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in other worlds

In Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Aurora, a ship carrying some 2'000 people from earth arrives, after several generations, at a new home in a new solar system. It has all the conditions for life but, the travellers imagine, there is no life there: they will be the first life forms it will support. Those who launched the mission seem to have overlooked the likelihood, perhaps even the necessity, that such a place would already have lives living there. But there's always someone, or something, there. Haven't we learnt this yet? Australia, Palestine - how many times have we managed, perhaps chosen, to overlook the fact that there is always someone or something in lands we imagine as empty, uninhabited, new to us, waiting for us.

In the midst of this scenario, Robinson raises Fermi's paradox: if there is life elsewhere, why hasn't it already made itself known to us? There are many ways of answering this question, ranging from the possibility that we have in fact already been visited by extra-terrestrial life, to the prospect that any civilisation smart enough to leave home is also smart enough to develop virtual realities and simulated spaces so sophisticated that its people forget how to leave their bedrooms, never mind their planets.

Euan, one of the voyagers who dies on what turns out to be the inhospitable surface of Aurora, offers another solution to Fermi's paradox. It is a wise observation of which we should take heed: "by the time life gets smart enough to leave its planet, it's too smart to want to go." The most intelligent life "enjoys its home", he says: "of course, every once in a while some particularly stupid form of life will try to break out and move away from its home star... But it doesn't work, and the life left living learns the lesson, and stops trying such a stupid thing."

Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora, Orbit Books, 2015; published in German by Heyne, 2016,


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