By Kim Stanley Robinson
It’s probably no coincidence that two of the best SF novels of 2015, Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, follow a similar outline: tracking the long-term survival of a segment of humanity placed on board a starship ark, and the way they adapt new ways of life and political structures – and indeed become a new kind of species – in the process. One suspects a growing concern over the future of our spaceship Earth is in play.
Aurora begins with a giant space station full of various Earth biomes about to finally arrive in the Tau Ceti system, which is where several potentially inhabitable new homes are located. The voyage, which began in 2545, has taken 170 years, putting a great deal of strain on the artificial ecosystem of the ship through the effects of a multigenerational form of cabin fever known as “zoo devolution.” Fractures erupt that tear the community apart and put the entire population at risk. Some of the pioneers decide to come home, but what will they be coming home to?
Robinson has always been fascinated by the mechanics of the rise and fall of civilizations, with a particular interest in the environmental angle. Aurora is another epic exploration of these matters, with special attention given to the managerial role of artificial intelligence in trying to avoid the disastrous effects of system breakdown.