(Original Title: Non-stop)
Author: Brian Aldiss
Publisher: Avon Books
Page Count: 224
Purchase on Amazon: Price Varies
Starship or by its first published title Non-stop (1958) is about a group of humans living on a generation ship after dozens upon dozens of generations have gone by. In the story, the inhabitants no longer understand their home as it is. A great illness decimated the ship’s original inhabitants, mutating its survivors. Its survivors are unable to exist outside of the ship’s mutated environment. Onboard and many generations later the knowledge of the ship, its crew, and its original mission are unknown. Mutant humans, plants, and animals are kept ignorant by their caretakers the Giants and their spies the Outsiders. Until an expedition in search of the bridge by primitive humans, does the origin of the ship comes to view.
Roy Complain lived unhappily but safely in Quarters with his mate Gwenny among the Greene Tribe. Quarters featured two moving barricades, the Front, and Rear which protected the corridor. Each day workers would leave the safety of Quarters to clear away the ponics that grew in front of the forward barricades so it could move down the corridors in unison with the rear. Roy aspired to become a Guard, the group that protected the workers. Guards were a higher class than hunters and had a room closer to the forward barricade, a great privilege. They were also the first to open and explore new rooms when discovered. Roy was a hunter and spent most of his time hunting for pigs in the tangles outside of Quarters.
On a hunting trip, another tribe ambushed Roy and Gwenny and abducted Gwenny. Quarters population was not large and losing a young female brought punishment upon Roy and further frustration with his place in the tribe. Gwenny’s father, now old and feeble told exciting stories of the levels he explored in his youth. Theories about the world were not spoken, for it was against tribal law. Bob Femour a fellow tribesman often defied this rule. He theorized their home was a ship in which they lived in. No one paid him much attention which helped him escaped punishment for his disobedience.
Roy could leave Quarters as others had done before him to live in the tangles. Doing so meant living with the dangers of Deadways. Mutants and other tribes lived beyond the barricades. There were the Forwards with their greater technology and knowledge who lived on the other side of the ship, slowly moving closer and absorbing or eliminating smaller tribes. Outsiders, inhuman creatures of myth and imagination so strange that their existence could not be understood. Then there were the Giants. The original occupants of the ship whose items are as wonderous as they were. Roy wanted to leave as his older brother has done before him, but he didn’t until he became entangled with Marapper, a priest with the Greene Tribe.
Roy Complain, Bob Femour, Wantage “Slotface” a disfigured human allowed to live within the tribe even though babies born with defects are usually killed when born, and Ern Roffery a valuer from the market where Roy sold his caught pigs, left Quarters to join Marapper in his expedition. Marapper, armed with the complete layout of the ship from his sacred book “Manual of Electrical Circuits of Starship” headed into DeadWays with his misfits to locate the ship’s bridge, take it over, and gain control from the captain. Their story continues, with shocking revelations to what their world really is and its history.
This story and others like it were the building blocks for the roleplaying game Metamorphosis Alpha by James Ward. Mr. Ward used the concept of a generation ship lost in space and time as well as it’s inhabitants for his own starship Warden. Reading through the story it’s clear to see some of the influences that made it into the game. Gamemasters looking for new and exciting variations to their Metamorphosis Alpha games can find a lot to mine from Starship.
The ship in which Roy Complain lives on is a cylinder. Its decks are side by side like a roll of coins with upper and lower levels on each deck. One can walk in a circle along the outer edge due to the cylinder’s rotation which gives each decks its gravitational force. I tried to compute the size of the cylinder in which Roy lived in but I lack the Triginomity skills needed. Assuming the inhabitants did not notice the curvature of their world which was not mentioned in the story each deck’s cylinder would be immense. The deck’s depth doesn’t seem very deep as the group was able to move through the ship quite quickly even though the heavy vegetation.
Throughout the novel, there was an underlying religious greeting spoken when two parties met. The greeting would vary but alway similar to “expansion to your ego.” The ship in which Roy and the others lived on was a colonizing ship. Generations would pass until the colonist would come to their new home. On the return trip home some crew members found their jobs obsolete. Their tasks of caring for the colonists who had disembarked no longer needed. To help pass the time they turned to other tasks. One crew member decided to develop his own religion based on a philosophy book, hence the constant greeting to one’s ego.
The great disaster that befalls the ship comes as the ship is offloading its colonists. For the return trip back the ship resupplied their water tanks from the colony planet. An amino acid not detected in the planet’s water source unleashes a deadly illness among the crew. The sickness quickly spreads and decimated the crew. The few survivors are forever altered by the amino acid and are unable to exist outside of their encapsulated environment. Adrift, the ship comes under the care of the Giants. The origin of the Giants is unknown but based on their names and their normal appearance other than their great height they are human. Their helpers, the Outsiders, also human in appearance are possibly androids due to their lack of emotions. The Giants, along with their helpers, work unseen to keep up the ship’s vital systems so its primitive inhabitants can live out their lives.
These are only a few of the elements that one can pull from this novel to use in a lost generation ship game. When Metamorphosis Alpha released “White Dwarf Magazine“, Issue No. 1, June/July 1977 it featured three literary suggestions to use with the game, Orphans of the Sky by Robert Heinlein, Non-stop by Brian Aldiss, and Captive Universe by Harry Harrison. Along with its literary suggestions, it provided gaming mechanics and concepts inspired by each novel to use. Acquiring the first issue of “White Dwarf Magazine” is not easy or affordable to most. I was able to find a digital version online with a simple Google search. Its legality is questionable so I will refrain from providing a link to it, but it’s not hard to find yourself if you wish.
As a fan of Metamorphosis Alpha reading Starship was a real joy. It is always great to see where the ideas and inspirations for our favorite games come from. Starship has so many great elements still left to use that never made it into Metamorphosis Alpha. You can buy a new copy of Starship or Non-stop as it is still in print. Or you can do as I did and find a dusty old copy with character at your local paperback trader. Either way, it will make a great addition to your inspirational library.
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3 Comments Add yours
Great review Stephen! Hadn’t heard of this book, but it’s on my list now.
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Thank you. I’m glad I was able to introduce this to you.
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Stephen does find some pretty interesting books at his local book “haunts”. Stay tuned for more book-themed articles in the near future.
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