A comment by theofloinn on my review of Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky directed my attention to Brian Aldiss’s Starship as another good example of a generation ship story. Thanks, it was good.
Published in 1958, Starship (also published under the name Non-stop) is the story of Roy Complain, a hunter who lives in the long passages of the Quarters as a member of the violent, impoverished Greene Tribe. Beyond the barricades that mark the current extent of the Greene tribe’s village at either end of the passageway they currently occupy grow ‘ponics’ – huge, rapidly growing thickets of near impassible viny plants.
Roy hunts in the ponics, and trades his bush meat for other goods. Beyond the barriers live not only wild animals, but other tribes and mutants either alone or in small groups. It’s a jungle out there.
Tribes move slowly along their chosen corridor, laboriously clearing the ponics and moving the barriers forward. As they move, they uncover compartments, many locked behind doors. These compartments sometimes contain useful items, and so they are routinely broken into. The Greene tribe owes its existence to Grandfather Greene, who opened a compartment containing a store of dazers, weapons that stunned or killed man and beast, and thus was emboldened to form his own tribe. There were also higher and lower and branch passages as well of the main corridors.
Roy and his tribe live by the Teachings, a mish-mash of half-remembered Freud, such that violently expressing every feeling is considered virtuous, and those who keep theirs under control are considered weak. Makes for nasty, brutish and short lives.
In addition to the various tribes and mutants there are Giants, thought by many to be extinct – giant skeletons are sometimes found in fresh compartments – but with enough sightings to make others convinced giants still live. Mysterious Outsiders, who look like men but are unnatural and suspected of doing harm, are also believed to have come from outside into the Ship, the name people give to the world. Ousiders are externally indistinguishable from tribesmen. One tribe, the Forwards, have better tech and live better lives. They occupy a different part of Ship, and so have passed almost into legend.
A set of circumstances eventually propel Roy and a couple other men to desert the tribe and follow the priest Maraper on an adventure of discovery. Maraper had come across a book that showed the circuit layout of the Ship, and therefore showed the general layout. Maraper has discovered that Ship really is a ship, and wants to find the Control Room.
Adventures ensue, with plenty of twists, mysteries and action to keep you reading, and a surprise ending that works pretty well. We have here what amounts to another post-apocalyptic survival story, just set in space. I’ll stop here just in case anyone doesn’t want spoilers. Good read. Recommended.
6 thoughts on “Book Review: Starship by Brian W. Aldiss”
I’m glad TOF recommended it and you liked it. I read that as a teenager and loved it – but only have very vague memories. Too many good books out there to go back and reread everything! But (in contra) I am currently rereading the outstanding O’Brian “Aubrey/Maturin” series for at least the seventh time. 20 (actually 20.5 since an unfinished manuscript is published) books that are the pinnacle of historical fiction.
Second the Aubrey/Maturin books.
My wife finds me to be quite strange laughing out loud and reacting to situations that I have read so many times. O’Brian is just that good of a writer though.
I had an acquaintance who was totally into those books, and over the years have seen a number of hilarious (and insightful) passages from them – yet, I hesitate to start a 20 book series while staring at, for example, a small stack of unread Mike Flynn (and Gene Wolfe, and 40+ sci fi classics – AND a couple dozen education history/biography books. Not to mention all the Great Books that, like pirate gold, call to me….
So, yea, with any luck I’ll live long enough to retire – and then I’ll get on them! Sound like a ton of fun.
On a 6-day vacation, I wrapped up a couple books and got well into a couple more. Clearly, I need to start the Aubrey/Maturin book next time I have a 6 month vacation… 😉