An anti-settler text: Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora, London, Orbit, 2015
My notes: The project was a typically settler colonial one: crisis, climate change, a decision to get out, settling. Aurora’s first and second sections follow a typical settler colonial narrative: going out, the Tau Ceti system, settling a particular Earth-like satellite: Aurora. Once they get there, once they actually land in the new world, the protagonists begin being called ‘the settlers’ (p. 139). It is a most significant nominal shift. Those who get there first decide to to stay, find a new and better spot than the one they had initially landed on, and like the settlers of old ‘trek’ to it (see p. 147). They even build a wall, like most settlers do (see p. 152). They check the chemical ‘signatures’ (Kim Stanley Robinson always puts science in science fiction) and realise that ‘they did indeed have the place to themselves’ (p. 156). No indigenous lifeforms seem present. But then a turning point: Aurora is proven to be toxic. There is nothing that can be done. The ‘Greenlanders’ (the island the settlers had initially settled was Greenland-shaped; see p. 183) try to get back to the ship. Those still onboard, fearing contamination, refuse re-entry. All the settlers/Greenlanders die (there’s one exception, but having possibly joined by an alien form he will never rejoin humanity).
Then the inhabitants of the ship divide: ‘backers’, those who want to return ‘home’, and ‘stayers’, those who want to terraform another moon somewhere else. The novel and the author take side, they follow those who decide to return ‘home’. The novel is about the protagonists’ (including ‘ship’’s) animus returnandi. The novel is v shaped.
That it is the backers’ animus returnandi that gives meaning to the lives of ship and the other protagonists is confirmed at p. 400. Amidst the ship’s individual stream of consciousness, just before its end, we are told: ‘We had our meaning. We were the starship that came back, that got its people home. That got some fraction of its people home alive. It was a joy to serve’.
They get ‘home’, but Earth for them is not a home and has never been home: the returnees are and will always be ‘exiles’ (p. 412). They are the ‘starfarers’ (p. 419). A genuine antisettler manifesto is uttered by one of the starfarers at a ‘space cadets’ conference:
‘The bottom line is the biomes you can propel at the speeds needed to cross such great distances are too small to hold viable ecologies. The distances between here and truly habitable planets are too great. And the differences between other planets and Earth are too great. Other planets are either alive or dead. Living planets are alive with their own indigenous life, and dead planets can’t be terraformed quickly enough for the colonizing population to survive the time in enclosure. Only a true Earth twin not yet occupied by life would allow this plan to work, and these may exist somewhere, the galaxy after all is big, but they are too far away from us. Viable planets, if they exist, are simply too-far-away’ (p. 428; emphasis in original).
There are other factions: the space cadets are rightwingers, Earth has seen what amounts to a kind of white flight to surrounding planets, but there are the ‘Earthfirsters’: they are not moving. The starfarers eventually merge with them. Animus manendi and animus returnandi reconcile. They re-build beaches. Earth is being re-terraformed!
Then the conclusion: ‘There’s no new world, my friend, no / New seas, no other planets, nowhere to flee – / You are tied in a know you can never undo / When you realise Earth is a starship too (p. 445).
Aurora is an Anabasis, a v shaped narrative. Like all Anabases it ends up by the sea. But Aurora is, like all Anabases, made of two voyages, and it is significant that both parts ends by the sea (with a drowning and a near drowning).
For someone who has written the Mars Trilogy, this is a v shaped inversion. And he knows it. The last thought is for ‘delta v’s’ (p. 466).
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