#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: Generation Ships

To celebrate science fiction during the month of November, I’ve put together a series of posts I’ll be doing every Tuesday to highlight the sci-fi tropes or themes that I find simply irresistible! I’ve also been fortunate to read some great books in the genre over the last few years, and to give them some extra attention, each week I will also be featuring five titles that I recently enjoyed or thought were pretty special.

This week’s topic is GENERATION SHIPS. Sci-fi has long featured stories about the human dream of traveling across the galaxy to settle in faraway star systems. But what if you can’t travel fast enough to get there within a single lifetime? The solution: build entirely self-sustaining world ships or interstellar arks that will carry everything you and your descendants will possibly ever need for the journey. Even if you yourself will never reach your destination, future generations will continue on after you die.

Arkwright by Allen Steele

Okay, one might argue that Arkwright isn’t a true generation ship story, per se, because so much of it takes place on Earth. But at its heart, this book is about the enormous undertaking of a team of scientists and researchers coming together to overcome the technological challenges posed by long-distance space travel. The story also spans several generations, beginning with one man’s dream. Concerned about humanity’s future in the event of any extinction-level threats to the world, Nathan Arkwright had decided many years ago that building an interstellar world ship is the only hope our species has for survival. Not trusting to the bureaucracy of government agencies to make this happen, he established his own non-profit organization to do the research and work required, and left the foundation his entire fortune plus all future royalties earned from his books. Once he is gone, it will be up to his family and friends to carry on his vision. Let’s face it, generation ship stories are seldom happy stories, but Arkwright is a very different kind of generation ship story, a truly inspirational family saga about people overcoming personal crises, political roadblocks, technological limitations and many other seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a common goal. (Read the full review…)

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

We all know the basic premise of the generation starship: while the original occupants might not live to see their final destination, they know their descendants likely would, and that potential alone holds much room for the pioneer spirit. But what happens if it all goes wrong? What if, after all the time and lives invested, you and your group reach the end of your journey to find that your destination is not as it seems, and now all your hopes are dashed to pieces, your hard-made plans gone to shit? This is the tale of Aurora, a book about a starship launched carrying two thousand of the Earth’s best and brightest, all on their way to find humanity a new home in the Tau Ceti system fourteen light years away. Thus to get there will take many generations, and indeed more than 150 years have passed when the novel actually begins. The story follows Freya, our main protagonist, though almost the entire narrative is told in the perspective of the ship itself, a vessel equipped with an intelligent and self-aware A.I. Freya’s mother Devi, the Chief Engineer of sorts, has charged the ship to construct a historical narrative detailing the lives of the people aboard, using her own daughter as the central focus. Aurora is a very beautiful and powerful novel, thought-provoking and deep. It’s a very different breed of generation ship story, infused with more misery than optimism, to tell the truth. Nevertheless, it is a feast for the mind, full of descriptive wonders, interesting personalities, and engaging relationships. (Read the full review…)

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Long ago, when Earth was on its last legs and humanity feared it could go no further, scientists were sent out beyond the solar system to find and terraform new planets to ensure the future of our species. One of them, the brilliant but megalomaniacal Dr. Avrana Kern was successful in locating such a world, but just as she was about to implement a nanotech virus to accelerate the development process, sabotage occurred. Kern’s monkeys that were intended for biological uplift were not deployed on the planet because they were all killed in the attack on her ship. Kern herself was forced to be transformed, reduced to an AI mind and a body preserved in stasis. However, her nanovirus, the one intended to speed up evolution in the monkeys, did in fact make it onto the planet, imbedding itself into—wait for it—a species of spiders. Years and years go by. Earth is no more. Desperate humans take to the stars in generation ships like the Gilgamesh to find these terraformed planets their ancestors supposedly prepared for them, but instead of a welcoming home, they find Kern’s World and the repercussions of her genetically engineered virus. For generations, the planet’s inhabitants have been evolving as well, the uplifted spiders developing their own cultures, civilizations and knowledge. It is their world now, and they don’t take kindly to the assumptions of these strange looking humans who think they can just take over and live on their planet. Don’t think you can ever bring yourself to root for a giant spider? There’s a really good chance this book will change your mind. Children of Time is one of the smartest, most remarkable and innovative science fiction novels I’ve read, and I highly recommend it. (Read the full review…)

