In the Solar system of 2075, the UNF, an extra-national and international force deriving from all of the nations of Earth, handles much of the policing and issues among the variety of space stations and habitats. The UNF handles international disputes on Earth as well, and many who have Earth Duty in the UNF dream of Space Duty. Corporal Carrie Welles is the daughter of one of the first UNF soldiers to ever get Space Duty, an Original. Living up to her father and her family’s name is important to her.
Thus, when Captain Harris of the Aurora is assigned Corporal Welles, and two other female recruits in the bargain to a formerly male-only ship, and given mysterious orders to visit a silent space station on the edge of inhabited space, Mars orbit, this is Welles’ big chance. She’s already made a name for herself as a sharpshooter on Earth, but those skills are going to be far more useful than she expects when the mystery of the Darwin is uncovered.
Aurora: Darwin is the debut novel by Amanda Bridgeman and begins her Aurora series. Four novels are currently in print; the third, Aurora: Meridian, was a finalist for the 2014 Aurealis Award.
The novel (with one exception) follows two points of view. The first and our primary character is Corporal Welles. Bridgeman does a good job in giving her a good, solid voice, decent depth and a good character arc. She’s already competent at what she does, but she does have real weaknesses and challenges that she has to overcome. All three women have trouble integrating on the Aurora, and thanks to seeing inside of Welles’ head, we see her troubles and issues front and center. The author does an excellent job illustrating Welles’ plight, particularly.
The other point of view character is Captain Saul Harris. He feels a bit more out of central casting, the older Captain concerned with the well running of his ship, and a harmonious crew. His growth and personal arc come through best in scenes with, or about, the tumultuous Corporal Welles. Both Harris and Welles for the most part do not come off quite as well with the rest of the crew save for the character in common they interact with most — Harris’ second in command, Lieutenant Daniel “Doc” Walker.
The rest of the cast is a decent mix of diversity, but for the most part they do not come across anywhere near as well as the main three characters. Sometimes the characterization goes toward stereotypical behavior, especially when Welles and her two fellow female recruits, Sgt. Packham and Corporal Colt, come aboard the Aurora. However, the author makes good effort to show that an international military agency’s forces should be international.
For me, however, the novel has an enormous problem with the science presented in the book. It may be possible that the author simply wasn’t interested in the science involved at all, despite the novel being in space, or not interested in presenting it to the reader. The spacecraft in this universe appear to have artificial gravity, without even a line of explanation or acknowledgement that doing laps around a ship with present technology simply isn’t going to work. Similarly, the idea of using slugthrowers in a spacecraft is a bad one from a firearm point of view, because of the possibilities of leaks. I also couldn’t get a good sense of the solar system and why it was laid out the way it was. Colonies on the Moon and a penal colony on Mars are fine (although the latter was somewhat strange). However, the seemingly random placement of space stations throughout cis-Asteroid Belt space seems to have been done without regard for the logistics. The titular Darwin station hangs in space beyond Mars and on this side of the asteroid belt, and a very pretty map shows a bunch of stations all over the place, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason for their placement. Given the enormous effort it would take to maintain a station all the way past Mars, I couldn’t see why it would be done that way. And even if you did, I couldn’t see why it was in a random spot and not in, say, a Martian Lagrange point, or a Trojan point between it and the Sun. There also appears to be an unnamed and unacknowledged FTL communication at work, too.
All of this combined for me to give no sense of ever being in space in the entire novel.
As a thriller, the novel is on firmer ground. I do think there is a fair amount of “idiot ball” on the part of the Aurora crew to get them into the situation that puts the full thriller situation in place. Once those are dispensed with, the actual thriller situation goes off rather well, and this section of the novel is probably far and away the best set piece and the best thing about the entire book. The novel raises questions, invests in stakes, and efficiently and well goes about answering them and ratcheting up the tension for this sequence.
I think that Aurora: Darwin mostly works as a thriller and for readers who, unlike me, aren’t going to be hung up on the science. Unfortunately, for me, as a science fiction novel, and, sadly, overall, Aurora: Darwin did not succeed.