Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

I don't usually post quotes from modern SF/F books. I do it all the time when I review laughably bad old science fiction, but most of what's getting published these days does not often include lines that make me shake my head and wonder about my own damn sanity.

Then I read this "seduction" dialogue from Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora. The unidentified character is female.

"What about sex on the beach, eh? Right out in the sun? You people must do that!"
"Yes," he says with a little smile, and rolls over onto his stomach, perhaps modestly. "You have to be sure not to get sand in certain places. But, you know, it's mostly something we do out here at night."
"How come? It's a public beach, isn't it?"
"Well, yes. But it doesn't sound like you mean what I mean when you say public."
"I thought public meant it was yours, that you could do what you want."
"I guess, yeah. But being public also means you don't do private things here."
"I think you should just do what you want! And I'd like to jump you right here and now."

I sent this lovely little tidbit (can KSR write women characters or what?) to my husband, and he promptly declared that this was a literary offence worthy of throwing the book across the room and refusing to read another word. It was, however, in the last chapter, so I forged on with the last few pages. You see, most of the human dialogue and interaction up to this was not great, but not this bad. Okay, yes, it was stilted. Okay, yes, most of the female characters were irrationally and irritatingly sure of their own position to the point of punching. And yes, no one in this book had ever heard of compromise. And no, they didn't really sound like people as I have known them.

On the other hand, most of the book is narrated by the AI of a ship, so...there's that?  (Okay, actually, that part I mostly enjoyed. I mean, I didn't love it, but it didn't grate like his human characters do, particularly when they're female and monofocused on something.)

This is a book all about how awful generation ships are and how they're child abuse and how they could never work. (Even though in his own book, half the people on the generation ship at the end of the voyage decide to stay and seem to think the trip was worth it. We're just stuck with the other half.)

I mean, I suppose it's fine to write a book about how hard generation ships would be to accomplish successfully, and even how hard the task at the other end would be. But this book feels just as sure of its conclusions as its characters are, and the real answer is, truly, that we don't know. We haven't even remotely tried, so choosing to believe that anywhere we went, no matter how Earthlike, there would be deadly dangers, microbes, or prions waiting to kill us, and that we can literally only thrive in the incubator of Earth, well, that's the author's choice. It's another cynical and negative one, and we all know how much I'm loving those types of books these days.

But really, Robinson is not getting any better at writing people, and really should stay away from sex scenes, because dear lord, that is one of the least sexy things I've ever read in my life. (Also, on the generation ship where she grew up, people seem to have lived in single-family mostly dwellings, with clothing customs and not much if any public nudity or sex, so there are so many reasons why that makes NOOOOOOOO sense.)

Also, and this is coming from a couple of books of his, Robinson seems to posit worlds in which people are even worse about helping with mental health issues that we are today, and we're pretty shitty today. I mean, this isn't the one of the Mars books where a character's psychiatrist tells another character all about her childhood sexual abuse because he thinks it'll help the other character get close to her, and has no regard for confidentiality. But it is a situation where the returning generation ship characters to Earth have huge issues with agoraphobia, anxiety, and depression, and there appears to not only be no help for them, but no concept that there could be anyone out there who could help them work through those issues.

Apparently technical science can progress, but nothing humanistic can exist....

I really didn't like this one. I am about at the end of my rope with KSR. I've read five of his books, and at their best they've been about 50% interesting and 50% irritating, and in several (this included), tipped way more towards the irritating end of the scale. Unfortunately, I know he's got at least one more that was nominated for a Hugo, so I'll probably choke it down in my quest to read all Hugo nominees.

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