Review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora

First let me say, Kim Stanley Robinson is a great author of science fiction. That’s clear to just about everyone and he’s received many awards. His Mars trilogy alone is a great work of science fiction.

The short version: I greatly enjoyed reading Aurora. It’s masterfully written, there are twists and turns, a deeply imagined world, and an original premise; but I disagree slightly with its main argument.

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead. If you plan an reading Aurora you may want to save this article for later.

I finished reading KSR’s latest novel, Aurora, several months ago and have had some time to think it over. It’s a great story overall but it clearly has a message to the reader (and to the science fiction community as a whole), which is that humanity is not going to be populating other planets any time soon and we should focus on this one, Earth. It points out that in many ways we are connected to our planet more fully than we realize, micro-biomes, and macro-biomes included. It was a story that needed to be told and we should all take a second and third look at ourselves. Sci-fi in its many forms has long assumed that humanity would spread throughout the galaxy and populate other planets, and much of the canon assumes it would be a fairly easy transition. Aurora’s message postulates that since humanity developed on Earth we are intrinsically dependent on it in ways we don’t fully understand.

I agree that in many ways he’s right, but at the same time (in the long-term) I agree with Elon Musk and others who believe we need to be a multi-planet civilization. Humanity will spread to other planets and in fact we have no other choice. In the far future, eventually the Earth will be destroyed by our own Sun. A giant asteroid could wipe us out at any moment. An uncontrollable epidemic could wipe us out. A million things could go wrong.

At first, we are going to spread to the other planets in our own solar system. KSR agrees on that point, although specifying that people would not move permanently to other planets, but merely visit them. I’m not so sure about that. I agree on the point that we should be good stewards of the Earth, but I’m with David Brin that we can do both: protect Earth and leave it. It won’t be easy and it’s going to take a lot of time, but we can do it.

Many problems that have seemed impossible to overcome in the past have proved solvable with future technology. Heavier-than-air human flight, electricity delivered to every home, cell phones, the internet; almost every major scientific breakthrough seems impossible before it becomes science-fact. In the same way, I think many of the problems KSR points out will become solvable in the future — perhaps much sooner than he thinks.

You’ve heard of the Singularity by now I hope. What it really means is simply that technology improves at an exponential rate. A review of the history of scientific and societal progress up until now will show this to be true. I’m not going to delve into an epic tirade about this now (I’ll save that for later), but suffice it to say, things are going to get interesting at an ever increasing rate. Science-fiction is going to become science-fact at an ever increasing rate.

So, yes, Earth is our home and we should take care of it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also colonize other worlds.

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