An Introvert’s Guide to Orlando, Part II: The Epcot Resorts

Continuing my riff from yesterday, this entry will discuss Disney’s Epcot Resorts.

My friend Sean suggested that the only way for an introvert to enjoy Walt Disney World was to stay in your hotel room. There’s a slight element of truth in that, if you’re seriously into avoiding people. That said, the Disney Resorts are a lot more relaxing–and most of them are less crowded–than the theme parks. The Epcot Resorts are favorites of mine and my family’s because we all like to walk and because they are within walking distance of Epcot itself.

As with the theme parks, the hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars, and pools are all subject to random loud noise on occasion. Don’t like crowds at check-in? Wait until evening. Don’t like screaming kids at the main pool? Visit one of the quiet pools. Go where the noise isn’t.

One thing that I find refreshing and curious about the Disney Resorts is that unlike the theme parks, they don’t have background music playing everywhere. This alone is worth the visit when I go on one of my walks. It’s as if Disney understands that they hyperstimulate everyone at the theme parks, so they try not to do it in the hotels. You can hear background music in the hotel lobbies, but that’s it. The hallways, outside areas, and rooms have mostly human noise. Below is my list of favorite quiet (or less noisy) spots in and around the Epcot Resorts. Again, the goal is to help the curious introvert find places to go, not to bash on the noisy stuff. If that’s you’re thing, go forth and enjoy. Just follow your ears, you’ll find it.

Disney’s BoardWalk 

BoardWalk is half hotel, half Disney Vacation Club. Both the hotel and DVC sides have a quiet pool for those who want to chill out on a lounge chair. On the whole, however, BoardWalk is pretty loud, especially at night. It’s meant to be like an East Coast boardwalk (Atlantic City, Coney Island, wherever), with lots of bright lights, plenty of peppy background music, and indoor and outdoor restaurants. If you plan to stay there and want a quieter room, it’s probably pretty easy (and a bit less expensive) to get a room away from the lagoon (Crescent Lake), where all the action is. On the Villas side, there are water-view rooms that don’t face the BoardWalk. They’re a bit quieter.

Of the restaurants I’ve visited at BoardWalk, the quietest one was the new Trattoria al Forno, which is a pretty big place, and really not too quiet. However, I do give them points for giving me a room toward the back of the restaurant and for apologizing when they seated a large group near me. That said, most of the restaurants there are pretty loud. There is a nice, tucked-away lounge on the second floor (Belle Vue Lounge), but that can get crowded on occasion.

One nice store for the peace-seeking introvert is the Wyland Galleries. These folks feature both marine art (paintings of seashores, sculptures of whales/dolphins), Disney character-themed portraits, and other pieces, usually by a local artist. The artwork is expensive (usually north of $300), but you can get smaller prints for less. I’m not sure how much art they actually sell in a given week, but I’m betting most of the visitors are just there to browse, so browse away!

Walt Disney World Swan

The Swan and Dolphin Resorts are massive hotels, with the Dolphin set up with its own convention center; neither of them is owned by Disney, if that’s a consideration for you. I’ve not stayed at the Swan, though I’ve walked around their property quite a bit. The hallways are usually pretty quiet, as is the convention area, unless there’s an event in progress. Nicest quiet place to visit is Kimonos, their sushi bar. It can get loud, but often isn’t. A tad expensive, but hey, the rooms aren’t cheap, either.

Walt Disney World Dolphin

I don’t think I’ve stayed here, either, though I do recall visiting one or two of the rooms during a convention. I am not a huge fan of the decor–heavy on the pink and teal–but like the Swan it’s pretty quiet in the hallways. I was at a diner there with my sister once. Everything seemed perfectly normal until the staff disappeared. A minute later four or five of them were doing a dance routine in the middle of the floor. A bit random, but there it was. I’ve not eaten in too many places there, but my guess is that the Shula’s steak house is relatively child-free (would you take your six-year-old to a place with $50 steaks?).

Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

The Yacht Club is the gray side of the Y&B complex, with dark woods and a nautical theme in the lobby. I especially like their massive globe in the center. The grounds are well kept and ornamented with flowers and topiaries. They have a couple of saloons worth visiting: the Ale & Compass bar off the lobby and the Crew’s Cup lounge, which is adjacent to the Yachtsman Steakhouse. Crew’s Cup is larger and generally busier, as a lot of people have cocktails there while waiting for a dinner seating at Yachtsman; however, they do have their own menu as well. You might be able to find some quiet Zen time in the Ship Shape Health Club–they have a fitness room and spa treatments.

Yacht Club has two large table-service restaurants: Yachtsman Steakhouse (dinner only) and Captain’s Grille (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). It’s hard to say which one’s quieter based on my experiences at each, though a cast member said Captain’s Grille was usually quieter. The food’s better at Yachtman, IMHO, but more expensive.

Disney’s Beach Club Resort

Beach Club really doesn’t have a quiet restaurant. However, between their hotel and DVC halves, they do have a couple of quiet areas for reading–the hotel-side Solarium and the DVC lobby (I once did a telecon there with minimal interruption). The Solarium can have a TV going, but when it’s not on, there’s just the resort lobby background music.

There are a couple of saloons worth checking out at Beach Club: Martha’s Vineyard, which is a nice, quiet place to hang out during the day (they don’t open until 4 p.m.) and is relatively out of the way. Hurricane Hanna’s is the pool bar by the main pool area, Stormalong Bay. I’m not going to lie to you: this place isn’t quiet. It is next to the main pool, after all. However, the staff is always friendly and their tropical drinks are made well (they have the best rum runner on Disney property). There are only about a dozen seats at the bar, so even when there’s a line, people tend to take their drinks and leave.

And if you just need to get away from it all, the walkway around the Epcot Resorts provides plenty of quiet space. There’s also a separate walkway that leads from BoardWalk to Hollywood Studios. Plenty of leg-stretching room for you running fans, at any rate.

Bottom line: the Epcot Resorts have plenty of spaces–even in the public areas–for an introvert to find some quiet time alone while still providing convenient access to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Go forth and chill out.

An Introvert’s Guide to Orlando, Part I: Epcot

I admit it, I’m a bit of an oddity: an introvert who lives in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. I even visit Walt Disney World (and have a Florida Resident Annual Pass for same) on a regular basis. Am I lying about my disposition, or have I found ways to make the place “where the magic happens” suitable to my people-avoiding habits? The latter, I assure you. The fact that I’m a local and an Annual Passholder, however, means that I have more time to scout for potential quiet spots.

What follows are my general and specific thoughts on visiting my favorite part of WDW, Epcot (formerly EPCOT Center or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). I’m not going to lie to you and say that Disney is for everybody. I have friends in some parts of the country who are inordinately proud of the fact that they have never visited WDW. So to each their own. This blog is written for those of you realize your introverted tendencies but still have Disney on your “bucket list.” There are ways to enjoy the place and still have fun. No, really. Allow me to ‘splain…

Overall Thoughts for the Introvert Who Might Want to Visit Epcot

Let’s start with the basics, in case you have a bigger aversion to crowds than I do:

  • If you’re allergic to large groups of people in one place, Disney is not for you.
  • If you don’t like standing in long lines (or even moderate lines) with groups of strangers, Disney is not for you.
  • If your idea of “fun” is actively against boisterous socializing and general warm-and-fuzzy attitudes derived from a lot of the sanitized fairy tales The Walt Disney Company has turned into movies, the Disney parks are not for you.

For those of you who are still curious, keep reading.

It’s important to understand that Disney equates loud and busy with “happy” guests. Walt Disney himself was pretty much an extrovert, and he seems to have inspired a generation or two of marketing people with the same ethos. A quiet area or time in the theme parks is considered a problem and an opportunity to fill the space with a new show, event, character greetings, or attraction. Quiet at Disney is apparently a bad thing. So the quiet places I’ve identified here might disappear at some point.

An Introvert’s Approach to the Epcot Theme Park

Rather than talk about the things to avoid, I will concentrate primarily on things you can do so you can keep your vacation time focused.

