Ken Stanley Robinson
This is a story exploring what it would take to colonise another star system. Earth has sent a Generation Ship in the year 2545 to Tau Ceti speeding through space at one tenth the speed of light. This ship has 2,122 souls on board and has been travelling for 159 years by the time we join the voyage. It’s a ship with two huge spokes that spin to create artificial gravity. The spokes are filled with twelve unique biomes containing all the diversity of life they would need at their destination. This ranges from Savannah to Permafrost Glacier to Tropical Forest and everything in between.
The story centres around Devi, the ships Chief Engineer (in all but name), her Husband Badim who is a doctor, and their young daughter Freya. Devi is consumed by anxiety that the ship won’t last it’s journey of 170 years. The ship is in constant maintenance due to wear and tear but fortunately they have 3d printers that can produce any type of part needed for the ship. The challenge of space travel in this way is that it is a closed eco-system with finite resources. Everything has to be re-cycled in order to keep the correct balance of the all the chemicals and biological processes that keep life support functioning.
Devi bemoans the lack of foresight their creators had when they sent her ancestors on this voyage. The impact of slowing the ship as they close on Tau Ceti influences the Coriolis effect that creates their gravity and this starts to change the ships chemical balance. Was this overlooked by Earth’s scientists? Devi also worries that knowledge is being lost on how to maintain the ship. Are they educating the children adequately or falling to the perils of island biogeography. Over the ships six generations she observes shrinkages in all levels of human data from weight to brain synapses.
Devi starts confiding in the ships AI and sets it a task to educate itself on humanity so it can help out more. Much of the story is told from the Ships AI point of view and it’s observations on what is going on around the ship. This creates an emotionally cold narrative at times and in the second half of the novel it lack the driving plot that makes you want to turn the page. The AI is just dictating events which is interesting from a documentary narrative but means you are not drawn to the emotions of the characters.
The story brings up all sorts of challenges of living on a generations ship and you get the hard science of a Kim Stanley Robinson novel which can be highly enjoyable. He explores the sort of society you would need to survive such a journey which in this case is highly controlled and authoritarian. The population are restricted to what they can do and where they can travel, often restricted to certain biomes. They are kept sterile and have to get a licence to have a child. This causes unease and unhappiness for some of the population who don’t like the controlling state and want their freedoms.
When they eventually arrive at Tau Ceti with just a quarter of the the novel gone, tragedy awaits and they face some touch choices. The rest of the novel deals with the consequences of their actions. Kim Stanley Robinson explores what it means for a colonising group when they reach their destination light years from Earth and if it is possible to find a viable home for humanity to live outside our solar system. Kim Stanley Robinson is excellent at exploring all this ideas with science that is detailed and plausible but the narrative plot took a hit in the second half of this one.
© The Outlands Review