Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Aurora, by Andreas Christensen

Aurora, the sequel to Andreas Christensen's Exodus, is a book that could have been intriguing, that could have been thought-provoking, that could have been entertaining, had the author done some research. As it stands, it is far too implausible to take seriously. There's also the problem that the choice of plot and conflict is misguided. A story about a colony of humans trying to survive on a brand new planet, and the struggles they come across in the process, is intriguing enough to write a novel about, but Christensen instead focuses his conflict on a far less interesting political conflict that boils over from the first book. The conflict in fact feels forced, as the government is not oppressive until the plot requires it. It's unfortunate that the author has little interest in developing the more intriguing parts of the world he has created.

Aurora continues where Exodus left off, with the remainder of humanity on their new home planet trying to survive. At the heart of the conflict is the government, which many people protest is too heavy-handed. Having anticipated this, a group of rebels back on Earth had planted people who could change this political culture. One of these is Thomas Dunn, who is such a shady character it's a wonder that the new president, George Havelar, trusts him, or that Maria Solis, the Latino daughter of Ramon Solis, right hand man of Havelar, would fall in love with him. But I guess the characters are so paper thin it's hard to care anyway.

Other key players include Kenneth Taylor, a psychologist who doesn't really like the way Havelar runs things, but keeps quiet. Tina Hammer was one of the commanders of the flight to the planet, but she has retired from military life in order to build a fishing empire. Greg Hamilton was the lead commander, who joins Tina. Ben Waters was one of thirty or so teenager who was smuggled aboard the Exodus and was lucky enough not to be shipped back to Earth. Each of these characters has some sort of grumblings about the way Havelar runs things, but the problem is it's not very clear what he does that's so problematic. The main issue is that he does not allow expeditions to explore very far on the new world. No reasoning is provided, but the complaints seem more akin to a teenager complaining about too many rules than an adult reaction. They hardly warrant any sort of rebellion. And even when Havelar unveils in secret some plan he has, it doesn't sound crazy or evil, just stupid.

Christensen is far less concerned about survival on a new planet than he is with his political conflict, and that's a shame. His brushing off of potential conflicts based around survival also adds immensely to the implausibility of his world. For example, it isn't until a third of the way into the novel that somebody finally dies. After light-years of travel and over 150 years, only two people have died by the time we reach a third of the way through book two. Human history tells us that whenever people colonize a new land, whether or not it was already populated by other people, lots of people die. They die from disease. They die from the elements. They die by each other. They also die by wildlife. It should be no different with colonizing a new planet. In fact, there's reason to believe survival could be harsher on a new planet. Descriptions of life on the planet show characters living a life of luxury compared to what you would expect. It's true that technology is better, but there are so many unknowns that it's impossible that it took so long for anybody to die, even by accident or human stupidity.

Christensen is not a particularly good writer. I don't mean to say he's a bad writer, but perhaps his talents aren't well-suited to fiction. He doesn't dive into the heads of characters very well, even though chapters are split up by character. One character could easily replace the other. Mantras tell writers to show rather than tell, and while there are fantastic tellers out there, Christensen is not one of them. He may have benefited more from showing his plot unfold rather than tell about it. Events happen and we learn about them after the fact, and this has the affect of making things harder to believe. There's also the issue that the dialogue is poorly organized. A line of dialogue will be followed, without a paragraph break, by a description of a character who is not speaking. Here is an example of the way Christensen writes his dialogue throughout the entire story:

" 'Don't worry about it. And by the way, I'm not that kind of psychologist.' She smiled back at him."

In most stories, this dialogue indicates that the speaker is the "she" in the paragraph, who would be, in this case, Maria Solis. The problem however, is that Kenneth Taylor is actually the speaker. It's true that context makes this easy to figure out, but the way Christensen ignores these rules of writing dialogue breaks the novel's magic. It brings the reader's attention to the fact that they are reading a novel because the reader must re-calibrate their brain to say that no, it's not Maria who is speaking, but Kenneth. It is maddening, and this example is typical of how Christensen writes his dialogue throughout the entire novel.

I can say that at least you won't take up a lot of time with these books. They are over fairly quickly, but you probably won't gain any new understandings of the world or even be particularly entertained. Christensen seems to want to reflect the political climate of our time, but he places this sort of thing in the wrong kind of book. In a book about surviving on an alien planet, it's not unreasonable to want to see humans struggling to survive. And just when things begin getting intense, a deus ex machina is inserted that adds immensely to the implausibility. I just can't find it in me to continue reading this series.

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