Let’s start with the best times to visit, which keep shrinking because (as I noted above) a “quiet” time at the parks is considered a BAD THING).

  • Early January (after New Year’s week/weekend) through President’s Day weekend
  • Late February until the start of Flower & Garden Festival
  • Labor Day until the start of the Food & Wine Festival
  • After Thanksgiving weekend until approximately December 18

Note that the Flower & Garden Festival and Food & Wine Festival were events conjured up to draw local visitors during down times, thereby shrinking the potential quiet times. Darn them.


General Note on Restaurants: People with small/young children generally but not always avoid the more formal table-service restaurants because they know how impatient/squirrelly young children get. If your choice is a counter-service restaurant or a table-service restaurant, your odds for a quiet meal are somewhat better at the table-service place. On the flip side of this, counter-service places can be gotten through more quickly, reducing the time spent with a potentially ornery infant/toddler/youth in the restaurant. Where possible, I asked cast members in particular areas for the most quiet or least noisy dining location in their area.


Disney and Epcot are all about providing experiences, so it’s not unusual to see multiple moments of entertainment in the World Showcase pavilions throughout the day. (Remember: quiet is a bad thing. Disney wants you to get your money’s worth, which means as much stimulation as you can handle.) If that’s too much for you–mind you, a lot of the performances are quite good–you might want to pick up an entertainment schedule when you enter the park so you know what’s happening when. If the performances themselves aren’t making noise, they’re at least attracting crowds.

International Gateway/World Showcase

Epcot is divided into two areas: Future World and World Showcase. Most guests enter through the Main Gate, which opens into Future World at 9 a.m. Guests staying at the Epcot Resorts (the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, BoardWalk Resort, Swan, and Dolphin) enter through the International Gateway situated between the United Kingdom and France pavilions. World Showcase attractions, stores, and restaurants generally open at 11 a.m. Guests might be directed to Future World until 11, but World Showcase really doesn’t get rolling with operations and traffic until after Noon. Traffic from Future World starts to filter back into World Showcase until after 2 p.m. Again, these are generalizations; on busy days, such as during the Food & Wine Festival, World Showcase can be busy as soon as it opens.

Main Gate/Innoventions

Let’s start with the main entrance. There are going to be lines–they’re unavoidable. And once you get through the gate to show your ticket, you find yourself confronted by several planters/benches and beyond those, an array of marble monoliths that I’ve likened to Klingon architecture. They have little one-inch-square etched “Leave a Legacy” images of people that are numbered so the owners can find them later. Regardless, the planters are meant to funnel the crowd forward down a center aisle; however, you can stroll through the monoliths and avoid the butt funnel.


Once you get past Spaceship Earth (the big golf ball-looking thing), you have a couple of “escape areas,” on the inner ring of Innoventions: by the Coca-Cola Ice Station Cool on the right and the Electric Umbrella on the left. These are outdoor seating areas away from the traffic flow.

Another set of “quiet areas” you can find–if you either smoke or don’t get outraged by cigarettes–are the smoking areas by Mission: Space, Journey to Imagination, The Land, World Showcase Plaza, International Gateway, between Morocco and Japan, Italy, China, and between World Showcase Plaza and Odyssey Center. I’ve probably been to most of these areas because I have an introverted father who smokes. Disney puts them out of the way for health/aesthetic reasons, but as a side benefit of this out-of-the-way-ness, they’re also relatively quiet.

Much of Innoventions West is pretty quiet, possibly because they’re in the process of refurbishing the area.

The Land

The Living with the Land attraction is pretty low-key and air-conditioned most of the time. It isn’t always quiet, as I discovered today, as a pair of ladies behind me chattered quite loudly behind me most of the time. I’ve also taken the Behind the Seeds tour twice (okay, yes, I’m a geek) to learn more about what they are actually doing agriculturally at The Land pavilion. It’s a nice way to spend an hour or so, and it gets you out of the usual traffic flow for an hour or so.

