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Aurora: A Child of Two Worlds

by David A Hardy

(Cosmos Books, $15.99, 222 pages, paperback, published 2003.)

As a reviewer, one tends to approach books like Aurora with a degree of caution: much like the celebrity blockbuster, this is no ordinary debut novel. David Hardy has been prominent in world SF for a long cover scantime now, established as one of our finest SF and astronomical artists. When someone like Hardy submits a novel, you must always suspect that it will sidestep the usual slushpile simply because of who sent it in (although equally, it might encounter more obstacles, too, with the author pigeonholed as an artist and not someone who should be writing fiction). Thankfully, David Hardy is no Naomi Campbell: Aurora is not a piece of celebrity fluff, it's a solid and entertaining piece of SF intrigue, a book I continued to read far too late at night, and one that I'm pleased that, as reviews editor, I didn't send out to some other reviewer.

Aurora opens in the Second World War, with mysterious intrusions into a German bombing raid over London, a strange figure appearing from nowhere, trying to do good and then vanishing. In one of these incidents, baby Aurora, lying in the debris of her bombed home with a mine suspended by parachute above her, is rescued, revived. Forever afterwards, Aurora's mother has a nagging doubt: is the baby, so miraculously resuscitated, really Aurora?

We jump to the 1970s and an enigmatic vagrant waif becomes involved in a prog rock group, discovering a previously unsuspected musical talent that threatens to overpower those who encounter it. And on we move, to a Mars expedition, where the seemingly ageless Aurora, now hiding her identity, is part of a scientific team that stumbles across ever more puzzling finds on, and beneath, the Martian surface.

Aurora has a steady undercurrent of mystery which pulls the reader along, but it does suffer from a flatness of tone, with often-unconvincing dialogue and far too much explication through that dialogue: Aurora tells her life story-to-date to a stranger in a bar for no other reason than to bring the reader up to speed on the intervening years; scientists explain to each other things that they must, surely, already know; and so on. The main weakness in the writing is the over-reliance on summary. At a little over 200 pages, it's not a long novel, largely because events tend to be recounted in summary rather than fully dramatised: we don't witness these events, we read a detached account of them: this happened, and then this happened. You can't help wondering what this novel really could have been if Hardy had been encouraged to bring things out through drama rather than reportage. Another failure of dramatisation comes about two thirds of the way through when there's a major revelation about Aurora which is meekly accepted by those around her--including Aurora herself--with little exploration of the emotional and psychological implications of this huge revelation. It's moments like this that can do a novel a lot of damage.

Often, too, the convincing details of everyday life are not really thought through: Martian explorers send home "a type of e-mail", but why "a type"? How is this "type" different to ordinary e-mail, and if it's not, actually, different, then why use the distractingly vague adjective? The author can, however, be far more engaging in his descriptions of the red planet and in some of the more specialist detail: his descriptions of the challenges encountered by Mars's first artist in finding a paint technology that will work in the sub-zero, carbon dioxide/nitrogen atmosphere is excellent.

Towards the end, the novel drifts into lengthy, rather utopian, lecturing and a large dose of exposition, and this is a shame after what has gone before, with Aurora never quite delivering what it might. But despite all this, Aurora remained a novel which occupied my thoughts when I wasn't reading, and kept me reading longer than intended. It was a good read, and an interesting one, too, and I'm pleased to have spent some time with it.

Review by Keith Brooke.

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