Generation Ship Sci-Fi Novels

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By Sarah Smith, Adult Services

Would you leave your life on Earth behind for a chance to live on a different planet? What if the journey would take so long that it would be your children’s children’s children who would land on that alien world? How many generations of your family would you be willing to trap in the cold dark of space for the chance that some future descendant might have a better life on a planet you’ll never see?

For many of us here in the United States, our ancestors made a similar journey into the unknown in search of a better life for themselves and their families. It was often a dangerous and uncertain journey, with no guarantee of success, but it’s a risk that some people have always decided is worth the chance. In science fiction, authors explore this drive in stories of colony worlds and generation ships.

Without the shortcuts of warp speed, hyperdrive, or a convenient wormhole, the best scientific estimates are that a journey to the nearest theoretically inhabitable planet orbiting a different star would take thousands of years and dozens of generations. What would it be like to live your entire life in a spaceship centuries away from any chance of safety, rescue, or escape?

I recently enjoyed reading two different books that explore the stresses and dangers of life on a generation ship. If you’ve ever wondered how humanity might hold things together when everyone you know was born into a mission you didn’t choose, you can’t quit, and success and failure balance on a razor’s edge, you might also enjoy these books!

"Braking Day" book cover.  A generation ship sci-fi novel.
Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji

Oyebanji’s 2022 debut is a dramatic story of family, politics, and secrets told from the perspective of Ravi MacLeod. The Archimedes is part of a fleet of ships that fled Earth and the Artificial Intelligences that rule the planet for a chance to live a freer life. Ravi is a sympathetic protagonist and just naïve enough to add to the tension of the increasingly tense plot as he slowly comes to learn that things aren’t quite what he was taught to believe. Some readers might find the worldbuilding at the beginning a little slow, but I found that it helped to establish some very satisfying character development in the action-packed later chapters.

"The Scourge Between Stars" book cover. A generation ship sci-fi novel.
The Scourge Between Stars by Ness Brown

Brown’s 2023 debut is a far darker and adrenaline-fueled story, and it’s entirely satisfying if you enjoy a bit of horror in your science fiction (think “Alien”). Jacklyn Albright is the acting captain on a failing generation ship fleeing a doomed colony world in hopes that they can make it back to Earth. The stakes are already high before you learn that they are also trying to dodge reality-bending shrapnel from a distant alien war. Then Jacklyn starts to hear something in the ship’s walls. She’s left to wonder, is the stress starting to break her or is something else trying to kill her?

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