Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Hundreds of years ago, thousands of people on Earth clamored for a chance to be chosen to go on a seed ship as she sailed off to her destination among the stars, the first in humanity's new initiative to establish themselves beyond Earth. But time is not kind to both people and ship on this voyage and as they draw ever closer people begin to murmur, what were our ancestors thinking, condemning us to be pioneers in a place we did not choose?
This is a long book, the hardcover is nearly 500 chapters and the characters go through so much in a single story that emotionally it feels like a long book as well (enough so that I had to take a few breaks when reading it and read something else for a few days). The story starts at what feels like a unique place for a space opera: upon a multi-generational colony ship that is still at least a decade away from where it intends to colonize (instead of starting the story at either the beginning or end of the voyage).
I've been rather torn about how much detail I should go into when talking about this book. I did not remember much about this book going into reading it and the official summary of the book appears to be simply this:
"Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.
Now, we approach our new home.
But the part I liked the most about the book, the part I want to talk about, goes far beyond that summary. I want to talk about how the story mixed in so many different space opera subgenres, it's remarkably comprehensive with the number of basic plots it works in, and how the overall tone feels like one of grim determination than jubilant survivalism. How I was pleased that for some conflicts they were portrayed as issues that people could never compromise on, the sides were too far apart, which I really feel like happens more in real life than people ever give it credit for. In terms of scope and scale, this story felt like the definition of a space opera.
The story did have it's flaws as well, for instance I could never tell if main point of view character Freya actually has a learning handicap or if the way the other characters measure intelligence has become so skewed they only think so (personally I think that yes, she is supposed to have one, however that's based on unrelated, circumstantial evidence in the story since we never directly see her having a hard time grasping or applying any kind of information, this is all supposed to be pretty important). And the story has what I think of as a very old-school sci-fi ending, where the story has presented so many great and large ideas, and yet those ideas don't have endings so the story must zoom into one, specific person's life and focus on a moment in which they find happiness (the indication is that "this is the first moment of happiness and this moment will bring them more happiness" but I still find the reversal of focus in this type of ending very jarring).
I did like the book in the end, even if again it has a rather grim tone at points, however I think I would only recommend it to people who are already fans of space operas. This is not the story that is going to make you fall in love with the genre, if anything it might scare some folks off based on it's size alone, but if you want to fall into a long and detailed story then this is a rather good choice.