the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Kim Stanley Robinson’ Category

Aurora KSRAurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson

On bookstore shelves: July 7 2015

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Orbit!)

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As science fiction fans, we can easily list novels, movies, or TV shows that focus on the design, building, and eventual launch of a colony or generation ship.  The unquantifiable hope that goes into such a project, the reasons it is being built and launched, the wonder around what we’ll find when it arrives where it’s going. The end of the movie or TV show is typically the launch of the ship, people’s tearful goodbyes, the successful launch.  There are also the stories of people on board such a ship, people who have no connection whatsoever to the families and scientists who left a blue planet. But what of the last chapter of this story? What happens when the ship gets where it’s going, and the people onboard say “ok, now what?”.  What happens when life has become a destination instead of a journey? Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora is that story.

 

By the tone of the opening chapters, it’s easy to assume that Devi will be our main character.  She is a head engineer of a generation ship hurtling towards the Tau Ceti system, possibly the only person who really understands how the ship works, how to fix what breaks, and why the farms are dying. Whoever built and supplied the ship couldn’t have known what challenges it would face hundreds of years down the line.  Early in the story, Devi demands that the ship’s interface, later known as “Ship”, write a narrative account of the colonist’s journey. Ship doesn’t understand that humans have a finite life span, and Devi only has so much time to teach Ship about how to write a story. Ship is never taught about characterization, subtlety, or romances that burn slowly.  One of my favorite things about Aurora was watching Ship evolve.

 

While Ship is recording everything it can think of (which is what you are reading, by the way), Devi’s daughter Freya comes of age.  She overhears a heartbreaking conversation about island genetics and potential, yet grows up to be a prophet of sorts. Prophet is a terrible word, but it seems to fit. Later in her life, everyone comes to Freya for answers, assuming that since she is Devi’s daughter, of course she knows everything Devi knew.  Freya does, after all, have access to Ship’s vocal interface.

 

And when the ship arrives at it’s destination, then what? What happens then is the big idea of Aurora, it is what readers will dissect and argue over. There is so much I want to say here, about genetics and bacteria, and central nervous systems, and evolution, and so much more, but I can’t, because it would be a spoiler. The big question that goes with that big idea is “Is this novel optimistic or pessimistic?”  Is this a hopeful novel or a sad one?

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2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Published by Orbit Books, May 22 2012

Where I got it: received review copy from the Publisher

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So many books I’ve been reading lately have been fast paced adventures, where characters are scrambling from one action scene to another, trying not to get killed, always trying to get towards the goal. 2312 isn’t that kind of book. The plot and the characters meander, people discuss that they aren’t sure what to do next, no one is scrambling anywhere, no one is in a hurry.  And yet, there is plenty of suspense and tension, just not the kind we are used to seeing in a standard science fiction novel. Again, 2312 isn’t your standard plot-based science fiction novel.

Existentially sprawling, and scientifically fascinating yet completely accessible,  I’m reluctant to categorize 2312 as science fiction. Yes, there is plenty of science and it takes place in the future, but of the three plot lines, only one (and it’s the weakest one) of them has anything to do with anything remotely science fictional. This is more a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world than anything else.

We first meet Swan Er Hong at her grandmother Alex’s funeral. There is some concern that due to Alex’s political connections perhaps her death wasn’t natural. Swan meets up with the Saturnian league ambassador Wahram and police investigator Jean Genette to discuss  the projects Alex had been working on, which leads to a discussion on the bitter feelings of Terrans towards the spacers.  Shortly after the investigation into Alex’s death begins, there is a terrorist attack on Terminator, the rolling city of Mercury. One more thing for Swan, Wahram and Genette to investigate, as it may be connected to Alex’s death. This is the obvious, overt plot line, and it’s the least important and least interesting part of the book.

I was continually amazed at my emotional reaction to 2312. After the attack on Terminator, Swan and Wahram escape into the underground utilidor system. Kim Stanley Robinson may be about to take us on a tour of the solar system, but the most beautiful parts of this book are the intimate moments between Swan and Wahram, which begin in the utilidors under the Mercurial surface.   These slower yet intensely focused tunnel scenes were a blessing in disguise, as without the gorgeous distraction of the cosmos, the reader can more easily concentrate on Swan and Wahram. Swan is whiny, defensive and over dramatic, and Wahram is patient and non-judgmentally curious about her life choices.  Swan never struck me as a very likeable character, yet I found myself completely emotionally invested in her life. Maybe I saw a little too much of my own indecisiveness, my own lack of concern for my own future in her.

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this is about two weeks worth of book hauling. and goodies in the mail from publishers who I want to give a giant hug to:

Let’s see what we got.  in an attempt to actually read the stuff I acquire, I’ve prioritized these. We’ll see how well I stick to my “rules” after a few months and another book haul. Don’t expect to see reviews instantly, I just this morning got back into town and haven’t started on any of these (just finished Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War and then picked up Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies for our read along). I’ve also got few library books not mentioned here that I need to eventually get to as well.  Le sigh, the life of a book lover!

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (May 2012) I’ve been a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson since Red Mars. His science fiction is deep, detailed (really, really detailed. Like Neal Stephenson detailed) and realistic feeling. Ok, sure, Antartica was kinda boring, but I appreciated the concept. I am really looking forward to diving into 2312. Priority – high.

The Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett – SF Noir? Perhaps some kind of mix of Dark City and Sam Spade? looks good to me! I loved Bennett’s The Troupe, so am excited to read more of his works. By the way, have you seen his recent book trailer? priority – medium

The Mongoliad book one (April 2012) by a multitude of cool people – I’m really not sure what this is. rumors were swirling around the interwebs a few years ago about some kind of subscription where beta-readers could interact with the authors about the story while they were writing it. Woah, totally meta! And Neal Stephenson’s name is on it. I therefore want to read it. Also stars this decade’s favorite historical character, Richard Francis Burton.    priority – high

vN – by Madeline Ashby (July 2012) Looks sort of like the author took Asimov’s three laws of robotics and removed them from our main character android. Also, she’s part human? and the environs are kinda Bladerunner-ish? Sign me up for some of that!!    priority – high

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.