David Koepp’s illustrious script-writing CV includes such landmark cinema titles as Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, War of the Worlds and… err… Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. Well, no one’s perfect. Only in recent years has he turned his considerable storytelling talents to the world of prose fiction and, perhaps not surprisingly, his first effort, the alien virus thriller Cold Storage, is on its way to the big screen in a feature film boasting Liam Neeson and Stranger Things’ Joe Keery amongst its cast. His latest novel, Aurora, is heading the same way with a movie in development for Netflix with Kathryn Bigelow tipped to direct. But Aurora is actually a much less obviously cinematic piece than Cold Storage and despite its high concept sci-fi scenario, it’s a much moodier and more intimate character study spiced up with a bit of home invasion action in the final straights.
A massive solar storm sweeps across the Earth and the power goes down across most of the planet. The blackout could last for years and the breakdown of society seems inevitable. Koepp isn’t, however, concerned with the bigger worldwide picture. His story focuses on a well-drawn small group of characters, primarily Aubrey and her snarky stepson living in the tiny town of Aurora, Illinois, and her estranged self-made multi-billionaire brother Thom who has foreseen the catastrophe and built a huge underground bunker out in the desert where he and his favoured few can sit out the disaster. But blood is thicker than water and, despite their disagreements over the years and the secret tragedy that has long divided them, the bond between Aubrey and Thom is a strong one and when life in his community doesn’t quite turn out as he expected, Thom sets out on a road trip that might just save his family’s lives…
Aurora is a much more measured and less extravagant piece than its predecessor. Koepp writes in broad terms about the privations suffered across the rest of the world – vague talk of civil unrest, lootings, public panic - as he concentrates our attention on Aubrey and her son trying to keep things together at home and on their own street and Thom who can’t create the life he thinks he deserves despite all his wealth. Aubrey’s no-good ex-husband, an alcoholic with huge gambling debts, keeps turning up at Aubrey’s door, ultimately threatening to bring down upon her a presence that could destroy the fragile equilibrium she and her friends have been able to create.
Aurora isn’t really a sci-fi story at all despite the apocalyptic picture it paints. It’s a story about people, family, and relationships, and in largely eschewing the action and relentless violence we might have expected (although there are elements of both) he’s written an intriguing, thoughtful and propulsive story about survival and humanity. By its very nature, it’s a book that tends to pace itself and it slips off the rails just a little towards the end when one core player undergoes a character turn-about so massive they seem unrecognisable from the character we’ve spent time with throughout the book. But Koepp writes with confidence and assurance, and whilst Aurora might not be what you’re expecting, you’ll be swept along by its vividly-detailed character building even as you’re reminded how much we take for granted in our slick, machine-tooled hi-tech world.
Aurora is available now from HQ/HarperCollins