The generation starship in science fiction, 1934-1977

Simone Caroti, Purdue University


The generation starship concept represents a solution to the problem presented by our inability to break the light-speed barrier. It was developed for the first time in Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s 1928 essay “The Future of Earth and Mankind,” To reach even the star systems nearest to ours at speeds we can expect to command in the near future, transit times in the order of centuries of millennia would be involved. Such lengthy voyages require a generation starship – a vast, man-made pocket world moving at sub-light speeds toward its destination, while the people inside its hull are born, live out their lives, and have children to whom they will entrust the running of the vessel once they are gone. After multiple generations have succeeded each other and several centuries have elapsed, the ship will arrive at its destination, usually a new planet ripe for colonization. The irony is that the vessel will no longer be related to its place of origin. The life experience of everyone on board will be different from those who sent out the ship originally. Science fiction has focused its attention on this dramatic irony in this fertile subgenre since the first generation starship story was published in 1934. This dissertation looks at the concept that developed from the inevitability of a generational conflict at some point in the future, a clash between the worldview of those who had financed the mission and started it, now long dead, and those alive centuries in the future, ignorant of the origins of the trip or of those who had decided to begin it.




Hughes, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Modern literature

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