The Living Seas

By adding a “Finding Nemo” theme to this attraction, Disney has made it louder, more accessible to kids, and thus busier (their goal, if not mine). The upper level, where you’re looking at the fish, is still pretty quiet. And watching fish can be relaxing, yes? Another great place for fish-watching, dining, and enjoying relative quiet is the Coral Reef restaurant. I’ve only eaten once there, however, (sometime in the ’90s), and prices were pretty high. I imagine they’ve gone up since then.


The San Angel Inn (table-service restaurant) isn’t too bad, though they do pack ’em in. The rest of the Mexico pavilion is pretty noisy, including La Cava del Tequila, which should be a quiet, intimate nook of a place but very quickly became a place for adults to hide away from the kids and get a beverage or three. On the plus side, they do have a very large selection of tequila and decent chips and salsa/guac/queso. You can either sit there and deal with the crowds or get a drink at the bar and take it to go.


The Akershus Royal Banquet Hall used to have a pretty nice, understated Scandinavian vibe, though I understand they’ve since added a character breakfast. They’ve also taken out the fun, low-key Maelstrom attraction and are in the process of adding a Frozen-themed attraction. Expect madness when that opens.


The waiting area for the Reflections of China 360 film is usually pretty quiet until 5-10 minutes before a show, as is the museum display featuring the Xian terracotta warriors. The Nine Dragons should be a bit quieter than the counter-service restaurant.


Not going to kid you: like Mexico, much of Germany is loud, especially the restaurant, which includes a lot of participatory singing and a buffet. The wine shop in the back corner of the pavilion isn’t too bad most days, however.


Disney added a wine/cocktail/tapas bar to the back corner of Italy called Tutto Gusto. It can get loud in there, but Mondays and Tuesdays aren’t too bad. There are two table-service restaurants in Italy; of the two, Tutto Italia is the more formal and quieter of the two (per a cast member I asked at Tutto Gusto).

United States

Most of the U.S. area is loud. The American Adventure attraction waiting area is well air-conditioned and can be quiet much of the time, with some quite good paintings on display. However, Disney decided that this was too quiet, so occasionally you’ll find a choir singing American songs from the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries. On the plus side, the choir is usually good and stately. The attraction itself is all AnimaTronics and a nice patriotic pick-me-up that gets you out of the crowds for ~40 minutes.


Last week I asked a Japan cast member if the Japanese culture was loud or quiet. She replied that “It’s a little bit of both. We have some that’s crazy and some that’s quiet.” So you can find some nice bonsai gardens and a decent museum display, but the bonsai has been cut back (so to speak) from years previous and the museum display has tied historical Japanese culture to Anime and other cartoons to get the kids interested…which, of course, means more kids and more noise. Of the two table-service restaurants, the Tokyo Dining place upstairs is slightly quieter than the Teppan Edo place, which is more of a show kitchen/participatory experience. Tokyo Dining is a sushi place, with both a bar and individual tables, some with a view of the lagoon.


The shopping areas in Morocco don’t get nearly as much traffic as some areas, and are also well-shaded. I have heard that the Marrakesh had belly dancers as part of the dining experience. Haven’t been there, not sure if that’s still a thing. However, they have added a new outdoor tapas restaurant, Spice Road Table, outside by the lagoon. The food’s decent, and there is shade, but you’re at the mercy of the elements (humidity).


My favorite attraction/film in World Showcase is Impressions de France, which is now terribly dated, having been there since the park opened in 1982, but it features a lot of gorgeous scenery and soothing symphonic music. The Chefs de France restaurant was quite good, but pretty noisy. There is another restaurant upstairs, Monsieur Paul, which I have not visited yet, but which I am guessing is more upscale, quieter, and expensive. If anyone has info on the place, I’d love to know. There’s also a fun ice cream/gelato bar in France that allows adults to throw in a shot of Gran Marnier or other adult beverage into their dessert…the place is not quiet, however, nor is much of the rest of the pavilion. The gardens in back are well tended and can be quiet, but only when the park attendance is low overall.

United Kingdom

If there’s no Beatles or other knockoff band performing out back, the gardens in the UK area are nice and quiet. Also, the Rose & Crown restaurant area (not the bar) is comparatively quiet. The R&C bar can go from quiet to loud very quickly.


