As occasionally happens with novels, I found my eyes glued to the pages of Aurora and finished the 450 page book in less than 3 days. Couldn’t have been better timing: Aurora ties in well to my other recent read, Accelerando. Both cover the challenges of developing an interstellar civilization and though they take dramatically different perspectives, the conclusions are surprisingly similar.
The grand scale of the book allows time to explore difficult topics in the human petri dish that is the generational starship bound for the eponymous planet Aurora. Governance and self-determination are hot topics in a tin can traveling at one tenth the speed of light with a population of a few thousand people. The ship’s AI, the semi-omniscient narrator, offers a thought-provoking discussion of consciousness and purpose. And at every turn, there is death. But Robinson manages to normalize death in a way that comforts: a recognition that death is an inevitable part of exploration and of life itself.
Indeed, it’s a book that left me wondering: what is the purpose of life? Would we willingly doom our descendants to imprisonment in the name of exploration? Why have descendants at all?
The ending left me wanting, but the more I think about it, the more I think I understand what Robinson was trying to convey. Humans will likely always have a primal longing for Earth. Whether you were born on another planet or a generational starship, you will feel inexplicably drawn to the ecosystem that you evolved from. It seems only natural.