amongst others) and parties and panels and awards (some well-earned Ditmars were given out — the full list is here), it was the people who made the convention, and it was amazing bumping into so many friends from throughout Australia and overseas.

    Let’s do it again — but not till I’ve had a nap!

    There are some pictures at my flickr site.

    Voyager going global

    Voyager’s 15th birthday party held in conjunction with Aussiecon prompted this (annotated) announcement of a new global (or is that Orbital?) approach to marketing its genre fiction:

    “Eos Books, a US imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, will be rebranded as Harper Voyager, joining together with the celebrated Voyager imprints in Australia/New Zealand and the UK. The move is anticipated to create a global genre-fiction powerhouse.
    “This move enables us to offer authors a strong global publishing platform when signing with HarperCollins – whether the acquiring editor is in New York, Sydney, or London,’ said Brian Murray, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins Worldwide.
    “Two authors, Karen Azinger and David Wellington (writing as David Chandler), have recently been signed and are expected to publish with Harper Voyager and Voyager for a worldwide debut. The Eos imprint will officially change to Harper Voyager starting with the January 2011 hardcover, trade, mass market, e-book, and audio publications.
    “The Voyager/Harper Voyager editorial leaders are: executive editor Diana Gill in the US; editorial director Emma Coode in the UK (working with publishing director Jane Johnson); and associate publisher Stephanie Smith in Australia.”

    Exciting and interesting stuff with an apparent focus on breaking down the regional publishing territories, or at least making more effort to spread product globally. It’ll be interesting to see the impact this has.