The stairs/ramp leading to the Canada 360 film are pretty quiet. They’ve replaced the original (again, it was vintage 1982) Canada film with a new version featuring Martin Short. I think they could have done better with another Canadian export–William Shatner, Alanis Morrisette–someone besides Martin Short. But hey, that’s me.

If you get burned out by the number of people at Epcot–and it was inexplicably quiet today, a day in what has been considered peak season–you can always escape through the back door at International Gateway and visit one of the Epcot Resorts. I’ll cover them in another entry.

Too Geeky for D&D

Dungeons and Dragons, the original dice-based fantasy role-playing game, was coming into its own around the time I was hitting puberty. I hadn’t really paid it much attention until invited to the home of a classmate to play the game.

For those unacquainted, D&D is an interactive version of Lord of the Rings, where a group of individuals with self-selected character types (wizard, thief, warrior, etc.) enters a castle, dungeon, etc., encounters strange, beautiful, or grotesque people/creatures, and seeks to obtain treasures or achieve a quest of some kind. The Dungeon Master (DM) talks the group through what they’re seeing as a narrator, and the individuals, via their characters, respond aloud to the described environment. Sometimes they try to fight something; sometimes they try to steal something; sometimes they try to commit sins of a sexual nature (we’re talking adolescent boys–it’s gonna happen). The DM rolls one of several multi-sided dice to determine the likelihood of the character succeeding, and play continues. Once it was explained to me, I figured I could play along. I was wrong.


Yes, it is entirely possible to be too much of a dork to play D&D. I was one of those. Here’s why:

D&D is primarily a collaborative storytelling activity. By age 10–my first exposure to the game–I was already writing stories of my own. Storytelling, for me, was a solitary activity. D&D took too long for me. I was and still am a bit impatient with people. The group needs to get somewhere, and every individual wants to throw in their two cents about where to go and what to do. Mind you, that’s reality. I understand that. And good storytelling has characters with differing viewpoints. However, the act of writing is usually a one-person endeavor. A single author can shape those viewpoints into something coherent and less like a mob scene.

Group dynamics being what they were, I was the newbie in the game (new character, essentially orc fodder for any random creature that might cross the group’s path), and I was probably the least assertive, least popular kid in the group. So I wasn’t allowed to say or do much.

In the adjoining room to where the guys were playing D&D was a pool table. My best friend and I started playing pool and “phoning in” our responses to the game. Eventually the other guys got annoyed with us and realized we weren’t paying attention. At one point, someone called in, “Hey, I’m going to pick you up and use you for a shield!” I said, “Fine, go ahead!” My character died, I won the pool game. I consider that a fair trade.

I tried the game a couple other times, once at a friend’s house, once in a gamer’s group. My brain was just not wired to work in someone else’s story. I had my own stories to tell, and they were usually set in space, not some medieval castle. Come to think of it, that also might have affected my interest in the game. There were kids at the time who got so into it that they got addicted to the experience or even killed themselves over a negative outcome in the game. My mother, a bit of a worrier, asked me about it. I reassured her that I would never get to that point because I was no good at the game. Ditto with video games. Sometimes social ineptitude and poor eye-hand coordination can be a benefit–who knew?

Looking back, I can see that this was really an introvert problem. Again, storytelling was a private activity for me. It allowed me to assert myself in a way that didn’t require me to out with my peers. (Indeed, fiction was a way for me to overcome that very problem.) I got to make the decisions, tell one cohesive story, let my point of view win the day, and wasn’t being shoved around by others, verbally or otherwise. Fiction reading and writing are excellent escapes for an introvert, as they allow the individual to either concentrate on another world or create his/her own with (ideally) minimal interference.

I’ve heard some of my friends say that D&D helped them with their social skills. Good for them. That was not a good social outlet for me because of the dynamics of the situation and because of the way I incorporated fiction into my life. If we had just been there to talk about Lord of the Rings, I probably would have been fine. However, when it comes to collaboration, I’m better at real-world, task-oriented activities (I at least learned that much). But please, let me tell my own geeky stories on my own.

