Thursday, June 5, 2008

Generation Ship Issues

The remaining story in May's Analog is a novelette: "Consequences of the Mutiny" by Ronald R. Lambert. This is another story using the oblique approach to transfers of power. In much same was as "Immortal Snake" and Galveston, it focuses on what happens after you have a dramatic shift in power. Generally speaking, when in a story you overthrow the status quo, for whatever reason, there are two points of drama. One is the initial overthrow (think American Revolution) and the second is when the new system is tested again (think the election of Thomas Jefferson). In the other two stories it only takes a generation for the new system to be tested. In "Consequences" the system has been stable for several generations before the next crisis point arises.

"Consequences" takes place on a generation star ship. There's a living crew, with generational turnover, that is supposed to deliver 50,000 frozen colonists to their new home. A few generations into the mission, the crew mutinied against their original leadership—many of them, having never set foot on a planet, certainly didn't want to become part of the new colony. Now the plan is to create a new starship, drop off the original colonists and original starship, take the new one, and keep going. The problem is time and storage space.

Due to environmental constraints, many of the crew's children have been placed in cold storage until there is environmental slack enough to restore them. Given that they're almost at the end of the mission, they're running out of space for the children. All of the sudden, those 50,000 frozen colonists look pretty vulnerable. Most right-thinking crew members oppose starting their new mission with innocent blood on their hands, but people can get pretty emotional when children are on the line.

This is a good story that brings together the generation ship trope with the fuzzy thinking that surrounds reproductive issues and terrorism. However, as it must be in a novelette, it's all a little too simple. The one main character figures out all the answers exactly when he needs them, and has to hand exactly the people he needs to solve the problem. For an every-day-Joe sort of character, he's suspiciously competent at everything.

That's easy to forgive, as is the other glaring flaw in the story: the ending. It feels like the author couldn't quite figure out where or how to end the story, so we get a flash-forward and some painful dialog—all the more surprising given that the dialog for most of the story is fine. Still, those points are quibbles against a solidly well-done sf story.

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