The problems that Robinson's characters experience in their interspatial adventures are contrived, of course. As with all lifeboat stories, the crisis of the lifeboat is created by the author's invisible hands, off-stage, arranging the scenery to contrive the emergency.
But what Robinson's furtive scenery-arranging points out is that the easy times all our other science fiction stories have given to their colonists were every bit as contrived. By pointing out an alternative, in the same engineering/troubleshooting frame as those other stories, Robinson points out that what we'd taken for an obvious and natural axiom was actually a militant position about the universe's willingness to be colonized, despite the Fermi Paradox, a position so dominant in sf that it was nearly impossible to notice that it even was a position, as opposed to a law of nature.
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