It’s a Serious World Out There

From a very young age, I can remember being told that I “take things too seriously” or “take yourself too seriously.” I’ve always found this a curious criticism, because it continues to the present day and I still can find nothing wrong with the behavior.

Is life meant to be enjoyed? Most likely. We humans are wired for it. I manage to do so when I can, in my own ways: reading, writing, traveling, enjoying the companionship of friends and family, enjoying meals and fine beverages, occasionally seeking out the company of a closer partner. These things make me happy. I recognize that my tastes run to the cerebral and the serious: my primary forms of entertainment are science fiction, philosophy, and history. I recognize I can get grouchy on occasion and so try to keep a balanced attitude toward my life, considering myself neither as evil nor as brilliant as some of my delusions would have me. I can even laugh at myself on occasion.

But yes, I take some matters quite seriously, or personally.

I believe life is a serious business, something we are granted for mysterious reasons still unknown to us. Given how rare and precious the gift of life is, I try to make my life worthwhile or productive. I dislike a lot of frivolity and what I would call serious wastes of time (television sitcoms and cinematic romantic comedies come first to mind). For reasons clear only to myself I take rudeness and malice quite personally, especially when they’re unwarranted. I suppose if I have a redeeming trait in the midst of all my hard thinking, it’s that I prefer to treat people with kindness until they give me a reason not to do so. It was not always so, but I’ve made that effort in my 30s and 40s.

If someone disregards, insults, or hurts me, yes, I take that personally, and yes, I take it seriously. Good grief, why shouldn’t I? Is meanness something to be laughed off? Is evil something to be tolerated? That said, it usually takes a lot of pushing and petty cruelty before I push back. And yet when I do push back, I’m then told that I take things too seriously.

Somewhere early in my childhood, I suppose, I developed a very strong sense of personal honor and justice–medieval concepts, perhaps, but real enough. I don’t take it well if I feel I am being treated badly without cause. With cause? Okay, I can see that. If I was rude to someone (I’m not perfect), I don’t expect the other person to be joyful to see me, but I do my best to at least manage politeness. On the flip side, if I have done someone a good turn, I expect that to be recognized. Likewise, if I have done a stranger no direct harm, I dislike being treated badly.

So yes, I take life seriously. As far as I know, this is the only life I have. Some have the attitude of “Life is short, have a good time” or “Life is short, don’t take things so seriously.” I think the opposite. I belief life is short, so I should make an effort to be a good person. Or even that because life is short, it’s wrong somehow to spend it on cruelty and anger. I’m easily hurt, but more often than not the first to apologize for my anger.

And yes, it is still possible to have fun and be happy and be kind to others while responding to meanness or assaults on my person or character in a personal matter. It means, in the end, that I wish to be a decent guy and that I’m willing to stand up for myself so that I will be treated as such.

Tell me again where any of this is a bad thing.

Book Review: Aurora

Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest science fiction novel, is typically ambitious in its vision of realistic, well-thought-out space hardware, this time to the Tau Ceti system. However, despite his grandeur of scale and the realism of his hardware, Robinson seems to have made a conscious effort to undo the promise and hopefulness that many of his earlier space epics have inspired in space advocates like me. He seems to have succumbed to anger or despair in his reactions to human beings exploring and living beyond their home planet.


The first book I read by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Memory of Whiteness, was incomparably ambitious, depicting a far-future solar system populated by diverse peoples and micro-civilizations held together by an advanced physics that eventually came to combine music. The characters were diverse, witty, and likeable. Since that time, many of his science fiction stories have taken place in approximately that same future, though with thematic and event changes from novel to novel.

He is perhaps best known for his epic Mars Trilogy, which depicted the exploration, development, and eventual terraforming of the planet Mars, from 2026 to several hundred years in the future. The Mars trilogy is Robinson’s vision of a liberal/environmentalist political utopia set on the red planet.