Way Down Dark by J.P. Smythe

Way Down Dark begins the way many generation ship stories start—with descriptions of a mass exodus from Earth, whose living conditions are no longer suitable for large populations of humans for whatever reason. It is a tale seventeen-year-old Chan knows well, having been passed on for generations onboard the starship Australia where she lives. One day they will find a new home, but until then, our protagonist and thousands of others remain packed within the crowded berths and decks, trapped in a hellish existence filled with danger and violence. Long ago, the ship’s occupants divided themselves, and now a savage group called the “Lows” have become a persistent threat, venturing out of their own territory near the Pit to invade and take over other areas of Australia. One thing holding them back from attacking Chan’s home in the Arboretum had been her mother Riadne, a well-respected woman rumored to have fearsome, mystical powers. But now Riadne is dead, and Chan is left alone with the truth of how she died, along with a deathbed promise to her mother to keep her head down, be selfish, and stay alive. However, one day she makes a remarkable discovery, learning about a possible way to return to Earth. Unfortunately though, this just increases the tensions on the ship, elevating the brutality and violence in the gangs of murderous fanatics. This being a YA-crossover novel, expect some predictable developments and conflicts, but overall I enjoyed myself. (Read the full review…)

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Record of A Spaceborn Few might be my favorite Wayfarers novel yet. Structurally and thematically, it is quite unlike either of its predecessors, exploring the evolution and development of human society with particular focus on the shipborne descendants of the last people to leave a dying Earth. This time, Becky Chambers welcomes us to the Exodus Fleet, a collection of ancient ships home to the largest population of humans found outside the Sol system. Since their departure from Earth, generations have been born and raised here. And while some have left for greener pastures, never to return, others have chosen to stay and carry on the way of life. The Exodans have long abandoned their original goal of finding the perfect planet upon which to settle, deciding on space as their permanent home. The many centuries, however, has taken its toll on the fleet’s deteriorating hulls. In the novel’s prologue, an accident aboard the Oxomoco causes a catastrophic breach and decompression, killing tens of thousands. As the rest of the fleet rushes to provide aid, the aftermath of accident is related through the eyes of our main characters, who are still affected by memories of the horror years later. Like the previous novels, Record of a Spaceborn Few is celebration of life, love, and hope. Each character is someone you can relate to, someone you can come to care deeply about. (Read the full review…)

What are some of the tropes and themes you enjoy reading about in sci-fi? Are you also a fan of generation ship stories? Let me know your favorites and recommendations!

38 Comments on “#SciFiMonth Sci-5 Tuesday: Generation Ships”

  1. Great topic! I just don’t understand why you‘ve categorized Children of Time there. Yes, it’s uplift, but the spiders and ants are down on the planet, and up in the Orbit is only one person, not generations.
    Just recently, I’ve read a short story around generation ships which focuses on the arrival part instead of the travel itself: https://reiszwolf.wordpress.com/2020/11/02/the-farships-fall-to-nowhere-2020-generation-ship-short-story-by-john-c-wright/
    There are a couple of other short stories with this topic but I don’t want to swamp the comment with links (and get washed away by the spam filter 🤣)

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        • IIRC Holsten and a select group of his fellow crew members would would wake and cryo over generations to check out how things were going. It’s a bit of an odd one in that sense, and I can’t remember the full details too well either, but it did make an impression because I thought it a bit amusing how every time they woke, the situation always seemed to have gotten worse, lol 😀

          Liked by 2 people

          • That’s the thing with longrunners- they need constant maintenance and redirection of planning.
            The ultimate generation ship is Robert Reed‘s Great Ship series. A planet large space ship inhabited by different folks as it makes its way across the galaxy; billions of years 😊

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t read that much of scifi but Honor Among Thieves had me blown away by its concept of living space ships: the leviathans! That series was really great!

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  3. The topic of generation ships has so much potential. It combines all the storylines that just being out in unexplored space provides, but adds to it all the interesting conflicts and possiblities that go along with a large group of people confined in a small space their entire lives. How does it all work? Are the majority put to sleep with only a few, if any, kept awake at a time? Are they all awake and aware throughout the voyage? How much will society change between departure and arrival? Lots of potential for great storytelling.

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    • Yeah, I like the topic of generation ships too because I like to put myself in the shoes of the characters. I don’t know if I would be brave enough to board a spaceship knowing I and my children and possibly my children’s children and beyond would spend our entire lives in it though!

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  4. Eek, okay, I haven’t read any of these, but then again, no surprises there. Must, must read Chambers soon though given everyone seems to love her.

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  5. I’ve only recently become familiar with the generation ship sub-genre, and it’s becoming one of my favorites! I think it clicks with my love of seeing how societies evolve in new circumstances, and I love seeing the cultures that are envisioned when you’ve been in a ship for a few centuries. Record of a Spaceborn Few is on my TBR for this month, looking forward to it!

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    • Absolutely! Speaking as someone with an anthro background, the whole idea of generation ships is a thought experiment that fascinates me because of the sacrifice and investment involved, and of course I agree with you on the evolution of society!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I need to read Children of Time.
    Great topic by the way – what do i like in sci-fi – I like first contact stories and also stories about seeking out new livable planets and the problems incurred in doing so (Semiois for example).
    Lynn 😀

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  7. I haven’t read a ton of books about Generation ships but the concept intrigues me. Also, Record of a Spaceborn Few is just…..that book for me is about as close to perfection as a book can get.

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  8. Pingback: #SciFiMonth Mission Log: week two

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