Generation Starships and After

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Palmer, Christopher. "Generation Starships and After: 'Never Anywhere To Go But In'?" Extrapolation 44.3 (2003): 311-30. On line with subscription at Liverpool U Press.[1]

Sees Robert A. Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky as not the first, but the initiation of "the subgenre, in that later authors rewrite and complicate the pattern he elaborates" there. In Palmer's view of this pattern, Generation Starship[2] stories have it that

Some disaster or devolution has cut the inhabitants off not merely from Earth [...] but from the knowledge of their mission — the knowledge indeed that they are on a ship. They come to believe that they live on or in a universe [...] and that this universe is all there is, that it has no outside: or rather, they lose the concept of an outside. [...] The inhabitants of the ship have degenerated, but one among them, joined by other questioning spirits, journeys, realizes that there is an outside to be found, battles reactionary opposition, and finds it, finds the deserted navigation chamber of the ship, sees the stars and the universe. (Palmer p. 312).

Later authors are often less optimistic, giving us stories where

escape becomes no more than redoubled exiled, re-enchantment becomes disillusionment and, eventually, a clarification of inner and outer becomes a collapse of the distinction between the two, and of the distinction between reality and dream, and of the distinction between individual visions (as of brave nonconformist loners) and collective visions, or illusions (as of psychotics. By that state, however, the discussion will have taken a step beyond the narrative framework Heinlein laid down, so that by then we have to ask the reader of this essay to accept that the stories adduced in evidence are still in fact relevant although they are no longer Generation Starship stories [...;] after a certain point radical variation of the details of the pattern become subversion of the pattern itself. [...] even when, towards the end of the survey, the discussion reaches J. G. Ballard's "The Concentration City," it finds tropes that echo Orphans of the Sky, even though Ballard's is not a story about a Generation Starship. It is about a man who tries to see what is outside the vast conurbation in which he lives, but no matter how far he travels, cannot find any outside, and eventually arrives back ate where he left, having traveled right round the globe without having left the city; that is, a story which expresses the nightmarish thought that there is no outside to the human world of the city. (pp. 312-13)

For an escape from one clearly artificial world into another that may also be artificial, cf. conclusion of THE TRUMAN SHOW.


Works cited by Palmer that users of this wiki might want to consult (or are already cited in Clockworks 2): (NOTE: The online Works Cited may differ from the Works Cited of the original print version.)

Aldiss's Non-Stop (vt. Starship) — discussed by Palmer pp. 314 f.

Ballard, J. G. "The Concentration City" in The Best Short Stories of J. G. Ballard. NYC: Henry Holt, 1995. (First published in 1978.)

Dick, Philip K. A Maze of Death. London: Pan, 1973. (First published in 1970.)

Dick, Philip K. "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon" in I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon. London: Grafton, 1988. (First published in 1980 as "Frozen Journey.")

Disch, Thomas M. "Descending" in Under Compulsion. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1968.

Heinlein, Robert A. Orphans of the Sky. NYC: NEL, 1965. (First published in 1941 in two parts, "Universe" and "Common Sense.")

Jameson, Fredric. "Generic Discontinuities in Brian Aldiss's Starship." Science-Fiction Studies 1, pt 2, Fall 1973, 57-68.

Merril, Judith. "Wish Upon a Star" in The Best of Judith Merrill. NYC: Warner, 1976. (First published in 1958.) {Arguably a continuation of Survival Ship.}

Sterling, Bruce. "Taklamakan." 1998. Collected A Good Old-Fashioned Future. London: Gollancz, [2001].[3]

Wilcox, Don. "The Voyage that Lasted Six Hundred Years" in Skylife Space Habitats in Story and Science. ed. Gregory Benford and George Zebrowski. NY: Harcourt, 2000. (First published in 1940.)

Wolfe, Gene. The Book of the Long Sun, being comprised of

Caldé of the Long Sun. NYC: Tor, 1995.
Exodus from the Long Sun. NYC: Tor,1996. 
Lake of the Long Sun. London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton, 1994. 
Nightside The Long Sun. NYC: Tor, 1993. 

RDE, finishing, 11Jun22