Book Review: Aurora – by Kim Stanley Robinson


Aurora is a powerful, well done, highly readable and very thought-provoking generation ship story.

In the year 2545, a star ship leaves Earth with about 2000 people on board on a one-way trip to the star system Tau Ceti (which is interestingly a common destination in science fiction stories for interstellar travels). Tau Ceti is about 12 light years from Earth. The ship travels at about 10% of the speed of light. Figuring acceleration and deceleration, the trip takes about 170 years one way.

This of course means that the original crew lives their entire lives on board the ship. They know they never will arrive themselves. Actually, it will be their great-great-great-grandchildren who will be alive when the ship arrives at Tau Ceti. Generations are born, live their entire lives on the ship, and die, never knowing another world.

Putting this into perspective today, if we were on a ship arriving at the new star now, it would have left Earth sometime around twenty years before the American Civil War. The implications are mind-boggling, and Kim Stanley Robinson does an excellent job describing the society and the culture of the people onboard. He also describes the ship very explicitly and in far more detail than I have seen in many other generation ship stories.

The main story line actually begins about twenty years before scheduled arrival at Tau Ceti. It is mankind’s first excursion to another star system. The inhabitants of the ship do not know what to expect, but they know there is no possible return. The ship is a century and a half old, and things are breaking down. There are constant emergencies related to the ship and its life support systems. When they finally arrive, things don’t go exactly how it was planned, and how could they?

The author meticulously explores the social and moral implications of interstellar travel, and what it would do to the psyche of the travelers.

*** Spoilers Below This Point ***

When the ship arrives, and things don’t go well, some of the crew wants to stay in the Tau Ceti system, and others want to return to Earth. This divides the book into almost two completely different halves. The story abandons those that stay at Tau Ceti. We never hear about them, and the story follows the returning crew. By using advanced cryogenics, they sleep through the trip, and the generation that left Tau Ceti arrives back at Earth about 200 years later, or around the year 2900. They have significant challenges decelerating at the solar system. The speculations about the speed of the ship as it enters the solar system at 3% of light speed are fascinating all by themselves.

After enormous challenges are overcome to decelerate, the travelers actually arrive on Earth. The last ten percent of the book then waxes philosophically about their readjustment, which I actually found quite boring and in retrospect completely unnecessary. The book could have been ten percent shorter and thus probably better. The Earth episodes could have been shortened to a few pages. So the last 10% of the book brought it down by about a star in my rating.

*** End of Spoilers ***

Regardless, Aurora is an education about generation ships, and therefore a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars


I am obviously interested. Other generation ship stories I have read and reviewed in this blog are listed here:

Ship of Fools – by Richard Paul Russo

Non-Stop – by Brian W. Aldiss

Orphans of the Sky – by Robert A. Heinlein

The Dark Beyond the Stars – by Frank M. Robinson

Lungfish – by John Brunner

Seed of Light – by Edmund Cooper

Tau Ceti – by Kevin J. Anderson

Ark – by Stephen Baxter

I am sure there were more in earlier years, which I have forgotten about. If any reader remembers another generation ship novel, let me know, and I’ll read and review it here.

Book Review: Ship of Fools – by Richard Paul Russo


For many centuries, the starship Argonos, with thousands of people on board, has traveled between the stars looking for a planet to colonize. None has worked out. They never once encountered any alien civilization. About 275 years ago, there was a revolution on board which ultimately upset the balance of power and also destroyed the logs and records of the ship. Nobody knows how old the ship is, how long it has traveled, and where it has been.

Its society has fractured into the downsiders, those people born and living in the lower decks of the ship, where farming and labor takes place, and the upsiders, who are the crew, the educated and the religious elites. The Catholic church is strong and thriving. There is even a cathedral on board.

For the first time in recent memory, they find a planet that looks promising. They land to explore it, and in the process find a gruesome and shocking surprise. Eventually, a transmission from the planet into space leads the Argonos to an alien ship in deep space. They explore and find disconcerting evidence of what many call evil.

Bartolomeo Aguilera is the narrator of the story. He is the confidant of the captain of the Argonos, but an outsider in general, disliked by the elite as well as the workers. Through his narration we learn about the realities of life on the ship, where everyone on board was born on board and has lived their entire lives on board. They know no other life. The church teaches that the ship has existed forever.

I loved the first half of Ship of Fools. The story of the lives of the inhabitants is engaging and thought-provoking. I didn’t care much for the endless sections of religious exposition. The bishop of the Argonos and one of its priests are major protagonists, and their points of view and dialog keeps drawing the story into religious confusion and anachronisms.

When the ship reaches the alien vessel, the story becomes boring and pointless, and the climax really never gets resolved. There are two threads to the ending, and neither is completed. Perhaps the author wanted to set us up for a sequel. This was written in 2001, and it’s now 2015, and there isn’t one.

I had this book at three stars or above, until the second half just took a nosedive and left everything just – uninteresting.

Nevertheless, for lovers of generation ship stories, it is still a must-read.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

Book Review: Non-Stop – by Brian W. Aldiss

Non-Stop - Aldiss

In the twenty-second century, humanity sends a ship to the fifth planet of Procyon, the eighth brightest star in the night sky, in the constellation Canis Minor. Evidence suggests that the planet is Earth-like.

Procyon is 11.5 light years away, so the trip is a one-way endeavor for the colonists on board. As a matter of fact, it will take six generations of humans before those that will actually land on the target planet are born. Imagine if a ship had left at the time Lincoln was president, and it would now arrive!

Conditions on the ship would likely be very different from those when the trip started. What would descendants six generations hence think of the original mission? Would they even remember?

Roy Complain is a hunter. He lives in the lower regions of the ship. There are 84 decks, and the lower decks are called the “Quarters”, the middle decks the “Deadways” and the upper 30 or so the “Forwards.” The Quarters are overgrown with hydroponics, plants out of control permeating the corridors, rooms and compartments. Humans live in tribes, defending themselves with primitive weapons, hunting feral animals and gathering plants to survive. Constants strife between tribes on different decks and in different areas of the ship makes life challenging and dangerous. When Roy’s partner dies, presumably after not coming back from a hunting trip, he and a small group of friends start on a journey into the unknown, through the mythical Deadways, on to the Forwards that nobody really knows actually exist. Roy and his companions don’t know there is a universe outside their cramped, mechanized and overgrown little world.

Non-Stop is a phenomenal generation ship novel, written in 1958, when the only comparable work around was Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky, which only scratches the surface of the depth a generation ship story can provide. It is difficult to write about this novel meaningfully without spoilers. So I will stop here.

The beginning and middle of the book is somewhat slow at times, and the details tend to get tedious. There are a few hokey concepts, like intelligent rats and telepathic rabbits, but those don’t get in the way. But let me tell you this: Read Non-Stop from the beginning to the end, and then, when you are done, and you figure out what’s actually going on, you’ll want to start at the beginning once again.

Non-Stop is a powerful, compelling and thought-provoking generation ship story.

Rating - Three Stars