His last space epic, 2312, also portrayed a technologically ambitious future, with cities on Mars, massive spacecraft plying the distances between the planets, and even a city of Mercury (which also appeared the the two previous works). However, 2312 lacked a lot of the well-rounded characterization he aspired to in the Mars trilogy. And, like his subsequent Earth-based environmental novels like Antarctica, Robinson’s depiction of 2312 is overwhelmed by environmental catastrophes brought on by pure-evil or pure-ignorant conservatives/capitalists. He had, in essence, taken the gloves off, making much of his work more political polemic than entertainment.

The Memory of Whiteness link:


Mars Trilogy link:


2312 Link:


Aurora, then, combines the epic scale of interstellar exploration and all its related, believable complications with a still-damaged Earth back home in roughly the 28th century. The starship is a massive, double-ringed design with multiple simulated Earth-style environments, akin to Biosphere 2, complete with jungles and glaciers and everything else in between, and multiple cultures inhabiting each area.

Despite a crew of over 2,000 individuals on the generational starship, Robinson focuses primarily on two or three individuals within a single family, with everyone else serving as nearly faceless background characters. Warning: potential spoilers ahead. One of the most interesting characters turns out to be the computer running the starship itself, where a certain amount of depersonalization might be expected.

One of the early main characters, Devi, is more or less the ship’s chief engineer, and she spends much of her time angry. I cannot emphasize that enough because the anger in this character and several of the characters inhabiting some of Robinson’s other novels are also infused with this anger, which is directed at stupidity, shortsightedness, or general ignorance. Not that these are bad things to be angry about, but characters that stomp around a starship p.o.ed all the time get a little tiresome or unlikeable at times. Why are these people in the future so angry all the time?

Devi’s daughter Freya is less angry than her mother, though not as brilliant–in fact, she starts out the story as developmentally challenged, but eventually she functions well enough to be a leader in her own right. The only other character given a lot of attention is Freya’s father Badim, who is the phlegmatic peacemaker who tries to help his wife, daughter, and starship crewmates maintain some sort of peace. The primary story line of the book covers these three humans, their friends, and the ship’s computer as they approach Tau Ceti, explore its various worlds, and attempt to cope with technical challenges on the starship and the worlds they find at Tau Ceti. I’ll try to restrain myself on further spoilers.

Often, when Robinson’s characters aren’t voicing anger at the people who sent them on their journey to another star, they are in the grips of a despair that’s almost painful to read. Much of the despair articulates itself in the belief that human colonization of other worlds is, in fact, impossible. For example:

I bet they’re all like this one. I mean, they’re either going to be alive or dead, right? If they’ve got water and orbit in the habitable zone, they’ll be alive. Alive and poisonous.

Or there’s this, from much later in the book:

Human beings live in ideas. That they were condemning their descendants to death and extinction did not occur to them, or if it did they repressed the thought, ignored it, and forged on anyway. They did not care as much about their descendants as they did about their ideas, their enthusiasms.

Is this narcissism? Solipsism? Idiocy (from the Greek word idios, for self)?

Indeed, at the equivalent of a space advocacy conference like the ones I attend, one character physically attacks an advocate for further human interstellar travel. The wit and joy are all but gone in this book, and that saddens me as a reader and fan.

So as I’ve read his books and interviews over the years, it seems as if Robinson has been trying to disown or undo the remarkable work he did in The Memory of Whiteness or The Mars Trilogy, which did so much to inspire so many, myself included, about the possibilities of human space exploration. The flag of the Mars Society, for example, is red, green, and blue–the colors of the Mars novels. And many of the members of that Society–along with other space-advocate Robinson fans–are often libertarian and do not share his politics. Perhaps that grates him: people using the technologies he posits in support of political ideas he finds distasteful.

All that said, Robinson raises some good questions about what the future human space exploration might look like if we discover only two types of worlds out there: lifeless balls of rock that require thousands of years to make human-livable or Earthlike worlds with water that are ultimately poisonous. It’s a problem that I’ve mulled over in my own writing: if that, what then? I suspect, however, that humanity will prefer to go out there and try to learn the hard way before daring to give up on exploring among the stars. Unfortunately, Robinson does not answer the question clearly enough to make this story a fully rounded think piece. He poses a number of legitimate problems, but leaves us hanging as to what should happen next.