5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Generation Ship Classic,
This review is from: Non-Stop (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
Although not the first Generation Ship story to be written and certainly not the last, `Non Stop' is the book that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
David Pringle in his `100 Greatest Novels' acknowledges that Aldiss owes a debt to Heinlein's `Orphans of The Sky', a fix-up novel consisting of two novellas from the 1940s. The two books take the same basic premise, that a colony ship is launched from Earth, knowing that generations of humans will live and die within its hull before it reaches its destination. In each book, the knowledge of what the ship actually is has been lost and the descendants of the crew have reverted to a tribal existence while the ship ploughs on through space.
In contrast to Heinlein's escapist adventure however, Aldiss's vision is a darker one and succeeds, where Heinlein's doesn't, in making clear the vast distances between us and even the nearer suns in our galaxy.
We see the world of the Ship through the eyes of Complain, a young hunter whose tribe lives in Quarters. Long ago, a mutated hydroponics food plant has adapted to its surroundings and now grows everywhere, forming jungles on abandoned decks where pigs and insects thrive.
When Complain's woman is kidnapped by another tribe he is approached by Marapper, the tribe's priest, who is planning an expedition through the jungle-choked decks; an expedition to the mythical Forwards, where they may find the secret of what their world actually is.
It's a very sobering vision, since, like Wyndham, whose main novels were published only a few years before this, Aldiss refuses to provide any answers or a cosy conclusion.
What also separates this from Heinlein's work is that the characters have more of the bite of human reality about them. Most of the people we encounter are selfish to some degree and concerned for their own survival.
Aldiss very clearly show here humanity's propensity for ignorance, denial, acceptance of religious dogma without question, violence and self-destruction, and ultimately the Ship may serve as a metaphor for how we behave in the only 'world' we have.