Aurora: Darwin – Amanda Bridgeman

I won this book and its twin Aurora: Pegasus in a giveaway contest. My thanks to Momentum Books for this opportunity and to SF Signal (one of my favorite places for information and reviews on spec-fic books) for hosting the contest.

Unfortunately I have to confess I could not finish this book, even though I tried hard, doing my best to hold on until the middle of it: it did not work for me on several levels – plot, characterization and a few writing choices. I’m quite sorry about it, because it sounded very promising and I always try to keep my mind open for new, emerging authors, but after a while the struggle became too much.

Promising, indeed: the idea of a ship’s crew headed toward unknown danger while they try to overcome some personal troubles was intriguing, but from the very start it was mired down in too much exposition and awkward dialogues, and the author’s seeming obsession to offer her readers the whole personal back-story of those characters all at once. This, coupled with the habit of giving the most minute details on eye and hair color, height and build for each of them, the process being repeated for every character present in a determined scene, weighed the story down in an uncomfortable way for me.  I’m a great believer of the “show, don’t tell” school of thought, and here there was too much telling and very little showing for my tastes.

The technical side of the book felt somewhat out of synch: I’m not a big fan of excruciatingly precise explanations of every working technology present in a story, but I try to look for some believability, and a few details either puzzled or irritated me. For example we are told that the ship’s weapons stores hold both laser guns and lead-projectile ones – on a ship? With no though of the danger of de-compressive explosion?  And those weapons are stored in wooden crates, that are at some point opened with a crowbar.  It’s not and end-of-the-world detail, granted, but the anachronistic force of it managed to jar me violently out of the narrative flow.

My main point of contention with the book, however, came from the premise that in this future society the role of women in the military, especially the space branch, is that of second-class citizens, and both the hierarchy and the troops see the women – their fellow soldiers – as a nuisance to be (badly) tolerated, or a PR stunt to be exploited. I’m quite aware that even in today’s world there are preconceived notions and glass ceilings in the modern military, but they are not so openly practiced as they are in the future society that Bridgeman depicts, and at least they are not sanctioned by the chain of command. It feels both anachronistic and annoying, especially when considering that the author is a young woman.

The male crew’s reaction to the presence of the women feels exaggerated and unbelievable as well: not so much for the attitude, but for the way it’s expressed. These are supposed to be highly trained professional soldiers, and they behave like rambunctious school children just one step away from a food fight.  I would have understood grumbling resentment – not so much because the new arrivals are women, but because they are added unexpectedly to a team that’s already well-integrated: this would have made a great deal more sense, both in a military and personal way. But no, these soldiers, these skilled and finely trained individuals, all but elbow each other and snigger openly when the new recruits make their appearance (and at some point in the story make lewd suggestions that are not properly addressed by the superior officers); these men can’t seem to be able to remember that they are adult professionals that should follow rules about military decorum at all times, and the officers that should keep them in line do nothing about it.   It would be hard to buy in present society, it’s even harder in a future one, especially when we are told that these women soldiers have all been previously tested by completing tours of duty on Earth in various operations.

Characterization suffers from a few flaws as well: the main characters’ development is left to long, drawn-out inner monologues, or rather sequences of question they ask themselves trying to puzzle out situations or inter-personal problems. I could not see them as living, breathing people, but rather as sketches of what they should have been, or maybe stereotypes: the bright, spunky soldier out to make a name for herself; the seasoned commander torn between sternness and compassion; the young doctor with a heart of gold; and so on…

Even when the crew meets their antagonists, the latter are so blatantly evil that all that’s missing is some proverbial mustache-twirling, and the hints about the danger they represent are so broad that one wonders how in heaven the soldiers miss every single one of them until something finally opens their eyes.

That was the point where I had to stop: despite the intriguing mystery that is the core of the story, I became aware that I did not care about discovering what it was, or how the protagonists solved it. The slow, cumbersome pace of the narrative and the lack-luster characters could not hold my attention any longer: a sad reality I had to accept.

My Rating: 4/10

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