What ruined for many of us an otherwise brilliant and intense reworking of "Battlestar Galactica" was that final episode. We watch in horror as the heroes launch their spaceships into the Sun and choose to live an anti-tech life on Earth. It just seemed kind of an anti-intellectual end to the series.
Likewise, and high on this list of the let's just stay home buzzkill vibe, is the new, somewhat dour novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called "Aurora," which should be subtitled "A Million Ways to Die in Space."
By Kim Stanley Robinson Orbit ($26).
Mr. Robinson is best known for his almost exhaustive research. He spent six weeks in Antarctica to research a novel about it, which is doing it the hard way. His skills are well on display in his famous Martian trilogy.
The premise for "Aurora" -- roughly 2,300 people from Earth set out to visit the possibly habitable worlds orbiting Tau Ceti, only 12 light years away. They plan to get there the slowest but possibly only viable way if we can't ever figure out warp drives or wormholes (don't bet on that). They sent out 4,000 people on two ships composed of two orbital space rings each. Think two "Elysium" style orbital habitats living atop one another, and off we go.
What follows is a sustained, sometimes angry argument that pretty much screams out that generational spaceships without hibernation -- where you start the mission but your great grand kids complete, you hope, that mission 160 years later -- is a terrible way to visit the stars.
Here's just a short list of awful things that we see happen on the voyage to Aurora. You could die from a mistake or getting hit by something larger than a tennis ball when going at even a tenth of the speed of light. You could die from getting the math wrong on just a number of factors that ensure survival such as too much salt, too little water or poisoning your farmlands. You could die by evolving bacteria that learn to eat the foundations of the ship. You could die in a civil war between factions on your ship that question the intelligence of the mission after repeated failures and many horrible deaths. And this is an incomplete list of horror.
Mr. Robinson makes a very compelling argument that generational space travel -- a staple of many shows and science fiction stories -- is just a bad idea. It's kind of why people may have thought that "Interstellar" was a bit of a downer -- with added time relativity problems -- is that it made space travel look kind of hard and possibly kind of limited. Mr. Robinson goes one step further and makes space travel look almost suicidal.
So, in a nutshell, this is the kind of science fiction for people who don't believe that science has all the answers. Even though you could argue that within its 460 pages that hibernation, which doesn't become workable until several hundred years after they leave Earth, or how they get around in "Alien", would solve a lot of problems they had in this book. Just a ray of light in this otherwise dark meditation on how awful generational space travel would be. It's a very convincing argument to wait for hibernation or faster than light travel if you really want to travel the stars.
Philip Shropshire (email@example.com) is a long-time science fiction fan and freelance writer who makes his home at threeriversonline.com.
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