I really wanted to like this book. But in the end, it seemed like there were three interesting stories and none of them were told particularly well.
The three main points being:
- the third generation of space voyagers are nearing the end of their journey
- they arrive, encounter many problems, some decide to stay, some decide to go back
- the voyage back to earth and repercussions
Part of the story is told from a narrative perspective and part of it from the perspective of the ships's quantum computer and growing awareness as an artificial intelligence. It makes it hard to follow.
Also, spoiler, the ship ultimately doesn't make it and I found it the most interesting character in some ways. At least the most likeable.
It does remarkably well on the gender front, two of the main characters being very forthright, independent, intelligent women. They have their flaws, both have tempers, for example. But they, and the other main and supporting characters, all feel like real rounded people, which was nice.
I liked the idea of the problems with a living ship but some of it just got a bit boring in the end, omg, more crop failures? The idea of metabolic rifts and deficits as well as zoo-biology being a problem could have been better explored, I thought. Although, would the problem with island biology happen in only three generations? Maybe, who knows. It felt a bit fast for that.
It had the problem of having these three separate but related stories happening that made it hard to want to start the next part, given that I wasn't particularly engaged with the last part.
Finally, it felt just depressing! It made it feel that space travel was ultimately futile, that travelling the stars was to justify glorified ideas. There were some interesting parts about the ethics of sending people into space as volunteers but then what about their children? The discussions of birth control and population limitation just touched on that area. It felt that if the whole story was about the journey, all these ideas could make up a good story. Instead, they were all cut short.
It kind of felt like Ancillary Justice and The Martian squashed together but just some of the basic concepts, eg an alive ship and a fight for survival. But it just didn't work in the end, not enough for me to want to recommend it to anyone. This is sad because I normally love Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt being one of my favourite books.
Oh well. Maybe 2.5 stars out of five. Better to read Ancillary Justice or The Martian though.